Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Have just tried - Finlaggan Old Reserve

Finlaggan Old Reserve is a single malt whisky that is bottled and released by the Vintage Malt Whisky Company. The company is based in Glasgow, Scotland and was founded in 1992 by Brian Crook. He had worked in the Scotch whisky industry since the early 1970s and then decided to set up the VMWC.  They source and bottle whiskies from around Scotland and distribute to over 20 countries.  They release three single malts - Finlaggan from Islay, Glenalmond from the Highlands and Tantallan from Speyside.  They also bottle a range of single cask whiskies in their Cooper's Choice range.

As mentioned, the details of the whisky are sketchy at best.  The labels on Finlaggan carry no age statements or clues as to the origins of where the whisky was produced.  The only thing that is revealed is that it is from the famous whisky island of Islay, which is home to eight distilleries. A sniff of the whisky reveals that it is very smoky, so a bit of detective work is in order to work out which one of the eight it may be from ... there are a few rumours flying about, but nothing concrete.

What we do know is that Finlaggan Old Reserve is named after Finlaggan Castle, which is now a ruin located on Islay but was the former residence of the Lord of the Isles.  It was built in the 13th century and the name Finlaggan translates as 'fort of the island'. It is bottled at 40% ABV and should cost around the £25 mark from selected specialist whisky retailers.  We will leave any other guess work up to you.

Our tasting notes
The colour is a pale lemon yellow and the nose is feisty, smoky and fresh.  The peat smoke is unavoidable and is strong, spicy and hot, reminiscent of chillies and burning ash.  There is a savoury and earthy aroma in the background - this becomes more prominent with time as the initial hotter notes fade.  Underneath, some more subtle aromas fight their way through - think of honey, toasted cereals/oats and a hit of lemon zest.  It seems basic but very promising.

On the palate, the intense smoke hits first again.  It is spicy and hot, but not as exaggerated as on the nose.  This savoury, burning smoke is accompanied by a big helping of obvious sweetness and has notes of honey, vanilla and icing sugar all combining well.  The clean, fresh feeling of this whisky is maintained throughout and it gets a drier with time.  This dryness is led by some wood spices, especially a good pinch of nutmeg and oak shavings.  The conflict between the intense sweetness, powerful smoke and the drying notes is balanced and complimented by some slightly bittersweet cereals, a hint of lemon zest and an increasing briny saltiness.

The finish is long lasting with the bittersweet malty cereal grains, honey and drying wood spices prominent.  However, there is no getting away from the powerful, robust bonfire-like smoke and it is this notes which smoulders longest.  The distinct salty, briny note from the palate also put in a welcome appearance.

What's the verdict?
The Finlaggan Old Reserve is full of character - it is powerful, youthful, vibrant and very smoky.  It is not subtle, it is not particularly complex but what it is, is very good at what it is trying to do. If you like your whiskies on the heavily peaty, feisty and smoky side then this is worth searching out, especially when you consider the very reasonable price point at which it sells (£25).  This is a bargain of a single malt and a delicious one at that.


EricH said...

There's been speculation that Finlaggan is simply bottled excess whisky from any of the Islay distilleries. It's why one bottle might be a young Caol Ila and another can be a young Lagavulin.

Anonymous said...

The producers have stated that Finlaggan is a consistent whisky produced by just one distillery from Islay.
I can't believe the fascination with Finlaggan's origin. I don't know where the meat or vegetables I eat come from, I just eat and enjoy them.

Anonymous said...

My take: imitation Lagavulin with 25-30 ppm phenol, distilled at their sister distillery Caol Ila, then matured 10 years (give or take) in bourbon barrels, probably in a warehouse located off-island. Caol Ila is by far the largest Islay Distillery and sells the most product to 3rd parties, so odds are that`s where it`s being made.
Not quite the same thing as real Lagavulin, but has its own unique charm. If you like a balance of smoke and honey, this bottle is well worth the cost.