What’s the best way to follow up a review of a blend with tons of questions? Why not a single malt with lots of questions?
Enter Secret Islay #2 10 2011 The Whisky Agency Heads & Tails, a release specifically for The Toronto Whisky Society. Do we know the distillery? Nope, not at all!
What do we know then? Off the bat we know it’s an Islay. We know that means it’s either peated or not, and that splits our choices on guessing it between the peated and the obvious Islays, listed here for your reading joy:
- Caol Ila
- Port Ellen
Okay, Port Ellen and Ardnahoe weren’t making anything in 2011, so those are off the list. If it isn’t peated then it’s either Bunnahabhain or Bruichladdich (not Octomore or Port Charlotte). So if there’s no peat, we know it’s neither of those.
Some may point out this was aged in a Port Barrique, which makes one wonder if Ardbeg was involved or not: Typically port pipes they obtain go to Glenmorangie, which is too bad because I’ve had a fan port finished Ardbeg and it was tasty. But for now we’ll leave them on the list.
So let’s have some fun and try and figure out the distillery, by my notes, that made this whisky, shall we?
Price: $160 CAD a bottle
Cask type: Port Barrique
Colour: 5YR 7/10
Nose: Ash, plum, charred meats, farmy, raspberry jam
Nice ash that leads into farmy, charred meat, and fruit from the cask. Good pairing of sweet and bitter, noses balanced but still with the chutzpah of a young Islay.
I’d say this is peated, so we can knock the unpeated whiskies off the list. It’s not over-peated enough to be Ardbeg or filled with cocoa notes that would scream Octomore. I’m not immediately blown away and in Heaven, so not Port Charlotte (joking, it doesn’t have the profile I associate with PC). Also not joking, I love independently bottled (and some original bottling) Port Charlotte.
So I think I can say it’s not Bruichladdich or Ardbeg, and given a lack of salt/brine/sea elements, also Bunnahabhain.
Taste: Brine, Maraschino cherry, plum, burnt orange, anise
Alright, the brine is here now, so maybe Bunnahabhain? No, the burnt orange element either came from the cask or from the whisky itself. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it’s the whisky, and say that we’re now looking for a heavily peated whisky with citrus. Which means Caol Ila.
That said, given the cask this could be Lagavulin given the meat elements. But feels a bit too dirty to be Lagavulin to me. Also the brine is there, and it tastes nice, but it’s not strong enough to give you hospital elements like Laphroaig does, so I don’t think this is Laphroaig.
Finish: Smoked meat, papaya, brine, brown sugar, blackberry
Meaty, sweet tropical, more brine, and nice molasses. Again, fruit mixed with peat, who doesn’t love that? Smoke up a cheesecake and you’ll be in Heaven. Literally if you have bad diabetes.
More meat here, which has me leaning towards Lagavulin again, but it’s not as clean as Lagavulin typically is. Perhaps that’s why they gave it up?
Conclusion: Ashy, sweet, nice acidity. Decent bottle pick. My guess is it’s Caol Ila but could be a dirtier Lagavulin maybe. I’d lean more towards Caol Ila personally given the amount of ash on the nose. That meat though, could be the other.
But a rose by any other name would just need better marketing. At the end of the day you get a port bomb that hasn’t wiped out the peated whisky. Could it have had a slight bourbon finish to add some complexity or maybe a less active cask to show more of the distillery profile? Maybe, but it’s still quite fun to enjoy.
Scotch review #1602, Islay review #422, Whisky Network review #2329