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Islay Mist Aged 21 Years

As a whisky enthusiast, I am conditioned to look for a few signs of quality in my whisky purchases.

It must be 46% ABV minimum, non-chill filtered, and with natural colour. These criteria don’t guarantee that the contents of the bottle will be excellent, but I know I am going to be getting the best possible texture and flavour from that whisky. With that, quality often follows. Rightly or wrongly, I look past pretty much everything which doesn’t meet these criteria.

However, there are times when I am willing to allow some of those rules to slide. There are whiskies out there where I think the price and quality override the less-than-ideal presentation, particularly when they are on offer, which is pretty regularly. Examples would be supermarket favourites Old Pulteney 12, Laphroaig 10, and Glenfiddich 12. None are stunners, but all of them are decent malts, which I am more than happy to sip from time to time.

When I saw Islay Mist 21, I thought it potentially fell into that category too. At 40% ABV, and with it highly likely to have been chill-filtered and with colour added, it throws all the rules I usually abide by out of the window… but when was the last time you saw a 21 year old Scotch whisky retailing for £42.95? Perhaps a bottle of Glen or Ben something or other from a budget German supermarket, but even those look a thing of the past, with whisky prices rising all the time. I picked up an undisclosed 33 year old Highland single malt from one of these supermarkets for £40 back in 2012. If that were on offer in 2021, there would be very long queues when the stores open.

The Islay Mist brand has a history stretching back almost 100 years. It was created to celebrate the 21stbirthday of the son of the Laird of Islay House. Laphroaig was at the heart of the blend, but the distillery’s single malt was deemed too heavy to be served on its own. Therefore, it was blended with Highland malts and Lowland grains to create a lighter blend, with the Islay character more restrained as a result of the marriage. Single malt from Laphroaig continues to be the Islay element of the blend across the range.

Of course, another thing which affects the retail price is the fact that Islay Mist is a blend, rather than a single malt. Nothing wrong with a blend, especially when we know all the elements have got some age, too. This contains single malt from Islay and Speyside, along with grain whisky. The grain and the Speyside malt are undisclosed, but we do know that the Islay element is Laphroaig. What we don’t know is what percentage of the bottle is that Laphroaig, but – with only 2,160 bottles, and the producers saying their parcel of that malt forms the core of the blend – we can be hopeful there is a decent amount in there. The tasting will hopefully give us more clues.

Islay Mist 21 – Review

Colour: Amber

On the nose: Burnt rubber is a rather prominent note here, along with smoky bacon and the scent of a summer barbecue that the neighbours a few doors down are having, and you catch a whiff of it on the breeze. Toffee, raisins, dates, caramelised orange, a little salt, and a leafy earthiness.

In the mouth: Rich, fruity, sweet, and earthy. It’s not as thin as I expected on the palate; despite the 40% ABV, there is some texture. The peat gives the whisky a light smoky flavour, with a leafy soil/compost earthiness. The medicinal notes I expected from the Laphroaig aren’t jumping out at me, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There seems to be a big sherry influence, with notes of raisins, blackcurrant, espresso coffee, spicy black pepper and oak. The spiciness continues into the finish, with a creamy nuttiness, oak, salt, and gentle smoke.

Conclusions:

This reminds me a little of a Ledaig, with those rubbery, smoky, sherry notes. The 18 year old Ledaig springs to mind in particular, which is a big favourite of mine. The rubbery notes on the nose could be off putting for some, and are often caused by the stillman pushing into the feints. I enjoy them, but – then again – I am one of strange people who enjoy sulphury notes in a whisky, as long as it doesn’t go in an eggy direction. The Laphroaig peat gives it that earthiness I am getting on both the nose and palate.

For the price, I think this is excellent. Would I pay an extra £10-15 for 46%, non-chill filtered, and natural colour? You bet I would! I am sure there are business decisions to explain why they don’t do that, or maybe it has always been 40% and they have never thought to change, but: Please, MacDuff International, give the whisky the presentation it deserves, and maybe it would be an 8/10. However, I would still recommend you try and get hold of a bottle if you can. I’m enjoying it very much, and it is hard to argue with the value. At present I can only find it at Royal Mile Whiskies, priced at £42.95.

Score: 7/10

CategoriesBlends
Andrew

Andrew is from North Wales. He has been drinking whisky since the mid 2000s, but only became an enthusiast several years later. You can find him on Twitter @padwhisky

  1. Mark P says:

    The first few paragraphs remind me of when my wife will fly overseas for work and I’m left with the kids for a few days, she buys me something duty free as a thank you. She asks what she should buy and I say it doesn’t matter, just needs to be 46%

    1. Andrew says:

      That’s not a bad bit of guidance. When my wife is buying me a whisky gift, she usually asks me what bottle she should get, but that spoils the surprise. Might have to use the 46% or above thing in future.

      1. Darren says:

        Great article Andrew.

        My wife died a few years ago so I have to rely on my daughter (21 today!) and she is an absolute star when it comes to whisky gifts. She knows me well as her last two whisky gifts after trips to Scotland have been a 24 year old single cask Clynelish and a 20 year old single cask Ardmore.

        The Islay Mist is very well priced but then it is not a complex whisky. Given the price I wonder whether the angels had been greedy and the Laphroaig was under 40% so that other whiskies had to be added to get it up to 40%? Otherwise I can not see why it would be added in a blend such as this when you look at the price a 21 single malt would fetch.

        1. Andrew says:

          Sorry to hear of your loss Darren. Those are some incredible gifts from your daughter, I hope she is having a great 21st birthday, despite current restrictions.

          I must admit, the 21 year old is the only Islay Mist I have tried so far. The ABV has always put me off the range, until this seemed too well priced to ignore. I am getting some really nice flavours from it.

          Your theory regarding the greedy angels could well be right, and without having insider knowledge it’s impossible to rule out. However, it would be unusual for it to drop that low in just 21 years. Not unheard of though. Perhaps they just fancied adding something a bit special to their range to get people talking. It’s worked with me, and I will probably pick up one of their younger blends to compare it with soon.

  2. Arthur says:

    Really happy you reviewed Islay Mist, thanks. A no-hype, bargainous dram. When I first tried it I thought the same about strength, would have still been very happy if it was on the shelf at 55.
    Re ‘cask dropping below strength’ theory – nope, pretty sure that wasn’t the case. I didn’t ask the specific question when chatting with them at at the company, but I think they had owned the casks for a long time, bought them at a good price, and see IM as a good value whisky. They know full well what a cask of Laphroaig of that age can fetch on the open market too. Good for them.
    Arthur, RMW

    1. Andrew says:

      Thanks Arthur. I guess when something seems almost too good to be true, we try to pick holes as to why that would be. Although even taking the malt content out of the equation, you would be hard pressed to find 21 year old grain for that price these days too.

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