Port Askaig is an independent single malt whisky bottling from an undisclosed distillery. The independent bottler is Specialty Drinks, which has been in operation since 1999. Only 17 years old, Specialty Drinks is a new comer to the trade but has made a big splash with their Port Askaig label. Other independent bottlers have been around for 100+ years. The Port Askaig 100 proof is this months malt of the month.
Caol Ila is the largest distillery on Islay, producing 6.7 million litres per annum after a 2011 upgrade, but very little ends up as Caol Ila single malt whisky. As one of the distilleries that are owned by global behemoth, Diageo, most of Caol Ila’s production goes into Diageo’s blended whiskies, like Johnnie Walker. As a mainstay Johnnie Walker, quality control is assured leaving little opportunity for craftsmanship. Independent bottlers get the opportunity to take the best raw materials and delivery whisky has character, artistry and nuance.
The Port Askaig 100 Proof is a ‘cask strength’ whisky. For those unaware of this term, it means that the whisky is bottled strait out of the cask. Normally, the whisky is diluted with water before being bottled. The cask strength is exactly how it comes out of the barrel. In this case there is no chill filtering either which means that every last skerrick of flavor from the cask is present in the bottle. A ‘normal’ bottle of malt whisky sits around the 42-45% ABV – this is a whopping 57% ABV! The only downside of cask strength whisky in Australia is that our excise system for alcohol is based on the amount of actual alcohol – so cask strength whiskies are more expensive than their underprooof contemporaries.
I was first introduced to cask strength whisky on a trip to Scotland in 1998. In the final days of the trip, I was chatting to a very friendly salesman in a whisky shop in London and after sampling many drams with him (yes, he was very friendly), he showed me a trick that amazed me and amazes me still. He took a dram of cask strength (from memory it was Arran but I could be wrong – it was a long time ago), and very carefully dropped a single drop of water into it. The ‘reaction’ (like a mini horizontal shock wave) traveled down the glass, through the whisky. I’d never seen anything like it and to this day I’m still fascinated by repeating this ‘trick’ or experiment or whatever you’d like to call it. It’s a definite crowd pleaser! Try it – just a single drop of water.
This expression is rare and brave. It is showing the spirit stripped back and naked. Aging has been in second refill bourbon barrels, so much of the oaks activity has already been used up in first two fills. The spirit is relatively young, so the fruitiness has not been deadened by age. It is bottled at cask strength of 100 proof or 57% abv. Its all there. No dilution, no caramel, no chill filtering.
Colour: Pale. Pure spirit pale. Just off white.
Nose: Bacon, Smokey Bacon. MMMMMM
Taste: Rich intensity. Citrus, Honey suckle, cream, fresh pasta, cherry tomato, briny saltiness.
Finish: Warm and flavoursome. Smoke. Wasabi.