Continuing on from yesterday’s post covering the first crop of whiskies from Islay’s Fèis Ile , here’s the rest of the whiskies I managed to hunt down that were released to commemorate one of the world’s greatest whisky festivals.
Attracting thousands of whisky fans to Islay off the west coast of Scotland, the Fèis takes starts in May and overlaps into June as each of the island’s nine distilleries organises tastings and events to show off their wares.
Returning and now recovered from over a week of drinking top quality whisky, I managed to taste of every release from the Fèis (and almost all from the distilleries themselves), so here’s the second review roundup of the bunch, listed in alphabetical order. I should note that to me this was the best crop of Fèis Ile whiskies in quite a few years, with many festival veterans agreeing with me.
Here’s a guide to my scoring system. I grade whiskies out of 10 to the nearest half-point:
0-4 – Avoid this bottle
5/5.5 – Barely passable
6/6.5 – Decent enough, not really for me, but you might like it.
7/7.5 – Good
8/8.5 – Extremely good
9-10 – Absolutely superb
Islay House – Fèis Ile 2019 Bruichladdich, £100 ($127)
Description: One of Islay’s luxury hotels releases a bottle it got from a cask of Bruichladdich every Fèis. This particular whisky spent five years in a bourbon cask, then five in a Bordeaux wine cask.
Nose: Grapes, wine gums, and ginger, though there’s plenty of orange peel here too. Waxy and sharp.
Taste: Incredibly dry and salty. Like a Spanish tapas of anchovies on freshly baked bread with tangy olive oil and irresistible tomato sauce. Throw a bit of orange marmalade on that mix as well.
Overall: One of the weirdest whiskies I’ve ever tried. Fascinating, frustrating, and incredibly complex. Like a piece of modern art that you know is great but you’re not sure if you actually like it. It’s softer and more approachable with water. 7
Kilchoman – Feis Ile 2019 11 Year Old, £117 ($150)
Description: Two casks vatted together, a bourbon and a sherry, this is one of the oldest Kilchomans bottled.
Nose: Nutella, freshly baked bread, and herbs. A hint of lavender. There’s also that overripe hint of papaya.
Taste: I once had a deep-fried pizza, with chocolate sauce replacing tomato, with cheese on it and everything. I’ll never forget that artery-stopping and surprisingly pleasant shock to the system. This whisky reminded me of that. Oily, sweet, thick, and heavy.
Overall: A complex range of flavours that still keeps Kilchoman’s blunt and heavy style. 7.5
Lagavulin – Fèis Ile 2019 19 Year Old, £150 ($190)
Description: 6000 bottles were made available of this older Lagavulin matured in sherry-treated casks.
Nose: Tobacco, coffee, liquorice, and cardamom. That thuggish Lagavulin peat is also ever-present.
Taste: Gloriously heavy in every way. Barbecue meat, prunes, and cherry Tylenol.
Overall: Lagavulin, now with added fruity and spicy goodness. 8
Laphroaig – Cairdeas 2019 Triple Wood Original Cask Strength, £77 ($98)
Description: The Cairdeas series is made for the Friends of Laphroaig (the distillery’s excellent loyalty scheme), and this whisky celebrating the Feis consists of 36,000 bottles is first matured in bourbon barrels, moved to smaller quarter casks (for increased wood contact), and then moved again into ex-sherry treated casks.
Nose: A bundle of fruits dipped in tar, with vanilla undertones.
Taste: Fruitier than usual for a Laphroaig. That oily Laphroaig texture is there, but to me this whisky comes alive on the finish, like many Laphroaigs. It’s a sweet, rich, and very long finish.
Overall: If you like Laphroaig, you’ll like this. 7.5
Scotch Malt Whisky Society – 29.260 (Laphroaig) A Visceral, Elemental Experience, £160 ($200)
Description: This Laphroaig was the only Scotch Malt Whisky Society Fèis bottle that was available to purchase on the island, which makes it the properly official release for me (there’s a few others that were also marketed as Fèis releases).
Nose: Bacon heaven. The smoke is strong, but so is a cranberry sweetness, with hints of smoked paprika, leather, and roasted peppers.
Taste: One of my favourite foods in the world is Polish Oscypec cheese, which is a kind of smoked haloumi but better. This tastes exactly like that. A blissful mix of salty and umami flavors.
Overall: Oy yoy yoy. 9
I will note there’s a few whiskies I’ve missed over the course of the festival. Both the expensive single cask Bowmores that were on sale during the open day, as well as a pricey single cask offerings from Caol Ila and Ardbeg. The ‘Committee’ cask strength release of the Ardbeg Drum escaped me. Though these don’t necessarily count as ‘official’ Fèisreleases, they were released during the festival. Independent bottlers Dramfool, Finlaggan, Douglas Laing’s Big Peat, Loch Fyne Old Malt Cask, and Islay Mist all had Fèis releases I wasn’t able to get ahold of either. Hunter Laing also had its higher-end Kinship series which also proved too tricky to try. It’s hard to get to all of them!
Though some of these bottles are quite rare and hard to find, your best bet to still get ahold of many of them is at the special Whisky Auctioneer Islay Festival auction which ends in a week.
Another disclaimer is that some of these bottles will have multiplied in price so it’s hard to get them at the original price that I’ve listed here, though this is still possible with some of them (such as the wider releases like Drum).