Feis Ile 2018: SWA tasting at the Bally Grant Inn

Bally David.jpeg
Left: David, chef & owner of Bally Grant Inn

There’s more to the Feis Ile than the distillery open day’s. I’m back at the Bally Grant Inn after nearly five years, where in October 2013, a mini heatwave bathed Islay in Autumnal sunshine for the two weeks I was there. Cue July 2018, and the heat wave had returned. With over 200 whiskies on offer behind the bar, the Bally Grant Inn is also where I learned what a liquid dinner was all about.

Hosted by Tam Gardiner, co-founder of Scotch Whisky Auctions [2011], tonight’s shindig was a charity event tasting raising money for Blameless – a charity helping people with addictions.

SWA’s first ever auction consisted of around 112 odd bottles, 107 from Tam’s personal collection. In July 2018, nearly 4000 bottles were presented.

Tonight’s event included a three-course meal, cooked by the owner David, which was accompanied by 9 whiskies no less – all tasted blind. Oh, and it was swelteringly hot!


Port Dundas 1978/2014 36yo DL cask #10431 [135 bts] 59.3% WB90.80[7]

Port Dundas 1978:2014 36yo DL cask #10431 [135 bts] 59.3%

  • N: Firmly grain-like. I immediately guess Port Dundas, and for once I’m right! There’s a little chalk & flour but overall it’s a lush, juicy & fruity number with a firm squidgy oak bed.
  • T: Beautifully creamy, oaky ice-cream notes that hint at Bailey’s. This works beautifully in the ultra-warm dining room of the Bally Grant.
  • F: Stretches out for a long, silky oaky vanilla finish with a hint of Coco Lopez.  
  • C: One of my all-time favourite grain experiences.

Scores 89 points


Brora 1977/2001 24yo Ob. Rare Malts [6000 bts] 56.1% WB91.33[202] WF92[NN]

Brora 1977:2001 24yo Ob. Rare Malts [6000 bts] 56.1%.jpeg

  • N: Packed with even more fruits than the Port Dundas, it’s also squidgy-er with a touch of farmy Shreddies. The rest is history!
  • T: Many ‘wows’, as is so often the case with Brora. Sweet, farmy and everything in between.
  • F: Simply beautiful.
  • C: It’s unfortunate to be eating food straight after this, but needs must. A second glass [Tex isn’t fussed about Brora – result!], confirms the simply ideal nature of things. No one talks of oak, sour notes or rushed distillate when it comes to these beauties. Peeps instead, often head to the subjective plain to describe such experiences, and tonight is no exception.

Scores 92 points


Glenfiddich 2001/2017 Ob. Spirit of Speyside Festival cask #14089 [btl #54/110] 55% WB87[1]

Re-casked into bourbon after 16 years in sherry.

Glenfiddich 2001:2017 Ob. Spirit of Speyside Festival cask #14089 [btl #54:110] 55%.jpeg

  • N: Following that Brora is a tough gig but this is pretty awesome too. Lovely sherry action alongside dunnage-y malt honey is a promising start to say the least.
  • T: A simply sublime cushion-soft mouthfeel. Travels down the hessian-dunnage, runny honey elixir route,…
  • F: … rumbling on with its squidgy maltiness enhanced by a light peppery-soft seasoning.
  • C: You could take this anywhere. Ideal whisky for beginners and enthusiasts alike, I’d have thought.

Scores 88 points


Glendronach 1993/2018 24yo Ob. Hand-filled [btl #357/400] 53.6% WB92.20[43]

Glendronach 1993:2018 24yo Ob. Hand-filled [btl #357:400] 53.6%.jpeg

  • N: Sadly Chris couldn’t make it, so Tex took his place. Far less emotional/’bovered’ than us about the Brora, “yummy yum yum” is what came from Tex’s mouth after smelling this waxy sweet, uber-squidgy sherried malt.
  • T: A moorish bitter-sweet, firmly cask-centric delivery & development.
  • F: The oloroso kinda spoils the illusion of anything more than the sum of its parts, though the parts are very fine.
  • C: It’s easy to get carried away by these heavily sherried malts. Given it is a sherry bomb, the colour [SW], the moniker and deserved reputation of Glendronach, this tasty dram proved very popular on the night. Besides the Brora however, this is a few leagues away.

Scores 86 points


Bowmore 1996/2018 21yo HL Dramfool 15th Release [299 bts] 52.9% WB89.06[36]

Bruce is the one-man band behind Dramfool. From a bourbon hogshead, this is the 15th cask he bottled.

Bowmore 1996:2018 21yo HL Dramfool 15th Release [299 bts] 52.9%.jpeg

  • N: A distillate-led, bourbon refill I’m guessing. A touch floral, smokey and sugary-sweet vegetal.
  • T: A lovely, slightly Clynelish-esque, waxy light sweet, veg/waxy number that reminds me of an SMOS bottle I enjoyed [Blog88], not long ago.
  • F: A touch briny, waxy buttery, bitter-ish woody chocolate.
  • C: A well rounded Islay number, though a little tiring/sweet for me.

Scores 86 points


Laphroaig 1985/2016 30yo Ob. Limited Edition [10000 bts] 53.5% WB91.40[123]

10000 bottles = limited edition! Isn’t everything limited? Maybe not atoms.

Laphroaig 1985:2016 30yo Ob. Limited Edition [10000 bts] 53.5%.jpeg

  • N: Goes very well with the tablet-like [vg] sticky toffee pudding. The dryness lifts, becoming more youthful after 10 minutes. I got distracted by initial top notes of dried nettles, violets, honeysuckle and fusca, but actually, dried basil, thyme and sticky lavender with bitter sour lemon captures the overall aroma better.
  • T: With slowly softened smoke, the malt rings true with sweet vegetal herbal floral action continuing forth.
  • F: Bitter oaky herbal, those 30 years of maturation never crushing the barley despite a metallic touch.
  • C: I’m enjoying this tasting so much I forgot to write a conclusion or give this a score. It would have been high I’m certain.

[Not scored]


Lagavulin 25yo [2016] Ob. 200th Anniversary [btl #3106/8000] 51.7% WB92.33[253]

Lagavulin 25yo [2016] Ob. 200th Anniversary [btl #3106:8000] 51.7%.jpeg

  • N: This is a lovely floral sweaty-sweet, subtle/distant-yet-true, deeper smokey peaty malt compared to the Laphroaig though everyone’s glass offers something different. You may find anything you want in this bottle. Becomes more floral with water.
  • T: Tastes as exceptionally good as it smells, with a sweet bitter sour herbal complex. More cider & white wine-like with water.
  • F: Deliciously ashy dunnage-y is all I noted, so all is well.
  • C: Add a drop or two of Laphroaig 30yo and you’ve got a 92 score.

Scores 91 points in its own right.


[Bruichladdich] Port Charlotte 12yo Ralfy.com Bonneville World Land Speed Record cask #0941 [btl #30/74.7] 56.6% WB90.67[5]

[Bruichladdich] Port Charlotte 12yo Ralfy.com Bonneville World Land Speed Record cask #0941 [btl #30:74.7] 56.6%.jpeg

  • N: This is dirty, fruity & full on, so just up my street. Tex reckons it’s a Ledaig – good luck with that one. I found it more Paul John-esque [bottled by Cadenhead’s]. Even more luck required for that guess!
  • T: Same again – that is, dirty, fruity & full on.
  • F: Bone dry-ish malty funk.
  • C: No one suspects Port Charlotte!

Scores 84 points


At the best gigs, there’s an encore after encore and tonight it’s a single cask Macallan no less.

Macallan private cask

[No pic]

It was great to see David and Ewan again. Sadly their loveable three-legged cat had passed.

Bally Grant cat.jpeg

  • N: A likeable & familiar yet lacking, pancake-y raisin-y dram, comparable to a dense/CS Dalmore Cigar Malt possibly.
  • T: Creamy, sulphury & rubbery.
  • F: Fruity & rubbery dry tyres. 
  • C: I’m not fooled, but the name alone appeases the affluent clientele. Regardless, it has been a memorable tasting.


With thanks to Tam, SWA, David & Ewan for a cracker.




Bally Grant Inn picture



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