Islay Iterations – Finlaggan Old Reserve 40% + 58%

After kicking off our evening with the classic Lagavulin 16 year, the Whisky Ladies of Mumbai turned to an independent bottler with their Finlaggan entry level expression.

Owned by the Vintage Malt Co based on Glasgow, their Finlaggan trio covers increasing strength from their Old Reserve at 40% to their Eileen Mor at 46% to their Cask Strength at 58%.

We just so happened to have two out of three to sample, of which the Old Reserve was an unopened bottle and the Cask Strength had alas oxidized rather considerably since it was 1st opened in May 2017.

The distillery(ies) shrouded in mystery, the only thing clearly admitted is these are single malts from Islay.

So what did the Whisky Ladies think?

Finlaggan Old Reserve 40%

  • Nose – Not quite so much bacon as the Lagavulin 16, more ripe pears, wood, some kaccha guava, fresh grass, honey sweet, cured meats, taking on a faintly metallic quality with brass or copper, then coriander
  • Palate – Raw, light, pleasant, goes down deceptively well, woody, bit spicy, the peat is there but nicely balanced and restrained, that metallic element gave way almost to a medicinal quality yet with a very light touch
  • Finish – Cinnamon spice, buttery coconut oil, star anise, cognac honey

There is a lighter touch to the peat in this Islay – while not complex it is an easy drinking dram – pronounced a good Bombay summer whisky.

Just to compare, here is what the Vintage Malt Co folks have to say:

  • Nose: Earthy smoky peat and salty ocean Breeze
  • Palate: Pungent peat smoke, chewy sweet malt, pepper, tar and a touch of iodine
  • Finish: Long and warming. Smoky ashes of the peat fire

In our tasting progression, we moved on to the Ileach – also from Vintage Malt Co – then the open Finlaggan Cask Strength. Here is where tragedy struck… where once upon a time this was a marvellous malt, spending nearly a year in the bottle in the heat of Mumbai did it no favours. A not so gentle reminder that for enjoyable whiskies… just share and enjoy!

Finlaggan Cask Strength 58%

  • Nose – Very sweet, salty, grassy, milk
  • Palate – Spicy smoke
  • Finish – Cinnamon spice, burnt coconut

It had lost so many elements that made it both interesting and appealing. You can read what I’d thought from a few previous tastings here or check out what the Vintage Malt Co folks have to say:

  • Nose: Lovely pungent peat smoke. Smoky bacon with a touch of old leather
  • Palate: Rich sweet smoke. Iodine, lemon zest with a beautiful mouth coating oiliness. Waves of tarry peat
  • Finish: Peppery peat. Soot and ash. Long and warming

I couldn’t help but wonder if the Eileen Mor 46% might just be the “sweet spot” in the middle – bottled at what some call the “connoisseurs” strength – enough to bring out the full character yet balanced with sufficient water to make it eminently shippable. Perhaps one of these days I’ll have the opportunity to try it.

What else did we explore in our “Islay Iterations” evening?

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Finlaggan Cask Strength 58%

Our final dram of our monsoon malt evening was my bottle of Finlaggan Cask Strength 58%, bought to join an undisclosed distilleries session.

The story of Vintage Malt Whisky Company‘s  Finlaggan is deliberately unclear. As an independent bottler, Brian Crook‘s team has managed to pull off a feat of balancing quality with price for their brand ‘Finlaggan‘ while shrouding in mystery whether they are from many or a single anonymous distillery. Most speculation favours a single distillery – with names bandied about including Lagavulin, Laphroaig and Caol Ila.

The name Finlaggan comes from a loch on the north side of Islay, just west of Port Askaig and the whiskies under this label are intended to “embody the spirit of Islay” with three core NAS expressions: Old Reserve 40%, Eilean Mor 46% and Cask Strength 58%.

They also bottle Islay Storm, which strikes me as clearly Kilchoman – an opinion shared by another fan of the distillery.

I had the pleasure of sampling the Finlaggan Cask Strength 58% three times with other whisky aficionados and again last night in an impromptu, informal random yet most enjoyable evening at home. While the different tasting notes are all variations on a quite similar theme, together they represent an interesting exploration of an exceptionally affordable, quality dram.

1. The Single Cask – Open bottle

  • Nose – Tar, asphalt, leather, grass, flowers, quite sweet yet also oddly shy and slightly mute
  • Palate – Sharp leather, warm balanced evolution, rather tasty
  • Finish – Sweet spice liquor

It may sounds like a contradiction but it was indeed oddly muted and shy – I couldn’t  help but suspect the bottle was open too long with oxidation taking its toll.

2. The Bombay Malt & Cigar (BMC) Club – Closed bottle

  • Nose – Pudding, overripe bannoffee pie, coconut, Jamaican sugar cane, lemon curd, nutmeg, spice, dry leaves and hay, vegetable… and yes, a curl of delicious smoke
  • Palate – Peppery peat, sweet, great mouthfeel
  • Finish – Smokey bitter ash chased by cinnamon sweet
  • Water – It softened the whisky considerably, bringing out juicy fruits – particularly peaches

Our guesses? After an initial speculation may perhaps be Caol Ila, Bowmore… settled on Laphroaig. But of an older style.

3. Monsoon malts and more – Open bottle from BMC evening

  • Nose – Light leather, slight iodine, chocolate, roasted sesame seed, so sweet
  • Palate – More smoke than heavy peat, utterly delicious, one to enjoy rolling around your mouth
  • Finish – Lovely long smoky cinnamon finish

Rolling around on our palate, considering all factors… our guess was Lagavulin.

The Vintage Malt Whisky Company has this to say about their Finlaggan Cask Strength 58%:

  • Nose: Lovely pungent peat smoke. Smoky bacon with a touch of old leather
  • Palate: Rich sweet smoke. Iodine, lemon zest with a beautiful mouth coating oiliness. Waves of tarry peat
  • Finish: Peppery peat. Soot and ash. Long and warming

No matter the impression, its a marvellously tasty dram at a most affordable price. Definitely gets full marks for value.

Purchased from The Whisky Exchange in London for £48.95 in 2017.

Other whiskies sampled in our Mumbai monsoon malts evening included:

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