Several weeks ago I got a surprise package in the post. With a little shake I could feel liquid inside. Nothing new there as my wife constantly reminds me! I rip it open to reveal a 50ml taster sent to me from a good friend out of his personal collection. The label read “Celtic Pillage 05”. I was stumped, which I don’t mind saying, doesn’t happen often. With a phone call all was revealed of how this whiskey came about. I’m sure ye know at this stage I love a good back story, right? This is no different!
So this sample was the second release of the the Islay Pillaged series. The idea was the brain child of Kevin Campbell who works in Lagavulin Distillery. He decided he wanted a novel way to raise money for meaningful charities. With him working in Lagavulin, this was always going to be a good idea eh?! In 2003 Kevin and a group of volunteers rowed around the island of Islay in a small Viking type boat “pillaging” whisky as they went from the 7 distilleries of Ardbeg, Bruichladdich, Bowmore, Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila, Lagavulin and Laphroaig. In reality, the 10 yr old malt whisky was obviously donated by each distillery to the cause and produced 250 bottles once blended together. In 2005 the second pillage was organised and this time, it incorporated the original 7 plus Jura and Bushmills! Adopting the name Celtic Pillage, the run set out to raise money for the Children’s Hospice Association of Scotland and the Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice. Focusing on 12 year old Malt on this occasion, approximately 40 litres were collected from each distillery. Setting off from Bruichladdich in their Viking longboat, the crew had a 20 miles crossing in what turned out to be a Force 7. Now in 2011 I skippered a RIB that completed the Irish Sea crossing from Rosslare to Fishguard and in the process, set a world record with my 5 team mates waterboarding across behind me in relay. While it was a smooth crossing over, we hit a force 7 on the return leg the following day and about an hour out of Fishguard, we had to turn back for safety sake. Now of course the areas are different and the weather/sea state cannot be compared for that reason, but I can only imagine how hard it was to row/sail a boat from Islay to Antrim in good weather not to mind in bad weather! But of course, the crossing was successful. The Pillage team made it to the Northern Ireland coast and pillaged Bushmills distillery of their nectar. Returning to Islay with the whisky, it was then vatted together in Lagavulin before being bottled in Bruichladdich. 500 cask strength bottles were produced at 55.8% ABV. and were sold via silent auction with a reserve of £100 each. You can do the rough math yourself but there is no doubt, this made serious money for charity. Further Pillages were made in 2007 and 2010 making a total of 4 bottlings but some would say, the 2005 was the best. It has now become a very collectable series with a hefty price tag so I am honoured that a samples was sent to me. So, with story told, onto my notes.
Colour – A dark copper colour. Very sherry finish looking.
Nose – Dried fruits, Sherry, roasted almonds and a hint of pepper.
Palate – Rich and complex. Again dried fruits, raisins and apricot. Real Christmas cake feel to this. Some orange peel in there.
Finish – Medium that I wished would last a bit longer. Bitter more so than sweet with a pleasant tingly spice from the high ABV.
Water – Makes the finish all the better and enhances the palate profile. Doesn’t reveal anything extra for me though but a drop is recommended to bring down the ABV.
Overall – VERY impressed by this dram. I’m convinced that there is a sherry cask or two in there, but I could be wrong. Must follow up on that tomorrow. Very complex. It’s a dram that really needs to be savoured. I spent the guts of an hour enjoying it and I could have nosed it all day. For me the nose delivered more than the palate but that’s not to say that it didn’t taste fantastic…..because it did! Very few of these are for sale at the moment so expect to pay over £400 for a bottle making it very much a premium whisky! The man who sent it to me says its on his favourite list…..its dam close to getting on my list.