Hey Pandas, it’s time for another drink. Today we’ve got ourselves the Port Askaig 12 Years Spring Edition 2020, 2006/7 vintage, from Elixir Distillers.
Islay whiskies are known for their famous combination of fruity flavours and smoky/peaty qualities. Independent bottler Elixir Distillers selected a mystery distillery and bottled the Port Askaig range of Islay single malt which they believe best balances these flavours and embody the character of Islay whiskies. With rising demand for Elixir’s whiskies and my preference for such balanced flavour profiles, I had to try a bottle for myself.
Peat being a common denominator, there is nonetheless a number of quite distinctive flavour profiles from Islay distilleries. From my tasting, I’m willing to bet that this MyStErY DiStIlLeRy is a Caol Ila.
In the glass, the liquid is a rather pale straw, similar to other 10+ year old Islay whiskies like the Ardbeg 10. Some distilleries are fond of adding caramel colouring also known as E150a to dress their spirit up and make them look more delicious and mature. Personally, I prefer mine naked. This one is au naturel with no unnecessary caramel colouring added to dress it up.
On the nose, I receive smokiness that is obviously expected of an Islay- but this is more gentle than the usual Ardbeg 10. Mild, friendly, and leaves olfactory room to accommodate other scents. Accompanying the smoke is some briny coastal breeze, and a good deal of and sweetness and brightness, with vanilla, maple syrup and twist of lemon zest. There is also an ever-present but muted medicinal aroma in the background that reminds me of peppermint leaves and Chinese five-spice powder. As I pull away my nose, the melody of smoke, vanilla and citrus fades to some chalkiness of dry cement, that I could only describe as the smell you get when you walk past a construction site. Or more accurately when you enter a new apartment under renovation. An exciting smell of new possibilities and potential as I proceed to the palate.
On the palate is a good deal of initial sweetness and tartness of a lemon sherbet profile, lime and caramelised green apple- much like a refrigerated McDonald’s apple pie. This is followed by a rather strong smokey barbecue flavour with herbs. The smoke is much more dominant on the palate than I expected from nosing- it cuts right through the sweetness in a second act to make its presence known, but it somewhat recedes two seconds in into a briny minerality of Evian mineral water, and a slight saltiness of Japanese kombu seaweed. The whisky is medium weight with a slightly oily texture that allows the sweetness and smoke to coat your tongue and linger for a moment – quite smooth and you hardly feel any biting or harshness of the alcohol.
On my second, longer sip, I notice the brightness develop a little more- there is some golden syrup and biscuity notes at the tip of my tongue amid the dominant but well-balanced smokiness in the background. There are some earthly notes of fresh coffee grounds and burnt Smores. This flavour profile of citrus, brine, smoke and oiliness calls to my mind the classic Caol Ila distillery style, but as mentioned, there is more brininess and more sweetness to it without becoming cloying.
The finish is long and smooth with seaweed, burnt lemon grass and citrus peels. There is some warmth, spice and pepper down the back of my throat, which ends on a minty eucalyptus note.
This is a very interesting expression from which Islay’s iconic smoke and sea shines through- with a twist for the Port Askaig brand to make its distinctive mark. This will appeal if you are big on peat but wish to ease into something still in the Islay region that has a twist of a little more brightness, brine and sweetness. It will also appeal if you usually drink Highland Scotch but wish to venture up to Islay because the smoke is present but not overpowering.
There is considerable smoke, but surprisingly well-balanced by refreshing brightness and a little bit of sweetness.
Have this with some crème brulee with a charred caramel shell, or better yet, have this with basque burnt lemon cheesecake (which is suddenly all the rage amongst Singaporeans over the lockdown).