Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Port Ellen and many others, as being da-bomb in a Glencairn glass. In a furtive effort to impress and gain instant street cred, newbies reach for one of these.
First-Time Islay Single Malt Experience
Many Islay single malts are seaside bonfires in a bottle. Pull the cork and you will unleash redolent black smoke, soot and fresh road tar aromas that fill your room, and often drive your partner/spouse to another. (We love our partner/spouse/live-in/cohabitant, but he or she has to respect our needs. You see we have a greedy-love for whisky too that needs satisfying. So, if they have to move to the kitchen, hey, that's a show of love.)
So, having unleashed the powerful aromas of your bottle upon your abode (who needs the wife's potpourri?), you are now ready to drink. You take a tentative sip and the taste experience is along the lines of an exploding grenade of peat, iodine, seaweed and brine. The finish can often be fresh peppercorns, coarse salt, eucalyptus and very pungent wood smoke that has the potential to leave you gasping and maybe frantically trying to suppress your gag reflex, if you accidentally take too big a sip. (Meanwhile, you hear a passive-aggression query from the next room: "Is everything all right dear?") Needless to say, it's an acquired taste for most people. No, not your significant other. But, maybe like your partner, very few people warm up immediately to Islay single malts.
So, just because you had a bad first date with some Islay lads/lasses like Ardbeg, Laphroaig and other peaty malt beasts, that doesn't mean you gotta abandon the newly budding whisky courtship. Enter Islay based blended Scotch whiskies. Think of them as counselors for your newly strained relationship with your Islay malt beau/beauty.
You found the smoke and tar barbs of the Islay single malt laden with sarcasm? Was the peat sweet, yet a little tart, kinda like a backhanded compliment from you know who? Was Ms. Islay patronizing you? You don't understand her do you? And you are afraid to say so, and maintain that everything is 'fine' when it is not. As I said above, help is available.
One of the chief reasons for aging malt whiskies is to make them more palatable. Young whiskies can be rough, biting, and taste of raw alcohol. Islay malts seem to not need as much time when compared to their counterparts in other regions of Scotland. Moreover, they meld well with grain whiskies. This is a good thing, as they make valuable contributions to excellent tasting, affordable, entry level Islay blends like: White Horse, Black Bottle and Islay Mist.
Islay Blends that Provide the Proper Introductions to the Islay Heavies
Legendary Islay single malts like Lagavulin, Bunnahabhain and Laphroaig have a presence in blended Scotch whiskies that are far more attractive for the newbie during the early phases of Islay courtship. Lagavulin is at the core of White Horse. Bunnhabhain is a central malt of Black Bottle. Standing at the center of the dance hall for Islay Mist is Laphroaig.
While I am not a newbie to Islay single malts, I still enjoy immensely the above noted blends. Sometimes I am not in the mood (or too light in the wallet) for the robust flavors exhibited by Islay single malts. Islay blends have their charm because they are gentle, yet deliver the signature style of the region. Couple that with the great price point and it is a cupid's match for me.
Speaking of price points, they are truly unbelievable. White Horse and Black Bottle can be had for under $20 in many parts of the continental United States. With respect to Islay Mist 7 years, I paid $21 at a grocery store in Bangor, Maine. At that price, as I passed through the checkout with my purchase and only a few feet away from the exit door, I half expected two lumbering store security officers to appear from nowhere and wrestle me to the floor, and falsely arrest on the basis that I had tampered with the price tag. Fortunately, the automatic exit door opened without tackle, and I made my way across the parking lot sans the indignity of public arrest.
Soft phenolic notes. Easy peat. Freshly turned over black earth. Slight eucalyptus and medicinal aromas remind me of hospital bandages and ointment. Very good aromas for a $22 blend.
Smooth, sweet grain whiskies perfectly compliment the ingredient peaty Islay malt whiskies making up the blend. Tastes of smokey seaside bonfire, a little ash and soot, and all these elements are graciously counterbalanced by some honey that prevents any bitterness. Very well balanced.
Smokey, soft seaweed, and fir tree. Faint ground black pepper with salty, green sea flavors. Nice length of these nautical nuances.
Islay Mist 8 years is an excellent blended Scotch that delivers up the classic taste of Islay, and all the hard working people like the Master Blender and team are to be commended. Moreover, the price point is so good that there is no room for disappointment.
Some people consider cheaply priced blended Scotch as not suitable to be drank neat. Islay Mist is a stark challenge to that view. No need for ice or water, as this blend is very smooth and drinkable. There are no raw or biting elements to this whisky.
If you find Laphroaig 10 years or Quarter Cask too strong, start with Islay Mist. The ingredient young Laphroaig whiskies of the blend do not bite, having been softened with the correct proportion of grain whiskies. They only draw you in for more conversation. But, can the conversation get a little boring? It is very smooth. Worry not! When you want too change things up a bit, a little home based vatting is all you need to do.
If the newbie has thoroughly familiarized themselves with Islay Mist and thinks there are no more surprises, they are wrong. Now, is the time to take two parts Islay Mist and add one part Laphroaig 10 (you may need to experiment and adjust to your own tastes). The result is to transform your gentle Islay into a blend with more powerful maritime flavors. How powerful you want the flavors to be will depend on how much Laphroaig 10 you add.
The other advantage of this vatting is that you have reduced the cost of your whisky date substantially and probably diminished the billowing black smoke filling the living room. You can invite your partner back in and explain your compromise in the spirit of love!
Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission.
Love the Islay Mist 8, far more so than the Black Grouse (haven't tried the others, though), and I've given bottles of it to friends as introductions to Islay. The sweetness of the grain in it balances quite nicely, in much the same way the grain does with the Talisker in the Te Bheag. I've got an unopened bottle of the Islay Mist 17 sitting in my basement, just waiting...ReplyDelete
I would imagine the 17 would be very good too. I will have to snag a bottle of that sometime too.Delete
Thanks for chiming in.
Jason, Nice angle on this one. Good profiling. To me, the Islay Mist range is a fairly gentle way to stick one's toes into some of the more "assertive" elements of scotch whisky: bitters, salt, smoke, ash, seaweed and tar. One minor quibble: Finlaggan Old Reserve is young single malt from Islay, while a bit rough in nature (and a fave of mine), it is neither a blended scotch nor a blended (vatted) malt. JKReplyDelete
True about the Finlaggan. I made a mistake there. Will delete reference to it in my review.Delete
Jason, Thanks for bringing Islay Mist to my attention. Unfortunately, it isn't available in our state run stores. (Oh, for a little capitalism in these matters!)ReplyDelete
How do you think it compares to Teacher's Highland Cream?
Will have to try some vatting. Sounds like a great compromise when I don't need the Islay single malt intensity and will let me justify an expensive bottle now and then. I've never tried Laphroaig but stretching it that way would make it affordable. Or at least more affordable.
Jeff, I think Teacher's and Islay Mist are fairly different blends. Teacher's is like biting into a bacon and tomato sandwich while Islay Mist is similar to taking a puff on a mild corona cigar.Delete
In other words, while Teacher's is smokey and has peat elements, Islay Mist is far more peated and smokey, but excluding the malty and bacon character or Teacher's.
They are both excellent blends. I suspect you would enjoy Islay Mist very much. While it is not available in your State, similar alternatives to Islay Mist might be. I am thinking of Black Bottle and White Horse.
I would encourage you to seek out Black Bottle, White Horse or Islay Mist. They are all variations on a common theme: Islay.
Come to Montgomery County Maryland. The County Stores sell Islay Mist, Black Bottle and White Horse. All $20 to 25. I'm blend drinker. I'm kinda partial to Islay Mist and Teachers, very enjoyable but just dissimilar enough to keep it interesting.Delete
Thanks for the informative and entertaining review. Haven't tried Islay Mist yet, but I'll certainly be on the lookout for it now.
As for your vatting suggestion, I recently tried something similar with Teachers Highland Cream and Ardmore Traditional Cask (the core malt in Teachers). I mixed about 2 parts Teachers with 1 part Ardmore. I am really enjoying the results.
Josh, your home vatting of combining Teacher's and Ardmore is an excellent combination. I actually have a bottle of Ardmore that I have not opened, but think I will combine it with some Teacher's and enjoy the flavor burst!Delete
Great review, Jason. I come from the Bourbon world, so I'll look to get this whisky as my first foray in to peaty scotch. I've already tried a few blends now - Teacher's, Chivas 12, JW Black, and JW Green. I quite liked the JW Green and can be perfectly content just sit there nosing it.ReplyDelete
I'm also looking to try a sherried whisky too. The three that I've seen mentioned as ones to try first are Glendronach 12, Glenfarclas 12, and Macallan 12. Your thoughts?
With respect to sherried Scotch whisky to try first, I suggest starting with a gentle sherried creature like "The Balvenie Doublewood 12 yrs." If that is not available then you should try The Macallan 12yrs. Both of these are great for first forays into the sherried scotch whisky scene.
GlenDronach 12 and Glenfarclas 12 are more robust and even a little fiery at times. Better to start with an easier drinking sherried malt would be my thoughts.
Thanks for taking the time to comment.
I've been looking for a another Islay whisky to try and since I found your Glenfiddich 15 review perfect I'll give this blend a go. I am fairly new to the scotch world but am enjoying the exploration, how would this compare to the Mcclelland's Islay? I also have a Connemara whiskey so I can appreciate the room clearing capabilities of a good peated dram! For the price I was also considering the Mcclelland's Highland, I'll have to check your site for reviews.ReplyDelete
Just so you know, Glenfiddich 15 is not a blend nor an Islay malt. It is a Speyside single malt with emphasis on the honey heather flavor profile. Accordingly, comparing Glenfiddich 15 to a McClelland Islay is like comparing apples and oranges. One is honeyed and the other is peaty and smokey and not very good.
I would suggest staying far away from McClelland's. Its cheap in price and quality. You can do a lot better. Try "Smokehead" instead.
A good starter Islay is Bowmore 12yrs or even before that the blends like Black Bottle and Islay Mist.
Hope this helps.
Thanks, right now I do have only single malt Speysides (Glenfiddich 12 and 15, and The Glenlivet 12) that I've received as gifts and I found I do like the character of the Islays but wanted to try something more affordable first, like a blend.Delete
I just meant that I found your reviews of the Glenfiddich 12 and 15 to be along the lines of what my (very unrefined) palate tasted; that the 15 was much more...interesting than the 12.
Dave, I try to write tasting notes that are straight forward as to what a given whisky tastes like. I will let the other whisky bloggers and critics write tasting notes that is similar to bad high school love poetry.
Glenfiddich 15 is great, and another is Glenlivet 18.
For peat and smoke that might be reasonably priced try Talisker 10yrs. Not from Islay, but rather the Isle of Skye. A classic serving up peat, smoke, iodine and lemon zest.
Welcome to the blog and hope to hear more from you as you taste different malts.
Islay Mist is by far my favorite blended whisky that features the Islay malts. I have tried the black bottle and white horse and they do not have as much smoke or peat to them. I am a big fan of the single malt islay's, Ardberg and Laphroaig. Islay mist is my week day scotch. I get this for $16.99 a bottle at my local store. Thanks for reviewing this.ReplyDelete
$16.99! Excellent price. I can fully understand how this could be a regular in anybody's liquor cabinet. Thanks for commenting!Delete
Great review on Islay Mist 8. This has been my favorite daily drink for a few years (neat only). Here in Maryland (Montgomery County) it goes on sale for $13.99 a few times a year. You can't get a better drink at that price!ReplyDelete
Just bought a bottle of this beloved elixir in Montgomery County and .... it is miserable. Not peat, no smoke, not medicinal Laphoaig core. Hope it is a one off but I think they couldn't afford the Lahphoaig anymore :(ReplyDelete
It's still a great blended whisky it just has no resemblance to its old self. Mainly a good highland blend. Look elsewhere for peat.ReplyDelete
Agreed. Good quality but little/no peat in my bottle.ReplyDelete
as submitted to Macduff Intl):ReplyDelete
well I have to say I was a fan of IM 8 until this bottle. Terrible. Thin, watery, zero, nay zero- complexity, I don't know what you've done to it, but it's now a poor intro to Islay malts or otherwise. I've been to Islay and tasted many peated single malts, went for a more economical tipple once again, this time I wouldn't recommend it, there's WAY too much grain, whatever you claim. You've made your last $28 CDN from me.