Tasting Notes: The Scalasaig – Island Hopper (Maiden Voyage)

Here we have the first whisky to be released by Colonsay Beverages. As the name suggests, the company is based on the Scottish Isle of Colonsay within the Inner Hebrides and indeed the whisky brand gets its name from the port and village that the company are based in. Colonsay Beverages operates a microbrewery and distillery on site and whilst the timely process of making whisky is underway, this whisky has been blended together with the intention of sharing their desired flavour from the future maltsters.

Within the whisky press, it has been refreshing to see the genuine, honest and transparent development of the whisky, with director Keith Bonnington taking the lead on the socials. I’ve also been quite enamoured by the story behind the stylish branding, which takes its inspiration from 1930s style travel posters and one particular postcard that Keith Bonnington received from his wife as good luck item when he left the Edrington group after 13 years of service. The team then reached out to the artist Peter McDermot of the Isle of Skye, who first created the design on that postcard, to create the designs for the Island Hopper and the upcoming Scalasaig whisky brand releases.

To the whisky itself and, courtesy of that transparency, we know that this is a blend of 10 separate single malts predominantly from across the Scottish Isles, namely Orkney, Mull and Islay, hence “Island Hopper”. The majority of the liquid is reportedly from Caol Ila and heavily peated Bunnahabhain, with some Tobermory, some Highland Park and possibly a few more stops along the way, along with a small unknown quantity of heavily sherried unpeated malt from somewhere on the Scottish mainland’s coast (possibly Ailsa Bay) – all blended together to make for that distinctive island maritime and peaty character that Colonsay Beverages are after. The sourced whiskies are all between 6-8 years old and have been married together and aged for 12 months in first fill dry oloroso sherry casks from the Jose y Miguel Martin bodega in Jerez, Spain.

As their first endeavour into the scotch whisky world, this bottling is appropriately named “Maiden Voyage” and has been bottled without colouring (and just look at the shade of red in the pics below) and has been limited to 3,000 bottles at 43% ABV.

The Scalasaig – Island Hopper

Nose

Instantly coastal. There’s a great, warming smell of spice and sea. It’s a really rounded nose despite how many rich flavours are lining up. On top of that seaside/briny note there’s mahogany and leather. You can insert your own Ron Burgundy reference but this does smell like real leather. Almost like walking into a shoe shop. Aside from the older smells there are also some rich fruity smells of oranges and raisins. Come to think of it, this smells like a smoky old-fashioned without having to add the orange twist or bitters. Even after time this still has a meaty body and a warming ashy peat smoke playing a supporting role.

Taste

That richness carries on through to the taste but is now tinged with sweet tingly flavours, like candied orange and dried apricots. The spirit has a low and slow warming set of spices that start to unfurl too: nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and allspice all seem to make an appearance and tick the register for the spice role call. It’s not a fierce set of spices though – all balanced and showing themselves in their own time. There’s a nice little earthiness and a soft peat behind it all – despite the high Islay content, there’s more of a woodsmoke flavour than the medicinal/iodine signature note.

Finish

Pretty lingering spice and alcoholic tingle on the tongue stay behind once the liquid has gone. Almost coming full circle, that leathery note kinda returns as the last profile note.

Verdict

What a rounded whisky. It has such a deep colour too, with the first fill sherry cask doing some fine work there. You’d think that there’d be some long heritage within the blend to be getting colours that dark but apparently it’s all down to the final sherry housing. Lots of flavours come out of this whisky but they take their time to make an appearance too, proving itself to be really well composed blend. It has taken some skill to capture all of those rich flavours without one being overly robust or overpowering. A really good whisky actually. It really smells of quality. In fact, I really got to take my time smelling it. Once I found out the component parts I was actually a bit surprised that it wasn’t going to be peatier actually with those Islay and Orkney constituents and the smoke just plays one of the many supporting characters here in the cast. I don’t normally talk about the packaging, but the whole look and feel of the packaging is great. It really stands out, whilst the old style 1930s travel poster somehow totally seem to fit modern times – it brings a touch of class. Definitely a top end blended malt. And it would have to be at £50 a bottle. If a full sized bottle of this makes its way onto my shelf – and I am seriously contemplating it – I’d be a bit concerned about just how quickly I’d be burning through that £50 too. I love the reference to this being their Maiden Voyage and I saw a talk by Keith Bonnington at the Summerton whisky festival (where this sample came from) and he is bursting with enthusiasm and ideas for the future, including an upcoming line of indie bottling of single malts (Caol Ila potentially being the first) and with a whole history of Scottish coastal memorabilia the marketing is already available. Exciting stuff and definitely a fantastic start to their journey.

M

Sample disclosure: This sample was received as part of the Summerton Virtual Whisky Festival tasting pack that came with the ticket to the event. A well organised event with great drams and contributions from the whisky makers and fans alike. All notes here are intended as an honest, fair and independent review of the whisky itself and not as a promotion. Please drink responsibly, and most importantly, wisely.

That colour!
Official Photo

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