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CONTEXT: I purchased this bottle on the recommendation of my local stockist, as Port Askaig has widely been rumored to be from the Caol Ila distillery. I’d recently finished my bottle of Caol Ila 12yo, while the 18yo seemed way too expensive (over 100 Euros) and had had mixed reviews compared to the 12yo, so I thought this would be an interesting compromise.
NOSE: Tingling, not unpleasant, but bordering on aggressive. The main smell is burnt rubber and medicinal. Very little smoke for something touted as a Caol Ila (I’m starting to think that this will not be what I thought it would be). Adding water removes the aggressivity, but does not really change the overall nose (still no smoke to speak of).
PALATE: Definitely not Caol Ila (in my personal opinion); austere, thin, extremely drying and a bit sour. No viscosity, no unctuousness, no smoke. Strong ethylic component along with the burnt tire first detected in the nosing. Adding water unleashes a bitterness (akin to the Jaegermeister and Underberg bitters that one finds in Germany) that goes on to relentlessly dominate the palate from then on. The bitterness is not unpleasant, but it really takes over the whole show. Though this malt feels very thin on the palate, the bitterness of its finish really permeates the mouth (BTW: I am quite certain that I am not confusing bitterness and peatiness).
FINISH: The finish really has 2 components. A strongly tingling on the front of the tongue which remains for a minute or so. On the other hand, the bitterness remains for a long time. In fact, I had 3 servings of about 4cl, separated by about 15 minutes each, and each time the bitter finish was still strong as I sipped each new serving, thus creating an accretion of bitterness in the palate. After the 2 serving, a smallish amount of fruitiness did emerge, but only marginally.
APPRECIATION: First of all, in my opinion, if you buy this whisky expecting Caol Ila, then you will be cruelly disappointed. I stress this point because I have seen many respected commentators (including one of my favorites, Ralfy) making a strong case for this really being Caol Ila. They may very well be right, technically, but be warned that you will not find, in the Port Askaig 17yo, the smokiness and unctuousness that Caol Ila aficionados have come to expect.
More generally, and leaving aside the Caol Ila misunderstanding, this is an interesting whisky. It is in the same extreme phenolic league as other Islay malts such as Ardberg, Laphroaig, and Lagavulin, but with a bitter component that stands it apart from these (and which I enjoyed). That being said, it is much too thin and drying for my liking, and I will likely not return to this bottle often. At over 70 Euros a bottle, once this bottle is finished, I do not plan to buy another one.