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Elements of Islay

Elements of Islay Pe2 Single Malt Scotch Whisky (50cl 59.5%)

€905.35 $1,068.82 £799.00

Peat

Smoke, barbecue, medicine, farmyard aromas

By far the most polarising of all whisky flavours - and in some ways, that most distinctive of Scotch whisky. Peat is a type of fossil fuel, halfway between soil and coal, which produces a very aromatic smoke as it burns, and is widespread in the Scottish Highlands and islands. It has long been used to dry out malted barley in preparation for making whisky…and the aroma of the smoke lingers throughout the whole distillation process and the subsequent years of maturation.

The resulting flavour is often described as “medicinal” - associated with disinfectants such as TCP, especially by its detractors. Those who enjoy the flavour may be more likely to compare it to the scent of a barbecue, or a welcoming fireplace on a cold winter night.

Peat is almost universally associated with the Islay region - although some Islay whiskies have no peat, while many non-Islay whiskies do. As the flavour derives from the malted barley rather than the cask, it is generally more upfront in younger whiskies than in older expressions, where the cask has had more time to influence the overall style - this is why most Islay whiskies, renowned for their peaty flavours, are bottled at 10 or 12 years with relatively little spirit kept for older ages (Lagavulin is a notable exception). The most notorious of peaty whiskies is probably Laphroaig, while the crown of the “world’s peatiest whisky” is held by Bruichladdich’s Octomore series. At the other end of the scale, those flavours produced by relatively light peating levels are described by the earth flavour tag.

Because of the distinctiveness and the sheer intensity of peaty flavours, they can be difficult to pair with cigars: generally, the fuller-flavoured the cigar, the more likely it is to complement an intensely peaty whisky. In this sense, Bolivar, Partagas and certain Cohibas are safe choices. You may like to experiment a little more and try other cigars that are marked by flavours of leather, pepper or toast, however.

Spice

Pepper, cinnamon, ginger, herbs

Aged Scotch whisky is often much softer and easier on the palate than its alcohol strength would imply. So much so, in fact, that sometimes you need something to liven things up a bit. Luckily, a good number of single malts possess lively spicy flavours, some of them in great enough quantities to challenge tequila (naming no names). Others are a little more restrained, but still with the warming tingle of Christmas pudding and mulled wine.

A lengthy maturation, particularly in a large cask (e.g. ex-sherry), generally means more oxygen is allowed into the cask to react with the spirit and develop more complex flavours. These may include spicy flavours - lignin compounds break down over time, releasing more intense spicy notes into the spirit, while the high acidity and relatively low alcohol content of sherry often serve to bring out spicier notes from the cask wood. Clove and cinnamon flavours often derive from eugenols produced via toasting - that is, firing the wood of the casks over a medium heat for anything between 15 to 45 minutes (to be contrasted with charring, where the wood is fired for a very short time over a much hotter flame). Some of the most intense spicy flavours come not from the cask at all, but from the still: a lighter spirit (such as that produced in a tall still) will often have more kick than something more rounded.

Spicy characteristics are generally used to complement other strong flavours, such as dried fruit (e.g. Aberlour) or peat (Ardbeg), but the style is probably best showcased by the expansive and varied Highland region. Highland malts generally eschew excessive subtlety for bold and full flavours, and so often showcase strongly spicy styles. The best examples by far are in the Northern Highlands: Glenmorangie has a light spice that is perhaps better described as herbal; but a small distance to the north, Clynelish and Old Pulteney provide a salty, firey yet still sweet style that prickles all over the palate. Their eastern counterparts, such as Glen Garioch or Glendronach, retain a gingery warmth that it is not so much restorative as elixir.

The strength and spark of such potions pairs very well with similarly lively cigars: Partagas is an obvious match, as is Ramon Allones; but the peppery notes of a Cohiba or Bolivar will also go very well.

Dried Fruit

Raisins, figs, fruitcake, red grape, candied fruit

While flavours of fresh fruits such as apple, citrus or berries may be the result of ex-bourbon cask maturation, dried fruit flavours in single malt are almost exclusively due to extensive sherry-cask influence. Sherry casks, especially those made from European Oak (very much the minority today) lend whisky bold and robust flavours: the high acidity and lower alcohol content of sherry (in comparison to bourbon) bring out more of the flavour from the wood, giving the whisky notes of rich dried fruit and spice. In addition, the fact that sherry casks are generally larger than bourbon barrels (250 - 300 litres for a Hogshead or 500 litres for a butt, in comparison to 200 litres for a barrel) means that there is a slower maturation process: the more time the alcohol has to break down the flavour compounds present in the wood, the more oxygen becomes available to react with the spirit via oxidation; this results in more complex flavours including tobacco, spice, and a rich but sweet fig-like flavour. Raisins and fruit cake are common tasting notes, but younger (and therefore sweeter) whiskies may also present red grape, candied papaya or dried banana chips.

Due to their association with sherry casks, dried fruit flavours are most common in Speyside whiskies which make extensive use of this cask type. Many distilleries in this region have made sherry cask maturation their trademark: most notably Macallan, but also Aberlour, Glenfarclas and cult favourites Glendronach and Longmorn. The scarcity of sherry casks and legendary status of the aforementioned malts has driven up the price tag of this style, but those in the know keep close tags on where to find the best “sherry bomb” deals.

The dry, rich characteristic of this set of flavours means it pairs well with the toasty flavours present in some styles of cigar: Macallan and Cohiba, considering the prestige of each brand, are a natural couple, but dried fruit sherry bombs are also likely to pair well with the likes of Ramon Allones or Trinidad, and the leathery tang of a Montecristo is another good companion.

 

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An incredibly rare bottling of a truly exceptional malt.

Tasting notes by the bottler

Nose: I let the bottle sit open for a few...read more

Product Info

An incredibly rare bottling of a truly exceptional malt.

Tasting notes by the bottler

Nose: I let the bottle sit open for a few minutes before pouring. At 59.5%, I usually find most drams need a bit of aeration before I can get the best out of them. First impressions in the glass: chocolate, very old leather suitcases, balsamico, then a faintly leafy sweetness. Resinous, gammony. Another couple of minutes in the glass reveal rosehip syrup, lovely damp earthy notes, Chinese balloons, syrup, treacle tart, hints of black liquorice. Gamey, minty. Eventually, some woodsmoke, cigar box aromas and some citrus: lemon zest, orangey fruit. Another few minutes of restraint and it's all apricots, wet flint, plums and dates. Finally, after perhaps 45 minutes, we arrive at a delicious orange, dark chocolate liqueur. In a word: Stunning.

Palate: Pretty full, but very drinkable even at full strength. A wash of coaldust and bonfire woodsmoke, with some dried peat. Chocolate hints. Very lively, it fairly fizzes around the tastebuds. Some spice and mocha. Becomes warming mid-palate as the bonfire peat kicks in. Water tames the fiery roar and lifts the sweetness, while retaining a peaty kick. In a word: Maelstrom.

Finish: Good length. Becomes drying, with a little chilli heat; as the phenols fade, a honeysuckle sweetness and some fruity notes emerge. In a word: Beautiful.a

Comment: Another majestic PE. Any sherry cask of this age (minimum 27 years old) that has only dropped a few points abv is likely to do something pretty special to the spirit inside. You have to like peat and sherry, obviously, but fans of the last Pe1 won't be disappointed with this – from memory, I think it's very similar - possibly a little sweeter. I lit a cigarette and asked my glass'How was it for you?'.

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