Port Askaig is on the North-Eastern side of Islay, and is home to one of the island's two ferry terminals. Oh, and the largest distillery on the island in terms of production capacity: Caol Ila. So we can be pretty certain that Port Askaig whisky is distilled at Caol Ila, which is good news! There are rumours that the other expressions of Port Askaig may be sourced from other Islay distilleries (and they're all single malts), but this particular one is a regular bottling sourced from Caol Ila. Being such a large distillery doesn't hold Caol Ila back in terms of quality, although the low strength of the regular official bottlings (43%) means the whisky can be a little tame for some. They're still good whiskies, but if it were bottled at 46% and non-chill filtered, I suspect it'd be brilliant.
So, where does one go if they like Caol Ila, but they'd like a little extra strength? Enter the independent bottlers to save the day! The company behind the Port Askaig brand is Speciality Drinks, which among other things are also behind the Elements of Islay independent bottlings, and are the sister company to The Whisky Exchange store in London. Until recently, Port Askaig was tough to find in Australia, but that is soon going to change, as Melbourne's Alba Whisky have started to import it in in small quantities. All Port Askaig whisky is bottled at 45.8% and above, and in the case of this particular expression, at a cask strength of 57.1%, aka 100 (British) proof.
While prices aren't finalised just yet, at an RRP of around $150 AUD, this bottling has got to be the cheapest way of getting your hands on cask strength Caol Ila. The official Caol Ila NAS Cask Strength bottlings from Diageo are long gone, and are impossible to find in Australia, and most independent bottlings at this price point are bottled at around 46%, so this is a great value bottling. Port Askaig 100 proof is matured in refill ex-bourbon casks, and while there's no official age statement, the youngest whisky in this one is seven years old. Unfortunately I can't find official word on chill filtration, but based on the texture I don't believe it has been chill filtered. And based on the very pale colour and tinted bottle, I'd definitely say it's naturally coloured.
Port Askaig 100 proof, 57.1%, NAS. Islay, Scotland.
Believed to be Caol Ila. Matured in refill ex-bourbon casks. Unknown chill filtration, natural colour.
Colour: Very, very pale white wine. Definitely natural!
Nose: Essence of Caol Ila. Smoked ham, sweet peat, charred BBQ'd meat, grassy, some dried herbs and a little green malt. Lemon sherbet and boiled sweets.
Texture: Excellent. Medium-heavy weight, thick & chewy, and a tiny touch of heat.
Taste: Thick, dense and warm wood smoke, but it's not too dominant, it's gentle and inviting. Crispy smoked bacon and bacon grease, hot wood ash and warm spices. Sweet herbal peat, and a little more of that lemon sherbet from the nose.
Finish: Medium-long length. Hot wood ash and chilli spice, tapers quickly to sweet peat, lemon zest and some earthy dried herbs.
Score: 3.5 out of 5.
Notes: Very enjoyable, and definitely great value for money. The finish falls off a little, and it's not overly complex, but if you dig these flavours (like I do), it's definitely a winner! Pure, unadulterated Caol Ila, but nicely amplified and concentrated over the regular official bottlings. Lovely.
I must admit I sometimes shy away from independent and/or mystery bottlings that I'm not familiar with, but there's no reason to do so in this case. These guys clearly know what they're doing. If you're a fan of Caol Ila but you wish they'd turn up the volume, or you've had your fill of the standard bottlings, this is a sure-fire way to satisfy that desire. Watch out for this one when it reaches our shores, it's not far away!
Thanks to Alba Whisky for the sample, and for going to the effort of importing this, and their other, whiskies. This one's a keeper if you ask me, and I just might have to grab a bottle for myself!