Port Askaig and Elements of Islay Tasting

Last night I went to [another] tasting hosted to Soho’s Milroy’s showcasing Elixir Distillers‘ two Scotch whisky brands: Port Askaig and Elements of Islay. I was initially going to compare these side by side and cover them as a regular writeup on here [after all, this is the concept behind these musings], but since instead of two drams, there were actually six, and I couldn’t pick out the two that would really stand out, I decided to cover them all, a bit at a time, and not force them into this format. So, let’s try this out and see how it goes, but first, music! Now playing: Jon EkstrandQueen of Hearts (OST).

The tasting was hosted by Nathan Shearer of Speciality Brands and Julie Hamilton of Elixir (with Chanel Liquori being present). The Elixir Distillers is a blender and an independent bottler of a few single malts, blends, plus rum and tequila, with the four core brands which, besides the two highlighted today, also include The Single Malts of Scotland and Black Tot. So, no, there is no distillery on Islay called “Port Askaig” – it’s simply named after an actual small settlement, where the mainland ferry docks at the shore and where you can take a tiny boat across to Jura. I have been there in the summer of 2021, and the magical journey still stands out in my mind as I write this. Under the Port Askaig brand, the company bottles a range of single malt whiskies, sometimes at cask strenagth, showcasing the fruiter, more elegant, and less smoky essence of Scotch from Islay. For Elements of Islay, this bottler created an interesting theme, mirroring the periodic table of elements, naming each release with a two-letter “code” of the distillery and a batch number beneath. This range is more medicinal and peaty and will appeal to the fans of the characteristic Islay whiskies and collectors of unique cask strength bottlings. For the tasting, the ambassadors alternated between the two brands, building up the experience to stronger, peatier, and older expressions to showcase the breadth of the offerings in a very short time.

First up was a pour of Port Askaig 8-year-old, bottled at 45.8% ABV. The ambassadors revealed that this was a single malt from Caol Ila, and I was already a little bit thrilled. This was a fantastic and beautiful young dram, precisely as I like it, from the biggest distilleries on Islay. It was light, floral, and not too peaty, landing so perfectly on my palate. Since the flavour profile mirrored my all-time favourite whiskies (I have about a dozen of independent Caol Ila bottlings, including one from The Single Malts of Scotland), this tasting was already off to a great start! Next up was a bottle from Elements of Islay simply named Peat, which was a blended malt of Caol Ila and Lagavulin bottled at 45% ABV [there’s also a 59.3% “full proof” bottle sold separately]. This was an easy-drinking dram, with just enough smoke and a little bit of spice, reminding me so much of my very own experiment in blending, where I’ve combined Caol Ila 12-year-old with the Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition. Again, an excellent leading to what was about to get even better.

The third pour was Port Askaig 12-year-old Autumn Edition, again Caol Ila, but this time a marriage of three different casks: refill American oak hogsheads, three Oloroso sherry butts, and three solera sherry butts, non chill-filtered and uncoloured, bottled at 45.8% ABV. This particular expression sent the attendees of this tasting to split on the ruling – some loved it, while others did not seem to care. I fell into the latter camp of the group, feeling that dearly beloved Caol Ila did not need that sweetness and saltiness gained from the casks. We then moved onto Elements of Islay again and sampled the Bn8 bottled at a punchy 58.4% ABV. This was a marriage of 5-7-year-old whiskies from Bunnahabhain sourced from a combination of American oak and ex-sherry hogsheads. Sadly, I didn’t have a proper measuring device for adding some water. After the first few wonderful sips, I accidentally drowned this whisky with too much water, unable to enjoy its sweeter and fruitier profile. I guess I’ll have to return!

The fifth pour was a favourite, Port Askaig 28-year-old from an undisclosed distillery, even to the ambassadors. There was a rumour that it was Laphroaig, but I will pretend that it was Port Ellen [although at this price, unlikely]. It didn’t announce its medicinal smoke but instead gently caressed the palate with early morn fire. Bottled at 45.8% ABV, it must have been not far from its original cask strength. An absolutely fantastic bottle, which I am considering grabbing for £300 [worth every penny] and savouring through this winter. I was delighted that I had experienced this dram. But not until I have tasted the final pour from Elements of Islay, which was an Lp10 – a Laphroaig bottled at 53.9%, and sadly no longer available [unless you scour the auctions and bid up one of these 442 produced bottles]. It was, again, a gentler and milder Laphroaig, distilled in 1998 and aged in two ex-bourbon barrels. I wanted to savour this dram for some time, but suddenly it was all gone from my Glencairn. Oh, what a shame, it’s over so fast! I guess I’ll check out the newer expressions (currently at Lp12).

So there you have it, folks. Although not exactly a side-by-side pairing, a quick overview of the samplings of Scotch. This was my intro to Elixir products [except for that Caol Ila bottle I already own], and I can confirm that I’m clearly a fan! I suspect that within a couple of weeks, my shelves will be graced by some cool-looking bottles, showcasing the elements and even some blends. An enjoyable evening with a well-guided tour of the product. I came away satisfied, happy and learned! And I suppose since I always pick a winner at the end of each post, I’ll say that Port Askaig 28-year-old wins this round.

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