Six peated whiskies, six different cities, and no-one gets told what they are until they’ve tried them all and given their opinion! We’ve been running our Blind Islay Fury series of tastings at the end of the year for the best part of a decade now, and they’re always a favourite. The fact that the spell of Marketing is null and void concentrates attendees solely on the liquid: no fancy packaging, no brand ambassadors with “product points” to put over, just unadulterated focus on what is in the glass.

Results and feedback can often be surprisingly varied, especially since we’ve introduced the occasional inclusion of a peated whisky from somewhere other than Islay, to keep our customers on their toes. Could a Non-Islay whisky really stand up to a spirit from the traditional home of peat?! Here’s how this year’s whiskies went down…

In Manchester, Kilchoman 100% Islay 8th Edition narrowly won the most votes on the evening, as it did throughout the country. This edition is not quite as heavily peated as Kilchoman’s other expressions, sitting at around 20ppm (the others are around 50ppm), and was drawn from a combination of 23 bourbon barrels and seven Oloroso sherry butts filled in 2009 and 2010. Rupert (TWL Presenter and Fulham FC fan) tells me that some of the purists in attendance were of the firm belief that ALL Islay whisky should adopt the philosophy that ALL the ingredients, and ALL the whisky making process should take place on Islay. Nice thought. Try telling the accountants that!

Interestingly, joint top in Manchester was a Peated Loch Lomond Distillery Only bottling, our curve ball of the night (clearly, it’s not from Islay!). Even more notable was that only five people out of a total of 166 attendees (less than one per venue!) even questioned if it was from Islay. In fact, some of our Liverpool customers gladly accepted that Islay may not hold the monopoly on good peated whisky.

Laphroaig Lore was the dram of the evening in Sheffield, Liverpool and York. Made in small batches, the whisky is aged in a combination of quarter casks, sherry casks and reused peated casks. Guy (TWL Presenter and Dreadlocks) found that even though the residents of the steel city recognised it as Laphroaig, it was a welcome tangent to the usual fare from the distillery.

Joint top in (That) London Town were Bowmore Vault Edition First Release and Ardbeg Kildalton. The Vault Editions from Bowmore are a four-part series of whiskies that highlight one characteristic of the distillery’s style. This first release is named Atlantic Sea Salt and focuses on Bowmore’s maritime style. Ardbeg Kildalton, meanwhile, is a sold out Distillery Only charity bottling for the Kildalton Project, part of the North Highland Initiative. This charity’s aim is to support fragile communities across the northern highlands and around Scotland.

Our friend and compatriot Mr Matthew Chambers (of notoriety) was on presenting duty in Fitzrovia and reported that with a more even spread of favourites the conversation around “rarity vs price vs quality” took centre stage.

Finally, with two strong second place finishes in York and London, was Port Askaig 100° Proof. A limited batch single malt from our friends at Speciality Drinks, Askaig is somewhat special, being cask strength and less than £50. No mean feat in today’s market!

Now, you may have noticed that I haven’t said anything about the tasting that I hosted in Newcastle. Trust me, you had to be there! Thanks to all who attended and contributed to another great instalment of this year’s tastings, it’s been a vintage year all round. And we’re already well into planning next year’s treats!

Keep your eyes peeled folks!