There have long been secret Islay single malts, usually coming from either Ardbeg, Lagavulin or Laphroaig, because their owners don’t seem very fond of independent bottlings. For the independent bottlers themselves, these undisclosed single malts have become somewhat of a necessity. Often they represent the only way for them to get quality whisky from an A-list distillery. But I’ve always found them a bit difficult.
A major part of what makes whisky (and other spirits) so interesting and compelling, is exploring the products of a single producer. Sure, I once started out comparing whisky from different distilleries, but to me the real fun is in the contrast between bottlings from the same distillery. It’s nerd-like behaviour, a deep dive into flavour characteristics. Trying to learn about the differences between partially triple-distilled Benrinnes compared to regular double-distilled Benrinnes. Or 1980s Bowmore compared to early 1990s Bowmore. Or Fettercairn produced with a regular condensor or a stainless steel one.
But to do such things, you’d at least need to know some basic provenance. With these secret whiskies I never quite know where to place them in my frame of reference. For example, would this be Secret Highland from Watt Whisky be a very good Clynelish, or a atypical Glenmorangie? Or something else altogether? It’s difficult to really learn something when you don’t know what you’re tasting.
That said, if you don’t care about all that and just want tasty whisky, good on you. Because undisclosed Scottish single malts often do offer value for money. The latest release by Michiel Wigman is such an example. It’s a Secret Islay 2007 14 Years (not even Michiel knows from which distillery). It matured in a Monbazillac cask, which is a sweet white wine from France. Whether the whisky was finished in this cask or fully matured in it, remains a mystery.
Secret Islay 2007 14 Years (51.7%, Michiel Wigman, 355 bts.)
Nose: Very sweet with plenty of candied fruits, strawberry glaze and dates, as well as Maraschino cherries and a few drops of iodine, followed by soot and creosote. The cask has been very active here. Taste: Sticky mouthfeel with plenty of sweet red cherries, but also charred meat with a good pinch of salt and pepper. Some burnt caramel and brown sugar too. And before I forget, of course there’s plenty of peat smoke to enjoy. Finish: Smoked paprika powder, burlap and a touch of smoked peanut skins. Long.
You’d have to enjoy your whisky sweet and smoky. If so, there’s no reason to hesitate. Sure, the wine cask is very influential, yet the whisky seems balanced and offers a lovely complexity. I’m sure this release will have plenty of fans. Available from Dutch Whisky Connection.