Classic of Islay is a mystery malt. Bottled by Jack Weibers Whisky World in Germany, it has long been rumored that the source of the casks is the Lagavulin distillery. That would make them one of if not the only independently bottled Lagavulin on the market today. How this would be is a significant question as Lagavulin already sells very few casks to blenders, as the demand for the OB single malts already consumes the vast majority of their supply. Whatever the source, they have consistently delivered full strength heavily peated sherry cask whisky for prices that are a little hard to believe by the current standards of the industry. Let's see if it's too good to be true.
This whisky was bottled in 2014 at 56%, without coloring or chill filtration.
Classic of Islay Cask #530
Nose: seaweed, herbal/vegetal peat, dry smoke, moderate American oak, background sherry, cured meat/ham
Taste: a bittersweet balance of sherry and oak throughout, only slightly tannic, dry peat and more rounded emerge at the back, and the oak becomes more toasty
Finish: cold smoke, herbal peat, oak, sherry residue
While this malt has faded somewhat since I first opened the bottle, it's still a very solid experience. The flavors could do with some more complexity, but the aromas and finish elevate it above the price point. Even if this is Caol Ila rather than Lagavulin, it's still quite a deal in comparison to the sub-10 year old Caol Ila single casks that have been hitting the market at over $100 lately.
Diluted to 50%
Nose: a solid amount of American oak, dry peat smoke, ham, subtle sherry, plums, herbal, cold tea,
Taste: sherried sweetness up front and through the middle, not particularly tannic American oak takes over around the middle, very little peat until the very back, joined by a touch of herbal ham and some more rounded sherry
Finish: somewhat thin and indistinct, cold smoke, mild oak, herbal peat
This isn't precisely bad, but the flavors really seems lacking in peat. While not overly complex, the aromas have some nice touches that tend towards the dry side, which is a nice change of pace for a sherry cask malt.
Diluted to 45%
Nose: strong chlorine and vegetal peat, cold smoke, sour sherry, cheap beef jerky, green onions, soy sauce
Taste: rather thin, moderately sweet up front, then a muddle of oak and sherry around the middle, becoming more tannic with intruding peat smoke at the back
Finish: soft American oak, barrel char, cacao nibs, cold smoke, bittersweet
At this strength the nose is nearly unpleasant, with strong chemical notes and little sherry to balance the youthfulness. The flavors are thin and somewhat indistinct until the finish, but generally inoffensive. Overall it feels like there are very good reasons for this cask to have been bottled at full strength - while I can't quite say that it entirely falls apart, much of the appeal is lost by diluting it this far.
After trying a 9 year old first-fill sherry cask during the warehouse tasting at Lagavulin, I'm willing to say that this is at least in the same ballpark. There's a lot of overlap in my tasting notes, so even if that's not actually where it's from you're probably getting something that does a decent impression. With that said, it sounds like not every cask is a winner, but at least you won't be out a ton of money if you get one that isn't quite up to snuff.
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