Capturing an island’s spirit: Port Askaig and Elements of Islay
Author: Elisa De Luca
A ceilidh is always a fun (but tiring) affair, as several of our Berry Bros. & Rudd colleagues discovered last month. The team behind the whisky brands Elements of Islay and Port Askaig invited us to an evening in celebration of the island from which they take their name. Among several rounds of Scottish dancing, we also had the opportunity to learn more about Islay itself: its culture, music, and – of course – its whiskies.
Many a whisky lover has embarked on a pilgrimage to Islay. This wild and windswept island, the southernmost of the Scottish Inner Hebrides, is the birthplace of some of the country’s most talked-about whiskies.
The reason Islay has proved such a favourite among whisky-lovers boils down to one thing: peat. The majority of distillers here are known for burning peat as part of their malting process; this imparts rich, smoky aromas to the barley grains later used to craft their whiskies. It’s used in such frequency that these distinct aromas and flavours have become intrinsically linked to Islay itself.
And, as it turns out, that’s a good thing. Islay’s distinct smoked whiskies are incredibly popular; the whisky industry is the largest employer on the island, and plays no small part in boosting tourism. Over the summer months, Islay’s population of 3,200 will see over 80,000 visitors flock to its shores, all in search of a dram of rich, peaty whisky – or several.
It was in celebration of Islay’s wonderful whiskies that our team was invited to a ceilidh last month, hosted by Elements of Islay and Port Askaig. Alongside attempting some traditional Scottish dancing, we were also able to enjoy drams of the Elements of Islay Sherry Cask and Bourbon Cask, and the Port Askaig 15yo. Each of these whiskies has been blended with the utmost care, in order to represent a different aspect of Islay’s spirit and heritage.
The art of blending
As we were to discover, a delicious dram of a special whisky is an excellent way to revive yourself in between rounds of ceilidh dancing. Elements of Islay had two of the bottles from their new core range available for us to try: the Bourbon Cask, and the Sherry Cask, while the Port Askaig team had their much-loved 15-Year-Old on offer – a whisky that’s exclusive to Berry Bros. & Rudd. Blending is core to each of these team’s processes; it is the flavour of each whisky, and the character that flavour imparts, that is of the utmost importance to the team.
Each of these bottles was created with the character of Islay’s distilleries in mind. There is no Elements of Islay or Port Askaig distillery; instead, liquid is bought from each of the island’s nine distilleries and used to craft masterful blendss, in a process that harks back to Scottish tradition. Today, single malts are well known across the globe; yet 40 years ago, blended Scotch whisky was far more common.
The teams focus most of their efforts on this art of blending – it is their belief that by bringing elements from different distilleries together, a true sense of Islay’s spirit and character can be captured.
Elements of Islay Bourbon Cask
Northern and southern Islay meet here; rich barbecue smokes comes from a distillery in the south, while elements blended from the north carry subtle, zesty flavours. Matured in first-fill and refill Bourbon barrels, this is a smooth and creamy whisky, with notable vanilla notes alongside classic peat smoke.
Elements of Islay Sherry Cask
Matured in first-fill and refill Sherry butts, the Elements of Islay Sherry Cask blends dried fruit and a dark chocolate character from southern Islay, with salty, marine Arbraoth smokie notes from the north of the island. Bonfire ember, lemon oil, dried autumn fruit and ginger spice sing in this explosion of Islay flavour; this is a dram that captures the wild elements of the island, and brings them to life in the glass.
Port Askaig 15-Year-Old
Exclusive to Berry Bros. & Rudd, the Port Askaig has been a longstanding favourite for us. Matured in both Bourbon and Sherry casks, it offers a palate full of coastal tang, lime and toasted herbs, alongside citrus, olive, and that all-familiar Islay smoke. Supremely balanced, this collaborative bottling is Islay in a glass.
For more information on the whiskies of Islay, please visit our website.