After a couple of weeks of reviews from our tequila tasting event, even though they were good, it’s time that we were getting back to whisky!
So, let’s take a look at another Ardbeg offering, but this one is a bottle that can’t be found through normal retail channels; this bottle is a special release issued by the distillery to celebrate Feis Ile – the Islay Festival of Malt and Music. (Feis Ile is gaelic for Islay Festival and is pronounced Faysh Eela).
First held in 1986, the festival was founded to celebrate the heritage and culture of Islay. Since 2000 the festival has been run in conjunction with the distilleries of Islay and Jura, as well as Port Ellen Maltings. During the weeklong celebration each distillery has its own open day, putting on a series of special events.
The trek to Islay for Feis Ile is something akin to a pilgrimage made by die-hard Islay whisky fans who invade the island by the thousands to visit, or revisit, their favorite distilleries, listen to music and, of course, enjoy a whisky or two at the center of this whisky universe. And, yes, if you really thought you needed to ask, attending Feis Ile would be on my bucket list!! 😀
As part of the Feis Ile celebrations, each distillery releases Festival-only bottlings that are available only at the distillery……until a few days later, of course, when these special release bottles start showing up on the various whisky auction sites. I promise not to start another whisky auction rant today, but to continue to demonstrate the craziness, the 2011 Feis Ile Ardbeg release sold at the distillery for £90. In October 2012 a bottle of Ardbeg Feis Ile 2011 sold for £310 or $485 plus associated auction costs on Scotchwhiskyauctions.com. Like any “investment, though, whisky is not immune to price fluctuations and just two years later, at an April 2014 auction, the same Feis Ile bottling along with a Feis Ile bag and poster sold on Whiskyauctioneer.com for £225 or $352 plus costs….still more than the original purchase price, but down quite a bit from the Oct. 2012 price. Also, realize that these prices are converted to today’s USD prices so the actual value at the time would have been different, but it does show you that there is an initial hype around these releases (as shown on my Perpetuum review – here) that drives prices up, with no guarantee that they will stay that high. So the old adage applies here, too….buyer beware!
Review: Ardbeg Feis Ile 2011
Today’s review is Ardbeg’s Feis Ile 2011 release. Distilled in 1998 and bottled in 2011, this whisky was aged in two Pedro Ximenez butts and bottled at 55.1% abv. The bottle stamp is L11 116 8ML.
The sample I tasted came from my good friend, Sorin, who brought a rather extensive number of rare and exceptional bottles to share with me in celebration of my birthday and I am just getting around to posting my notes. Sorin is incredibly generous and has offered me many opportunities to taste some astoundingly great whiskies. A simple thanks is inadequate, but that’s all he will accept. So thanks, again, Sorin!!
Color: Pale golden yellow with slight orange tints
Nose: Oh boy! I’m sure my eyes rolled back in my head just a bit when I first nosed the glass. Full-on notes of BBQ, you know what I am taking about….those smokey, meaty BBQ smells that fill the yard when the smoker lid is raised and the smoke comes billowing out! Bacon, a touch of something sweet, hints of dark red fruits, earthy peat with a faint hint of creosote and campfire smoke. Such a great nose!
Taste: All the promise of the nose carries through to the palate. Ardbeg peat on the arrival – bold, earthy, tarry, and smokey/ashy. The mid-palate has a burst of flavors: salted fish, sweet BBQ, salted ham, bacon, delicately fruity, softly spiced and a touch of honey.
Finish: The finish has a surprisingly sweet side, slightly tangy/citric, spiced fruits, before becoming ashy and softly tannic. This Is Very Good!
Overall: This whisky really hits all the highlights you’d want or expect from Ardbeg. There is a boldness in the peat, like you get with the 10 year-old. Big, aggressive, unmistakably Islay! Yet this whisky’s bold ,smokey, ashy, salty side is balanced and complemented perfectly with a beautiful fruitiness and an underlying sweetness that keeps you coming back over and over. My notes are almost insufficient here, but I was just too damn busy enjoying this whisky to write down everything! Deal with it!! LOL!
Name: Feis Ile – El Diablo
Date bottled: 2011 Feis Ile Release
Maturation: Two ex-Pedro Ximenez sherry butts
Number of Bottles: approximately 1300
Initial Price: £90
Availability: Auction only
Sample Source: Sorin T.