A review of the Islay 8yr old single malt from an undisclosed distillery released by North Star Spirits as a part of series 002.
The Islay 8yr old from North Star Spirits from an undisclosed distillery was the last of the three whiskies poured for our monthly tasting session. The first one being Glenrothes 20yr old followed by the fabulous Ardmore 8 yr old. You can read more about North Star here.
Ok confession time. I'm not fan of "overtly" peated whisky! Yes I can see my credibility score plummeting. How can I be passionate about whisky and not like peat? It's sacrilege you say. Maybe so but I don't give a damn. Intense peat gives me a headache. My palate is simply not mature enough to deal with the onslaught of intensely phenolic whiskies. God knows I've tried but failed miserably each time. I'm just not able to break the stranglehold of peat on my palate and appreciate the secondary and tertiary aromas and flavours that may be lurking beneath. Which means the most iconic and sought after whisky producing region not just in Scotland but in the world is a no-go for me. Sorry peatheads.(There goes whatever little prospects I may have had on Instagram, Black Mirror-Nosedive). By that I mean it's not my first choice and in all probability I will avoid an Islay all together unless of course its a Port Ellen. But then who in their right mind would refuse that!
What can I do? Whisky Flu is all about honesty! But more than my intolerance of intense peat I have a problem with the misperception around peated whiskies and complexity. The mere presence of peat does not necessarily make a whisky complex. Sure peat by itself is a complex compound capable of imparting a wide range of aromas depending not just on its origin but also the depth at which it is cut, the temperature at which it is fired and so on. But does that automatically make a whisky complex? I beg to differ. There are a lot of unpeated malts out there which offer as much complexity. Also a lot of juvenile distillate is cloaked in peat and sold prematurely. Peat sells so why not let the cash registers roll? You can say the same thing about sherry finishes. And add the two together and voila! Merry Christmas. Actually it would be worthwhile to do a post on complexity in the future.
Coming back to this undisclosed distillery or mystery malt. "There are a number of bottlings that don't carry the name of a distillery, often carrying the name of an independent bottler's label instead. It is thought that distilleries like to release some bottles like this, without using the name and therefore using a different marketing strategy. It is also believed that some independent bottlers reach agreements with distilleries to brand the whisky this way also. There is always a lot of guesswork with these undisclosed bottlings, some easier than others to identify". The above definition is from thewhiskyvault.com. I've been trying to find out regulations around such agreements but there isn't much information online. I've written to SWA (Scotch Whisky Association) if they can shed some light on this but so far there has been no revert. If any of you know or can point me in that direction I would love to know. On to the review.
North Star Spirits-Islay 8yr old-Series 002
Price paid £70 | Sold out
Wood-Bourbon Hogshead & Finished in two Sherry Octaves
Natural colour | Non chill-filtered
Distilled Jun'08-Bottled May'17
Colour: Dull brass
Nose: Immediately medicinal, vegetal and very Islay. A touch prickly on the nose but that quickly dissipates.Peat smoke, dusty with wet forest floor aromas. Brine quite evident. Again as with the Ardmore, even though the peat is assertive it is not acrid. There is softness to it. With a little time notes of dark chocolate emerge morphing into rolled tobacco leaves and over-brewed tea.
Palate: Hot and thin and evidently young. Soft medicinal peat smoke is balanced by sweet barley sugars. Bit of citrus now on the sides of the tongue. Touch of burnt rubber and black pepper emerge. With water the pepper, smoke and salt amplify. It now gets little oily and fruity. Notes of sultanas, walnuts and some varnish in the background.
After 20 mins in the glass it gets seriously sweet and the peat smoke completely recedes into the background. The sweet-fruity-citrus flavours now occupy the mid-palate. Chocolate and prunes with a hint of treacle. Roasted coffee beans, orange rind mingle very nicely with soft peat towards the finish. The morning after, imagine Bounty bars made with dark roasted coconut.
Finish: Sooty and peppery with a long and lingering finish.
Impressions: Very interesting presentation indeed. I've not had this style of Islay before. Syrupy sweet and soft medicinal peat. Twin sherry octave finishing is uncommon. One would expect the octaves(sherry octaves are smaller 50 ltr casks which offer greater surface to liquid ratio and hence can speed up maturation) to completely overpower the spirit but that has mercifully not happened. We don't know anything about the previous contents of the octaves but they certainly didn't seem first-fill as the sherry influence is subtle at best. Maybe it was just a volume issue. Half of the hoggy content was filled in two similar octaves and then vatted back? Even the sweetness seems barley driven and not from the octaves. Without water the youthfulness of the distillate shines through on the palate delivering the heat and dusty sooty peat. Only with a little time in the glass does the sherry begin to assert itself. As to guessing at the origins of the distillery my research online seems to suggest that it is Caol Ila. It may very well be so as Caol Ila can deliver even at a younger age. The £70 price tag I feel is a tad expensive for that age. Overall it's not a massively complex malt but everything is well-mannered.