It’s no wonder that so many whiskies from Islay are big and bold. When you’ve got a coastline and weather systems that bring in numerous seasons in one day, you need something to keep the blood flowing.

I’ve loved that dramatic setting on the couple of occasions I’ve been lucky enough to make it to Scotland’s great whisky island. Walking along the coast with writer Martine Nouet on the day the photo, above, was taken we experienced the intense, crashing waves in full, watching the looming dark clouds with feelings of respect for Mother Nature’s intensity.

That evening, back in my hotel in Bowmore, I sipped a few welcome drams, still cold hours after returning to the indoors. Cold, but invigorated.

Islay on a sunny February afternoon

Islay on a sunny February afternoon

And I’ve no doubt that there will be a few times like that for those lucky enough to be heading to this year’s FeisIsle, the annual week-long event that sees the distilleries of Islay open their doors to the whisky-loving public. I have yet to make my schedule work to actually make it over, but know from many friends that it is a glorious celebration of all things whisky.

This year, for the first time, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (which bottles single cask whiskies independently) is having an open day on Islay at Islay House. The celebration, on the 22 May, will show off what the venerable Society does and some of its great whiskies.

In honour of this first foray into Islay celebrations, the Society is releasing a limited edition bottling available to members and non-members.

As background, the Society bottles whiskies under a numbering system, thereby taking away any preconceptions you might have about a specific distillery. The idea is to help you to explore based first and foremost on flavour profile.

This release is numbered 3.243, ‘Dark, smouldering flamenco gypsy’ and has been aged for 17 years in a refill ex-sherry butt.

It’s big, it’s bold, it’s perfect for Islay. Here’s what I thought of it:


SMWS 3.243: Dark, smouldering flamenco gypsy. 57.1%:

(c): Dark treacle honey

(n): Cherry chocolate cake, orange brioche, taffy, honey, baked candied nuts and cigars all burst to the fore. It’s luxuriously thick, the sweetness is rounded and creamy, but there’s a meatiness too (bacon?) under it all. Also a dash of marzipan. Fascinating. With water: softens into a pillowy cakeiness and a nice tropical fruitiness comes out too.

(p): Big spice! Hot and demanding. Chilli and cherries, and again something cakey. Honey coated almonds, sesame snaps, prunes, dark chocolate, brown sugar. A drying, mouth-coating spiciness makes my mouth water and I keep going back for more sips, entranced by its stylish hold. It’s sexy and bold. With water: Brings out a bit of saltiness. Then treacle cakes. It hits a bit at the back of the palate with bitterness but nothing major. Smoke increases.

(f): Ashy honey.

In conclusion: A stunner. It’s one to have a single dram of on a cole and rainy night, or to revive after a long walk. I can imagine doing just that after a windswept wander along Islay’s coast.