August 05, 2014

Lagavulin Day @ Feis Ile 2014 - Cool Cocktails & Wonderful Whisky

We flew in from Glasgow and were met at the Islay airport by John, our charming family friend, and rental home host for the week. John arrived to pick up our luggage and take it back to Port Charlotte. Our plan was to take the bus to Lagavulin and enjoy whatever was on offer.
While catching up on Islay news, over a coffee, one of the airport security folks asked us if we'd mind leaving, as the airport was closing. There's only one flight from and to Glasgow on a Saturday morning, so the airport closes mid morning. Lillias, one of the security guards, asked us where we were going, then kindly offered to give us a "lift". Turns out that she had been busy baking, and was about to serve food at the filled rolls and baked goods stand, run by one of the local churches.
And so we found ourselves at Lagavulin Distillery in record time, joining a long line of happy people, queuing up to buy the festival bottle. It turned out that the line was about two hours long, but it was both cheery and productive.
We chatted with a few folks in the queue, none of whom knew any details about the bottle they were lining up to buy. It probably didn't matter. It was Lagavulin. It was a special bottling. It would be good. With our place in line secured, I wandered off to find out more about the bottle; and also to go begging to see whether I could get us into any of the special tasting events that had been sold out from almost day one. It turned out that one coveted spot had become available for Georgie Crawford's Masterclass, which I snapped up, with a request to track me down if another should miraculously appear. Georgie is the Distillery Manager at Lagavulin, and a bit of an icon in the  whisky women world, so I was super excited to snag a spot at one of her sessions. With a couple of passes to a cocktail session and some information about the distillery bottling, I wandered back to the line, which had progressed - a little, just in time to receive a dram of 16 year old, which was being poured to help pass the time. And it did - very nicely!
While we were enjoying the dram, the fine weather, and good chats with folks whom we would encounter many more times during the week, we spotted this van turning into the car park.
Gartbreck is to be Islay's newest distillery, with construction starting this year, and production targeted for next year. I left the line again to go see who was in the van and, to my delight, it was the new owner, Jean Donnay, with his wife, Martine and their daughter.
We'd been hoping to meet up during this trip, so this was a serendipitous occurrence a couple of hours into our visit. Later in the week I would meet up with Jean at Laphroaig to chat about his plans for the distillery. That interview will be appearing shortly, in a subsequent post.
Before long the, as yet untasted, Festival bottle was procured, just in time to join the piper-led parade up the road to the historic Malt Mill for Georgie's Masterclass - for which, by this point, a second ticket had been procured, thanks to someone missing a flight.
The event was fun. Georgie has done this before! Apart from a great collection of whiskies, she had anecdotes to share about the distillery, the folks who work there, Islay trivia and history and completely unrelated fun stories. She showed two hilarious clips from a couple of episodes of "Parks and Recreation". The main character, Ron Swanson, enjoys his Lagavulin. Here, courtesy of Scotch Cinema, is an under three minute clip, worth watching.
On the distillery front, new efficiencies are in play, resulting in significantly higher production levels, i.e. more Lagavulin. Thirteen vent pipes have been installed to capture vapour losses in the Still House during production. This successful venture, one of several, is being rolled out to other Diageo distilleries - of which there are many!
On the tasting mat were six Lagavulin logo-ed, Glencairn crystal tasting glasses, each topped with a transparent cover to seal in the lovely whisky aromas.
First up was a cask strength Manager's Dram, bottled from 5 rejuvenated hogsheads, featuring lemon, peat and a youthful exuberance.
Next up was the 2013, Lagavulin 12 year old, cask strength. This was the 12th year for this product, and for me, this one displayed pineapple, white pepper and drug store perfume (that might sound bad, but it was an interesting nose). It was fruitier on the palate than the previous whisky, and very smooth with a droplet of water.
Diageo's Classic Malts Distillery Editions are each finished in different cask types. Dalwhinnie is finished  in Oloroso, Talisker in Amoroso, Glenkinchie in Amontillado, Cragganmore in Port, Oban in Montilla Fino and, last but not least, Lagavulin Distillers Edition is finished in PX sherry casks. This gives a rich dried fruit and spice character which is very appealing, alongside the peaty character of the whisky. The 1997 version, complete with new packaging, displayed anise, oranges, dried fruits, ginger and cloves - rich, delicious and warming.

The 2013 Friends of the Classic Malts triple matured, no age expression (but around 16 years) was next. This limited edition, 48% ABV, started life in refill casks, then moved house to European oak, before finishing its maturation in freshly charred American oak. Deep amber in colour, this one displayed brown sugar, bourbon aspects, raisins, ginger spice, sweetness on the palate, and a long, spicy finish. Delicious!
Lagavulin sponsors the Islay Jazz Festival held in September. Sadly, I only have about an inch left in my brilliant 2012 bottle. The 2013 bottling, which we tasted next, was also superb, smooth and elegant. Here's a good reason to visit Islay in September - jazz and the likelihood of another yummy Lagavulin special.
The final dram of the tasting was, not surprisingly, the Feis Ile 2014 Festival bottle. This elegant, gentle and subtle dram was from a  batch of 3500 bottles, distilled in January 1995, matured in a few refill European sherry casks, and bottled in 2014 at 54.7%. Gentle on the nose, with some butterscotch, light fruit and spice that carries through the palate and the finish, this is a nice dram that belies its high ABV rating. A drop of water brings out more perfume and makes it softer on the palate. I preferred it at full strength. This is a fine example of subtle maturation in refill casks enhancing but not overwhelming the Lagavulin character.
After a bite of lunch, featuring Islay scallops, a live band, and a wander about the beautiful coastline, it was time to take in a cocktail making session, in a barn, with swallows flying around overhead - very atmospheric! The session starred David Sinclair, ex head barman of the Gleneagles Hotel, and Colin Dunn, both Diageo whisky ambassadors. David used the finest of ingredients - Lagavulin 16 year old, fresh citrus fruits, interesting bitters and syrups, fresh mint, Grand Marnier and more, to concoct a couple of fabulous cocktails, each one successful because of the tasty balance of alcohol, sweet, sour and bitter.
If I'm deciphering my notes correctly, here are the recipes.

Cocktail One

40ml Lagavulin 16, 20ml Grand Marnier, dash of agave syrup, dash of orange bitters. Stir it all up, add some ginger beer and garnish with mint leaves.

Cocktail Two

I'm fuzzier on this one, but it was awesome!
Lagavulin 16, some whisky barley bitters, maple syrup, over ice, a squeeze of orange juice, garnish with orange zest.

Lagavulin and Coke

Although this wasn't served, we were encouraged to try Lagavulin 16 and Coke. Later, I did, and it was surprisingly tasty, given that I don't like Coke! It was definitely a notch up from my famous Ardbeg Alligator bacon cocktail.

From Free to Fabulous

There were dozens of other tastings, tours, music and dancing events, food experiences and more going on during Lagavulin Day and the rest of the week, suiting every price point from free to about $650. The Ultimate Islay Tour was an 8 hour experience on land and sea, including exceptional tastings, wonderful food, signed Festival bottles of Caol Ila and Lagavulin,  and top notch experiences at Caol Ila, Lagavulin and Port Ellen maltings.

More fabulous experiences on the GrapeScot Islay Tour 2015

A visit to Lagavulin Distillery will be part of the GrapeScot tour to Islay in late August 2015. This will be a small group experience with terrific events at each of the distilleries, an opportunity to meet some wonderful whisky people, great accommodations, transportation, food, cultural activities and some very fine whisky. To find out more, please drop me a line and I'll send you the itinerary and details. To read more about Lagavulin Distillery and my previous visit, just click the link.

Next Post - Laphroaig

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SlĂ inte!