Reviewed by Dee
Our visit to the second Stoke Whisky Festival was on a sunny Saturday in June, and we were very happy to see that the festival had grown since last year. (click here for our account of last year's festival).
The 2016 festival was hosted in the same building, but had moved from the Jubilee Hall to the larger King’s Hall. This was able to accommodate chairs and tables much more easily, as well as the exhibitors’ stalls.
We arrived at around 12.15pm, not long after the festival opened, but found it to be already quite busy. As with last year, we were provided with a bottle of water, commemorative glass, festival guide, including a list of exhibitors and a pen. The guide was small but well put together, and proved useful as the event progressed. It also included a price guide for most of the whiskies on offer, and even though some of them made our eyes water, it was still useful to have.
There were two Master Classes running, and we had decided to book in for the one which was showcasing a number of Whiskies from Caol Ila and Lagavulin. This actually took place part-way through the afternoon, but I will cover it first.
Caol Ila and Lagavulin Master Class
This was very much my choice of Master Class, so I am extremely grateful to Jay for attending with me.
This session took place in a side room off the main hall and was hosted by Colin Dunn, Diageo Whisky Ambassador. Colin proved to be a great host, who managed his audience well, with plenty of stories and recommendations of whiskies to try which would have otherwise passed us by. Chief among these were the Lagavulin 8 Year Old and the Johnnie Walker Black Label. Jay enjoyed the Lagavulin 8, and we have made a note to try the Johnnie Walker.
After a brief but concise introduction on how best to taste whisky, we were introduced to the drams which were provided. There were six in total: Three from Lagavulin and three from Caol Ila, all with their own distinct profiles. For ease of presentation, I will cover them them from number one to number six though this was not the order that we tasted them in during the session.
Whisky No1: Lagavulin 16 Year Old
The first Lagavulin whisky to be released commercially and has proved popular enough for demand to now outstrip supply.
Aged in American Oak and Sherry Casks, this was a rich and complex whisky with a deep copper colour and warming feel. It was heavy in flavour of dark fruit and tobacco, with the peat smoke sharing space with these rich flavours rather than leading them. I like the term ‘fireside favourite’ to describe this whisky.
Whisky No2: Lagavulin Feis Ile
This was one of the highlights of the tasting session. The Feis Ile whiskies are only available from the Lagavulin distillery during the Islay jazz Festival which takes place in May each year. The few bottles which make it onto the market tend to sell for £400 to £500 each so to be able to taste one was a real treat. The whisky that we sampled was 18+ years old, with a 55% ABV.
It had a strong aroma of the sea mixed in with the familiar peat smoke, and this maritime quality was carried through into the taste, which again was deliciously smoky. I was delighted to have been able to try it.
Whisky No3: Lagavulin Distillers Edition
This was a 16 year old whisky which had been finished for a further three months in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks. It had a heavily fruity and sweet aroma, with the peat in the background as with the standard 16 year old. Taste wise it was woody and rich, with the flavour of the sherry all upfront and again the peat only slightly noticeable. We were informed that only 100 barrels of this whisky are produced each year.
Also, if there are any cigar smokers reading this; you might like to try this one.
Whisky No4: Caol Ila Moch
Aged in ex US bourbon casks and first released in 2002, this was recommended as a good entry level Islay whisky. Both aroma and taste were sweet, clean and Iodine fresh. Light in texture and recommended with oysters, especially sprinkled over them. It also went rather well with water, which I wasn’t expecting.
Whisky No5: Caol Ila Distillers Edition
A limited edition whisky. As with the Lagavulin Distillers Edition, only 100 barrels are produced each year. The whisky is matured in Bourbon casks and finished in Muscatel sherry casks. Much richer and darker than the Moch, with a thicker and more viscous texture. This is a whisky I would prefer to drink on its own.
Whisky No6: Caol Ila 18 Year Old
I was very fond of the dry, dusty, oaky character of this whisky, and it was recommended as a whisky for drinking outdoors. I must give this a try sometime.
We both enjoyed the tasting session, and although some of the whiskies were out of our price range, it was great to be able to try them and hear the commentary about them. The Master Class was well worth the additional cost and we would certainly book in for another one.
Now on to our own selections from the festival…
Whisky No1: Murray McDavid ‘Mystery Malt’
Distillery: Murray McDavid
Dee said: Starting off with a 16 year-old Highland Whisky. This had a rich bronze colour and a rich, fruity aroma, especially of cherries. Very smooth to taste: A fruity flavour with a nice bit of heat on thefinish.
Whisky No2: Old Perth Peaty Number 2 Dee’s Whisky of the Festival
Distillery: Morrison and Mackay
Dee said: Very light golden colour. Salty, seaweedy aroma joined the familiar smokiness. Strong tasting, full of flavour with an interesting sweetness. Its 43% ABV was not in evidence, as there was not a big hit of alcohol. An excellent blended whisky, and for the second year running I choose a blend for my Whisky of the Festival.
Whisky No3: Highland Laird Auchentoshan 21 Year Old
Distillery: Auchentoshan, via Bartels
Dee said: Mid gold in colour. Summery, nutty and slightly floral aroma. Rich tasting and quite fiery, with a sweet aftertaste. Went really well with some water, which enhanced the sweetness and added smoothness. Retails at over £100 so would have to be a ‘Special Occasion’ whisky, but definitely worth it.
Whisky No4: Skiren
Dee said: Deep gold in colour. Aroma was sweet with a subtle hint of caramel. The whisky had been matured in American bourbon barrels and was a heady brew. Sweet and buttery with a nice lingering flavour.
Whisky No5: MacPhails Bunnahabhain 8 Year Old Heavily Peated
Distillery: Bunnahabhain, via Gordon and MacPhail
Dee said: Light gold colour, with the unmistakable aroma of peat smoke. Taste wise, this was strongly earthy to start with, but finished with an altogether sweeter note.
Whisky No6: Big Peat
Distillery: Douglas Laing
Dee said: This was recommended to me by a fellow attendee at the festival. A blend of Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore and Port Ellen Malts. It had a very light straw, almost clear colour, and an aroma of peat smoke with added grassiness. It was certainly smoky and peaty to taste but I didn’t discern any other flavours.
Whisky No7: Highland Laird Linkwood 26 Year Old
Distillery: Linkwood, via Bartels
Dee said: Light gold colour. A rich, sweet and slightly floral aroma. Strongly alcoholic to taste, with a slight sweetness and subtle hint of peat smoke on the finish.
Whisky No8: Hepburn’s Choice Glengoyne 7 Year Old
Distillery: Glengoyne, via Master of Malt
Dee said: Straw coloured, with a familiar peaty aroma. Smoky tasting, with an oily character. Very warming finish.
Whisky No9: Bushmills 10 Year Old
Dee said: This was another recommendation, and it was a good one for me to finish on. It had a light gold colour and an aroma of summer and grassy meadows. Smooth texture and subtly herbal flavour, with an increasingly sweet taste as it lingered on the palate.
Whisky No1: Madeira Single Malt Jay’s Whisky of the Festival
Jay said: Sweet and Spicy. Lots of vanilla. A great one to start with, but then it’s Penderyn, it’s going to be good.
Whisky No2: The Epicurean
Distillery: Douglas Laing
Jay said: A Lowland blend. Very pale in colour and good for summer drinking. Great branding too. Floral on the nose. Sweet floral taste. A drop of water softened it to a luscious sipping whisky.
Whisky No3: Hyde 10 Year Old Rum Finished
Jay said: Aged first in bourbon casks, then Carribbean rum casks, which gave it a big spicy flavour which lingered. Lovely tasting after-burn. No change after adding water.
Whisky No4: Arran Port Finish
Jay said: Had high hopes for this one as I loved the Arran Whisky I tried last year (Sauterne Finish) and love Port. Straw coloured and a good whisky, but didn’t get Port richness. Better with a drop of water.
Whisky No5: Legacy
Jay said: Pale straw colour. Chap on the counter said it had a hint of bourbon. Slightest hint of smoke. Great with a drop of water.
Whisky No6: Highland Laird Isle of Jura 27 Year Old
Distillery: Isle of Jura, via Bartells
Jay said: Peaty, smoked cheese. Great with a drop of water. £185 a bottle!
Whisky No7: Nadurra Oloroso
Jay said: Syrupy, treacly, Sherry. Lovely
Whisky No8: Lagavulin 8
Jay said: It was all that!
And that concludes our account of the 2016 Stoke Whisky Festival. There were lots of whiskies that we wanted to try but didn’t get round to, but hopefully the festival will return in 2017. If it does, we will definitely be back there.