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Exclusive whiskies released at Islay festival

To mark this week’s Feis Ile - the Islay Festival of Malt and Music, Lagavulin, Caol Ila and Bunnahabhain distilleries have released special limited edition whiskies available only to visitors.

Bunnahabhain has released two limited-edition single malts - Bunnahabhain Westering Home and Bunnahabhain Dràm an Stiùreadair.

The more limited of these exclusive malts is Bunnahabhain Westering Home, with only 301 bottles released. The name ‘Westering Home’ refers to a century-old traditional Islay song, which recounts the story of a mariner travelling back to his beloved Islay. This 17-year-old single malt has been crafted by master distiller Ian MacMillan as a celebration of the safe return of Bunnahabhain’s Helmsman to his remote haven of rugged beauty – the theme of Bunnahabhain’s Open Day at this year’s festival.

Matured in a rich ex-Cognac cask and then finished in a Sauterne dessert wine cask, the aromas of marmalade, honeycomb and white chocolate give this single malt a complex, opulent and exotic finish.

Westering Home’s limited edition label was designed by Swedish artist Mathilda Holmqvist as part of the brand’s 2013 ‘Tales of the Sea’ design competition. It captures the moment of the Helmsman’s return to Bunnahabhain, after battling stormy weather and raging seas.

Through the label, Bunnahabhain intend to raise awareness and support of The Fishermen’s Mission, the only charity that provides emergency support, as well as practical and emotional care to fishermen and their families.

The second Bunnahabhain Feis Ile limited edition, with only 632 bottles being released, is the 10-year-old smoky Bunnahabhain Dràm an Stiùreadair (pronounced Draam an Yoù-radar – meaning The Helmsman’s Dram in Gaelic). This whisky was first matured in ex-American bourbon casks for nine years before being finished for one year in a Marsala cask. The combination results in smoky and rich oaky and vanilla flavours entwined with a sweet, aromatic extract imparted by the Italian dessert wine influence.

Michelle Lansdowne, senior brand manager at Burn Stewart, adds: “We wanted to create something special for this year’s whisky festival and with such limited availability of these exclusive single malts, they will definitely appeal to anyone attending the festival, as well as international collectors of rare malts. The flavours, aromas and finish of both these expressions add a further layer of complexity to the wonderful signature taste profile of Bunnahabhain.

“It’s very special for us to be able to support The Fishermen’s Mission through Westering Home. Islay’s link with the fishing industry dates back centuries and our label design allows us to support and drive awareness of the charity. Mathilda’s design and presence at the festival makes this limited edition even more exceptional.”

Feis Ile Westering Home 53.4% abv has a RRP of £250, and Dràm an Stiùreadair 56.7% abv has a RRP of £95.

Lagavulin and Caol Ila distilleries have released natural cask strength bottlings

The Caol Ila special bottling was selected by David Wood, Caol Ila distillery manager. Distilled in 2002 and matured in refill American oak hogsheads, it has been bottled at 55.5%abv in an edition of 1,500 bottles.

Wood’s tasting notes read: Soft, elegant, vanilla, sea breeze, touch of smoke, meadow flowers. Developing peat smoke, spice, vanilla on the palate with citrus fruits. Typical Caol Ila character – oily and acidic. The finish is exceedingly long. Smoke lingers as the vanilla and sea breeze fades 

The Lagavulin Feis2014 bottling is drawn from casks filled in January 1995. Matured in European oak sherry butts, the liquid was selected by Lagavulin warehouseman Iain McArthur. At 54.7% abv, it comes in an edition of 3,500 bottles.

Tasting notes offered by Georgie Crawford, distillery manager at Lagavulin, state: the initial nose is boat tar and peat ash balanced out with spicy sweet stewed apples. Water releases some star anise and sweeter wood smoke. On the palate, without water there is hot ash up front smoothing away to reveal hints of marzipan.  Water brings out a sharp sweetness of floral perfume. The finish is long, initially hot and dry with sweetness developing – a good lingering Lagavulin with plenty of damp wood and peat ash in the finish.

Both whiskies are priced at £99 per bottle. Sales are limited to two bottles per visitor.
Crawford comments: “Once again we are pleased to be able to present two very appealing and exceptional whiskies from Lagavulin and Caol Ila.

"The Festival gets stronger and better every year, and all of us at Lagavulin and Caol Ila Distilleries hope that this year’s special Fèis bottlings, and those offered by other distilleries on this wonderful island, will add to the delight of those visitors who come to celebrate Islay’s great whiskies and whisky-making traditions with us during the Fèis.”

This year’s annual Islay Festival runs from 23rd to 31st of May 2014.

27 May 2014 - Felicity Murray The Drinks Report, editor