Feis Ile Dinner; Cu Bocan and Kilchoman on Taste

Hello everyone

I‘m writing this one on the ferry home from Islay after another successful Feis Ile whisky dinner at The Port Charlotte Hotel. It‘s always a joy to go back and this year was enhanced by a sight I spotted in Bowmore. For a few years now, there‘s been a tendency for anonymous persons in their own communities to knit/crochet/construct topical and entertaining „hats“ for our red post boxes. It‘s not that we need to keep them warm but they are a talking point and a real mood lifter. This was the one I saw in Bowmore this week. Loved it!

So, to the dinner. Despite always worrying about the whisky pairings, all worked well again this year. It‘s a matter of years of experience, gut feel and hoping that you‘ve got it right, certainly when you can‘t approximate the chef‘s creations at home. Best you can do is put flavours together though I did manage to produce a similar pork dish and added ingredients to shop-bought chocolate puddings, except the malt ice cream. I had no idea how to make that but I do now. Here is the menu:

(Whisky matching menu © Caroline Dewar 2024)

The Bruichladdich Organic Barley 2012 was a great foil for all the canapes – clean and fresh and helping stimulate the palate for all to come. The canapes were all good, particularly the little Islay crab,chilli and lime coriander salad on a little toast triangle. I could happily have eaten a plateful of those and definitely with this Bruichladdich expression. The chef had included three dishes containing chilli which, like garlic, is not always a friend to whisky but that depends on strength and quantity and, on the night, we had no problem at all.

I‘d initially thought about using the Bunnahbhain 12 Year Old with the scallops and the Bowmore 12 Year Old with the pork (it‘s a very versatile whisky) but decided, in the last week, to swap them round. That was a good decision. This lighter Bowmore always has a lime element about it and the smokiness does help with seafood when it‘s not too strong. You don‘t like to take an easy route but it really works and no exception here. I‘d also decided the sweet nuttiness of the Bunnahabhain and it‘s dry finish would work well with the Chinese-style flavours in the pork and accompaniment. I did get both of these whiskies served at the same time so everyone could try both with each dish to see if they agreed with me. That‘s not compulsory, by the way! As it happened I think there was only one person who preferred them the other way round so I‘m taking that as a win.

One of the standouts for me was the Laphroaig Quarter Cask with the monkfish, rosti potato, Indian style sauce and mango salsa. The sauce contains coconut plus coriander and other spices and the salsa has chilli and coriander alongside the fruit. QC does have a coconut element to it and you could smell it from the glass. It‘s 48% vol so I added a little more water than usual (not quite as much as 50:50 though) and it really made the whisky and food sing in harmony. Lots of positive comments from the diners who, this year again, were a lovely international crowd from Islay, rest of UK, France, Switzerland and the USA. At least, those were the ones prepared to say where they were from.

For the other main dish, I‘d chosen the new Ardbeg Spectacular with the beef for it‘s robustness and big flavour even with a more delicately toned cut like fillet. I‘ve found it often goes well with red meats and have used Ardbegs with beef, lamb and venison. It also didn‘t overwhelm the little portions of lobster and langoustine on the plate. Again, I added literally a few drops more water here and it has a residual sweetness which complemented the beef very well. This one was definitely chosen via experience of other Ardbegs and gut feel as I hadn‘t tried this one till I got to Islay and picked up the bottles. It‘s delicious and diners who hadn‘t yet tried it were impressed. I’m sure they would try – and buy – more at Ardbeg day tomorrow (Saturday). The whisky was a fitting crescendo in the peat smoke department before we moved on to the undoubtedly smoky and peaty Lagavulin Distiller‘s Edition 2022 which, though richly smoky, is enhanced and sweetened by its PX sherry cask maturation. It tends to sit really well beside chocolate desserts and this was also very good. I have to say the malt ice cream that the chefs had created was outstanding. Many happy noises from diners on all of the dishes but particularly this one. Although the sponge contained some Classic Laddie you don‘t really taste that in the dish and Bruichladdichs generally would be too light for all these flavours together so it‘s fine to pair it with something else. Now that I know how to make malt ice cream, I‘m going to try it with a Bruichladdich and a chocolate pudding, though, just for my own interest.

Lastly, we had the cheese and this was another beauty. It was purely happy coincidence – honestly! – that I chose a 19 year old Jura – Jura The Paps 19 Year Old for my 19th year doing this dinner. In my initial deliberations for all dishes I checked over all my own Jura tasting notes and the flavour profiles on its website and decided this was the one I needed for the Clava Brie, a Scottish brie-style cheese, with pear and bread („…kind of a Scottish focaccia“ said the chef who created the menu). It has delicious sweetness, fruit, spice and nuts as well as saltiness and malt. They reckon it has spiced pear notes so, as you should usually look for something in the whisky that picks up on a flavour in the food – or complements it – then this just seemed right. It was a while since I‘d tasted it and, on the night, it was another standout. Again, plenty of pleasurable noises from the guests.

I can‘t end this bit without thanking chefs Ajish and Laura who did the most incredible job and produced phenomenally good food. It was Ajish‘s first time at running the kitchen and leading the cooking on the night for this particular event. Chef Chris, who created the menu, has had to step back due to back problems but I have to thank him for that and giving me more challenge again this year! Huge thanks also to co-proprietor Isabelle and right-hand woman, Lorna, for their superb organisation and service on the night and to Ajith all through dinner and, at the beginning and end, Madeleine for excellent service in the restaurant too. Lastly, but far from least, a thanks to the whisky company HQ people, distillery managers, master blenders and visitor centre managers who helped out with the bottles.

A promotion I‘m happy to do here – the hotel bottled its own cask of whisky, a 19 year old Bruichladdich called The Port Charlotte Hotel and they have less than 100 bottles left. It‘s at 53.9% abv and quite a rare thing. It‘s being sold for £200 a bottle. It was a cask chosen by Jim McEwan and came to the hotel via an unusual route. Not sure that bottles can be sent out to anyone not in the UK or even outside Islay. You can always ask if you‘re interested via info@portcharlottehotel.co.uk .

Let‘s get to my most recent nosing and tasting now.

Cu Bocan #6 – Cu Bocan is the peaty one from Speyside‘s Tomatin Distillery. This one is bottled at 46% abv and was matured in PX sherry and Jamaican rum casks; no chill-filtration and no added colour and only 8,400 bottles available. I was certainly looking forward to it. Price is £55 – £62, dependent on retailer. This expression has been patiently waiting for some weeks till I had column space.

Appearance: Rich gold, brass highlights. Slow, sticky tears and quite close together.

Nose: Quite a rich and fruity nose with definite pineapple sweets for me. Smoke not overt. A tiny touch of sulphur but still fresh; icing sugar and light florals; stewed apple and stone fruits; lightly spiced (sweet). With water, a little more apple and sugars with light rum aromas. Nosing from the bottle gave richly stewed apples with spices and brown sugar caramel.

Palate: Spicy and sweet plus chilli pepper heat. Demerara sugar; some dry tannins. Less fruity on the palate; ginger; richly roasted with coffee ground bitterness and some smoke.

Finish: Long and quite dry at the end. Tingly spices and sweet hay; bitter chocolate.

Would I drink it again? Yes.

Final place goes to Kilchoman Sauternes Cask Matured 2024 which was launched only last week and they kindly rushed a sample to me as I‘d said it might be of use at the Feis Ile dinner. It‘s at 50% abv and 50 ppm peating level and a vatting of 22% fresh and 78% refill casks from two distillation years so, fully Sauternes matured.

Appearance: Bright, sunshine gold with pale brass highlights. Tears very sticky and clingy and quite close together at first then more widely spaced.

Nose: Finely crafted smoke and a touch of char. Sweaty sock. A hint of sea air salt and lychee. Some fruity apple notes at the back with light honey; waxy; yeasty and a touch grassy.

With water, more earthy and with further dried grass/hay notes. Smoke starts to emerge more. Smoked ham which was also detected when nosing from the sample bottle along with sweet, smoky honey and salted toffee.

Palate: A slightly viscous mouthfeel; „green“ leafy; dark sugars and dark chocolate; much more smoky and peaty on the palate; rich roasted chocolate barley; malty.

Finish: Long, smoky and dry but with malty sweetness.

This is priced at around £80 – £90 in UK retail. Did I use it at the dinner? No, because I‘d made all my main decisions by this time. I had tried other Kilchomans with certain menu flavours in the decision process and had wondered – due to the sauternes maturation – whether it would match the tablet at the end with the coffee or tea. They didn‘t think it would when I asked but I did try it myself, when the sample arrived, with tablet and with my approximation of the chocolate dessert. Both were too sweet but there are other more savoury things that would work. As I said to the guests at the dinner, we left the coffee/tea + tablet with no whisky match this year as I didn‘t want to shoehorn another one in just for the sake of it. It would not add to their positive experience of the dinner and nor would it do a perfectly good whisky any favours if it were mismatched with something. I‘d look forward to using a this Kilchoman another time with a menu. This expression is fine on its own if you get hold of some.

That‘s it from me for this month. Back again in June.

Meantime, happy dramming.



© Caroline Dewar 2024


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