The Vintage Malt Whisky Company was founded in 1992, and has spent better than a quarter century now releasing independent bottlings, undisclosed malts and blended malt whiskies to the masses eager for a) better prices than the big brands can (or are willing to?) offer up and b) interesting alternatives to the mass market branded sector. And as with any such company, it’s inevitable that you’ll find a plethora of singular flavours and varying levels of quality. Such is the nature of it, especially as regards the single cask stuff.
The company is particularly big on undisclosed Islay whiskies, boasting no less than three unique Hebridean brands in their portfolio in addition to a blended malt that is composed largely of Islay malt as well. Sounds like a bunch of folks after my own heart, doesn’t it? Both The Ileach** and Finlaggan have, at times, been purported to be undisclosed toddling young expressions of Lagavulin, but we all know the nature of these whiskies, aye? With no declaration, and contractual obligations ensuring tight-lippedness, these whiskies could be from any distillery on the island. Not only that, they could be sourced from different distilleries from batch to batch. I guess with a price point as fair as we see here ($75-80 locally), we can’t get too worked up so long as the quality is high. I’ll weigh in with my own guesses on these two at the end of the tasting notes below.
Oh, and by the way…
Ileach is the name given to folks who live on Islay. Finlaggan is the seat of the Lord of the Isles.
**(pronounced somewhere between ee-leck and ee-lack, please! And with a proper throaty Scottish ‘ch’ at the end, if it do ya!)
Finlaggan Cask Strength
Nose: Lime and licorice. Peat and smoke, as expected. Very youthful and ester-driven. Also very oceanic shoreline-esque. Minerally, and rich in seaside decay (actually a very pleasant aroma, despite what you might think). Marzipan. Brittle, crispy bacon. Eucalyptus. Prickly, with plenty of licorice. Not overly complex, but for a young’un, I like it just fine.
Palate: Very young. Some untamed new make notes, but no feintiness to be detected, so ultimately…we’re happy. Lemon. A lot of smoke. God…even more of those young citrus notes piling on. Anise. Charred scallop. Toothpicks. A mouthful of ocean surf (like when you bail off a wave and biff it into the deep; and yes…that is the voice of experience, though my surfing days are long behind me now). Burnt kale chips.
Finish: Granny Smith apples. Oily vanilla pod. More of those charred scallop notes. Long, long, long.
Thoughts: A bit lighter in color; perhaps all ex-bourbon?
The Ileach Cask Strength
Nose: A wee bit of a garbage-y, cabbage-y note at first (Sulphur compounds, but not of the struck match sort). This does sort of off-gas after a bit of time in the glass. Behind that, it’s a bit more syrupy than the Finlaggan. Ardbeggian, even. Or more like Laphroaig 10 Cask Strength, upon reflection. Maybe a sherry butt or two in here? Ashy and sooty. A few drops of orange juice.
Palate: Definitely into young heavily phenolic Laphroaig territory now. Like licking rubber bandages. Black and green wine gums. Green ju-jubes too. Soooo much smoke. Charred citrus peel (and yes…I have tried that), and again… a little bit of orange. Hate to say it, but that strange funk from the nose carries through here too, just milder. I kinda feel that the palate does help redeem the nose a bit.
Finish: Again, uber long. Fortunately that faint sulphuric tinge is MIA at the back end. Unripe Bartlett pears and tannic fruit skins. More lime. Some clean wood.
Thoughts: Meh. S’ok. Definitely an off note to be dealt with. I think (just my two cents) maybe the result of a bad butt in here. (Yes…I realize that sounds like Jim Murray windbag-ism). Previous batches have been better. I think I’ll stick with the Finlaggan.
If I had to guess blindly? Finlaggan = Caol Ila. The Ileach = Ardbeg. I’m sure that’s not the case, but such is the way it goes with super young Islay malts: they’ve often yet not grown into the face they’ll wear later.