White Whales from Islay
Captain Ahab would have spent his entire life just to hunt one of these myths of the whiskey world
Welcome to Islay. This small grey, wet magical land is where all of our peated fantasies come true. With nine distilleries and two in planning, Islay is a veritable Disneyland for those hunters of smoke, seaweed, and other rich maritime characters.
Hailing much further south than the rest of the Scottish Isles, Islay enjoys a moderate climate that is the backbone of the region’s terroir. When you drink a classic dram of Lagavulin 16 or Bowmore Darkest, one cannot help but be instantly transported to rocky coasts spotted by lighthouses or walking amongst the green and grey, wellies and all!
Many distilleries like Ardbeg and Bunnahabhain are putting out limited releases sprinkled throughout the year. For those lucky enough to be within driving distance, the limited releases are attainable. But the rest of us can only hope for a few bottles to trickle our direction.
Taste is subjective. Peat isn’t for everyone. Campfire, leather, and iodine will not bring world peace (well, maybe?).
But whether you’ve just gotten your 4th Ardbeg tattoo or the thought of peat churns your stomach, some legendary and rare releases can’t be passed up if found in the wild! And really, no collection is complete without ample representation of perhaps the most beloved and hated of all whisky-producing regions!
Searching for Islay whales may cause one to transform into Captain Ahab, willing to risk it all. While attaining these whiskies may not require you to go down with the ship, they will take your hard-earned cash and patience for the long hunt.
Unlike some of its peers, Bowmore is known for smoky yet softer whiskies. This whisky was released in 2017 after 5 decades in a single ex-bourbon hogshead. Bottled at 41.5% ABV, and with only 74 bottles ever produced, it is, without doubt, one of the rarest Bowmore’s ever released.
This 1966 vintage celebrates a special milestone at the Bowmore distillery. It was in the same year that Bowmore bottled its first official single malt. This was the same year that distillery manager Eddie Macaffer joined Bowmore before retiring in 2016.
This collectible comes in an oak case with five hand-laid silver rings at its center. The rings represent each decade the spirit was aged and make for a stunning display of this refined whisky in any collection.
Should you dare to kill this bottle off you will be in for a rollercoaster ride! Instead of smoke, you get a tropical fruit salad of lychee and pineapple with floral notes and baking spices. It goes down painfully smooth. Each guilty sip will make you feel personally responsible for world deforestation.
You can’t talk about rare Islay whiskies without including those from the legendary Port Ellen Distillery. It was shut down in 1983 but a treasure trove of stock has been stored in a warehouse since, with Diageo tantalizing followers with sporadic and rare releases.
With each new iteration, the age of the whisky becomes older and the spirit reserves approach nil. Port Ellen 37 Year Old is the 16th release from the closed distillery and it is a massive dram of spice, smoke, leather, and notes of blackcurrant. Bottled at 55.2% ABV, the flavors explode on the palate with moreish notes of citrus and cinnamon and finish with woody, earthy notes and hints of dark chocolate.
If you see it in your price range, click that buy now button with no remorse!
Another Port Ellen on this list should be no surprise! And while it’s true that in 2017 Diageo announced plans to refurbish and reopen the distillery in the future, those plans have already been delayed. Once again, whisky will be distilled at Port Ellen in the future. But why wait until the 2030s to get your hands on some?
Get used to seeing “product not available” while searching for Port Ellen 40 Year Old 9 Rogue Casks. True to its namesake, this bottling comes from 9 highly unusual and previously rejected casks at the distillery.
This spirit was bottled at 50.9% ABV and the trademark Port Ellen oiliness is on steroids! A dram full of apricot, honey, and peach with notes of tobacco and leather. The campfire smoke is there, but only just more than a hint. These 9 rogue casks have come together to produce a delicate and refined drink that can be enjoyed by connoisseurs and amateurs alike.
Hunting for Port Ellen will always reap rewards for those with the right constitution.
Laphroaig proclaims to be the “most richly flavored of all Scotch whiskies” and after sampling a few drams of the 10-year-old cask strength bottling, we are inclined to agree. The distillery practically sits on the sea itself and this maritime influence makes it into every dram produced.
This rare Laphroaig bottling is the oldest to ever come out of the distillery. A piece of history in itself, the spirit was distilled in 1960 before being bottled in 2000. Initially, 3300 bottles were released and now two decades later, the number of available bottles is surely much lower.
Laphroaig 40 Year Old is bottled at a “natural cask strength” of 42.4% and gives drinkers a more refined experience than the distillery's young and aggressive 10-year-old variants. Smoke and peat phenols are balanced by green notes of fruit and a surprising mint character. The whisky holds a fat, creamy mouthfeel and finishes with trademark smoke, iodine, and fresh herbal notes.
A delicious whisky that can be saved for the ultimate occasion, put away as a valuable investment, or the crown of your Laphroaig collection. Pick one of these up while you still can!
Ardbeg is known for putting out some of the most aggressive and in-your-face whiskies in the world, and the Islay distillery has garnered much hype for its highly evolving selection of limited and special releases.
It was Ardbeg’s Manager’s Choice that vaulted the distillery to the heights of the whisky stratosphere. This is a bottling of whisky distilled in 1976 and 22 years later, distillery manager Stuart Thomson chose a single sherry butt for the exclusive run. The whisky was bottled at 56% ABV in a limited run of just 497 bottles and there are far fewer available today!
Other Ardbeg single cask bottlings would follow but none would garner the attention of the first sherry cask release. Polishing the rough edges of a typical Ardbeg dram, this first release of the Manager’s Choice marries the character of spirit and wood in a perfectly balanced expression. Expect the smoke and tobacco to be turned down while weighed against rich notes of dried fruit.
If you run into one of these highly sought bottles, it’s best to pick it up. Now whether you can resist opening it up right away or not is totally on you!
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