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
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.
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.