Islay Whisky.eu Where the finest malt whisky is made © IslayWhisky.eu2012 Extract from The New York Times 07/12/2011 by ERIC ASIMOV (Original http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/07/dining/reviews/whisky-from-islay-scotland-spirits-of-the-  times.html?pagewanted=all)  TASTING whiskies can be a clinical, prosaic task, nosing and assessing, jotting notes,  reconsidering, lips compressed in concentration, brow furrowed. Yet, as the spirits panel  tasted 20 single malts from Islay, we reminded ourselves to step back a moment, to  contemplate with no small amount of awe the magic of what was in the glass. Islay  demands a sense of wonder.  I’ve never visited Islay, that island off Scotland’s western coast with the evocative  pronunciation EYE-lah. But sipping a good Islay single malt, with its astounding range of  complex expressions, transports you to an Islay that seems as mythical as it is real.   It’s a world unscarred by modernity’s claws, an island of fog, smoke, brine and mystery,  where ancient distilleries, after years of throbbing production, go dark when demand  wanes. There they sit, abandoned on the green and craggy landscape, their distinctive  pagoda roofs intact, yet silent like phantom freighters.   Some remain that way, their sites revered like ancient stone circles by whisky lovers. For  others comes reincarnation when market conditions change again. The ghostly cobwebs  are cleared away, the pot stills rejuvenated, and once more they will yield the precious  distilled vapours of malted barley, peat, yeast, crystalline water and air.   If it seems odd to consider air an ingredient, you have to stick your nose in a glass of  Islay single malt. Along with all the other components, a savory whiff of salty sea breeze  is unmistakable.   The sense of mystery in the terrain is palpable as well. “As you explore you can see how  it compresses its secrets into tight parcels: dune-fringed beaches, remote hills, cliffs,  caves, peat bogs, standing stones, lost parliaments, abandoned townships and Celtic  memories,” Michael Jackson wrote in “Whiskey: The Definitive World Guide” (DK,  2005). “It is a tapestry of geographical and historical treasures through which whiskey  runs like a golden thread.”   It’s this air of mystery, along with a reputation for the smokiest, most robust and  challenging malts, that seems to set Islay apart from Scotland’s other whisky regions.  Most experts, however, agree that whiskies can no longer be classified geographically.  Production methods have become so homogenized that they no longer reflect local  eccentricities as much as they do a distiller’s predilections.   The smokiness comes from the tradition of using peat — bog soil made of decomposed vegetable matter that was harvested to fuel kilns used for drying barley. Assertive peating has long been a trait of famous Islay malts, like Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg, but it is not exclusive to Islay. And just as much a part of the Islay tradition are gentler malts like Bunnahabhain (BUN-na-hah-ven) and Bruichladdich (brook-LAD-dy), which are lighter in body and more floral than peaty. Another tradition, shared throughout Scotland, seems to be names that are impossible to  sound out phonetically.   Our 20 Islay single malts included bottles from each of the eight working Islay distilleries. Indeed, two of the eight, Bruichladdich and Ardbeg, were dormant for years, only to be reawakened to distil again. The revival of another distillery, Port Charlotte, is planned. With 20 whiskies, we tried to mix in widely available, well-known bottles with some of each distillery’s more esoteric malts. We also included one mystery malt, a bottle packaged by a whisky merchant who does not reveal the actual distiller. For the tasting Florence Fabricant and I were joined by Flavien Desoblin, an owner of the Brandy Library in TriBeCa, which has more than 250 single malts on its list, including 50 from Islay. Also with us was Pete Wells, who next month takes over as the restaurant critic. The gathering of 20 samples from Islay made it as clear as a Scottish spring that whatever traits the whiskies had in common were overshadowed by their differences. “To pull utterly different characters out of essentially the same material is stunning,” Pete said. “It’s a wonderful demonstration of range and diversity.” The tasting also testified to the high level of quality in Islay malts. Seven of the eight distilleries were represented among our top 10, and the eighth did not miss the cut by much. Islay malts are not cheap. With a cap at $100, our 20 bottles ranged from $36 to $97, with 16 of them $50 or over. Our No. 1 bottle was one of the easiest Islay malts to find, the Laphroaig 10-Year-Old. It was one of the smokiest of the group yet one of the subtlest and most complex as well, with all of the rich medicinal, waxy, savoury and saline flavours that people associate with Islay, but with an underlying sweetness, too. At $45, it was also our best value. By contrast, the Laphroaig 18-Year-Old, our No. 5 bottle, was less bracing and mellower. The smokiness was more of an undercurrent, amplifying its floral, honey and meadowlike qualities. We found similar distinctions in comparing two other pairs of bottles that made our list. Our No. 2 bottle, the Ardbeg Corryvreckan, was huge and robust, with layers of complex flavours. Smokiness was only a small part of the majestic picture. Its 10-year-old sibling, the No. 4 bottle, was likewise complex, but emphasized a briny, smoky, almost oceanic quality. Our No. 3 bottle, the Lagavulin Distillers Edition 1993, showed the warm, burnished complexity of age with a spicy, raisiny fruitcake quality that perhaps attests to time spent in barrels previously used for sweet sherry. The basic Lagavulin 16 Years, our No. 10, though not appreciably younger, was much less complex, mildly smoky with both savory and sweet flavors. I must say that, as a fan of Lagavulin 16 Years, which I remember as so robust it demanded a bit of water for sipping, this example seemed a bit meek. The bottles rounding out our list show the range of Islay. Bruichladdich, No. 7, was the gentlest, most delicate malt, with sweet notes of butterscotch. Caol Ila, No. 9, was huge and oily in texture, smoky yet fresh, too. In the middle was Bowmore, No. 8, rich, balanced, moderate, delicious nonetheless. That leaves the new guy, Kilchoman, which began production in 2005. Its Spring 2011 Release was one of the youngest in our tasting, if you do the arithmetic, yet it was superb, fresh and complex with plenty of smoke. Bunnahabhain was the only Islay distillery not on our top-10 list, and although Florence and Flavien loved the 18-year-old (the $97 bottle), it barely missed the cut. Other bottles worth recommending that did not overcome the stiff competition include Bowmore’s 15- Years-Old Darkest, which Flavien and Pete especially liked, and the Laphroaig Triple Wood, which we all liked. And the mystery malt? It was simply called Smokehead, a whisky that, judging by its busy graphics and aggressive packaging, is being marketed to young single-malt newcomers. It was powerful and smoky, and Pete and I liked it more than Flavien and Florence did. “It’s for peat freaks,” Flavien said. Guilty. But I will allow that, while I liked it, I would not classify Smokehead among the more contemplative malts in the bunch. No, for woolgathering and armchair voyaging, preferably in front of a fire, I would be most happy with any of our favorites. I prefer them straight, with maybe a spoonful of water and an equal amount of wonder. As the song goes, thinking is the best way to travel. Tasting Report BEST VALUE Laphroaig malt whisky, $45, *** ½ 10 Years, 43% Heavily smoked, richly medicinal, savoury, subtle, complex and deep. (Laphroaig Import, Deerfield, Ill.) Ardbeg malt whisky, $80, *** ½ Corryvreckan, 57.1% Lightly smoky and sweet with rich citrus, soy and saline flavors. (Moët Hennessy, New York) Lagavulin malt whisky, $90, *** ½ Distillers Edition 1993 Double Matured, 43% Complex and mellow with flavors of smoke, wax, citrus and fruitcake. (Diageo, Norwalk, Conn.) Ardbeg malt whisky, $50, *** ½ 10 Years, 46% Multidimensional and oceanic with smoky, briny, medicinal flavors. (Moët Hennessy) Laphroaig malt whisky, $75, *** 18 Years, 48% Like a meadow, with aromas of flowers, honey, spices and a light touch of smoke and citrus. (Laphroaig Import) Kilchoman malt whisky, $65, *** Spring 2011 Release, 46% Fresh yet complicated with aromas of smoke, butter cream and citrus. (Impex Beverages, Burlingame, Calif.) Bruichladdich malt whisky, $52, *** 12 Years Second Edition, 46% Gentle and mild, with aromas and flavors of citrus, honey, flowers and butterscotch. (Winebow, New York) Bowmore malt whisky, $45, *** 12 Years, 40% Rich and well balanced with aromas of flowers, forest and beeswax, and an underlying smokiness. (Skyy Spirits, San Francisco) Caol Ila malt whisky, $57, ** ½ 12 Years, 43% Big, broad and almost oily in texture, with ample citrus and smokiness yet a freshness as well. (Diageo, Norwalk, Conn.) Lagavulin malt whisky $57, ** ½ 16 Years, 43% Pleasant and mildly smoky, with savoury flavours but also a creamy sweetness. (Diageo, Norwalk, Conn.)