When I received the message from Donald MacKenzie, I was at first happy to hear from him as I hadn't seen him since the BattleAxe tasting, which he proposed with his friend Mackay Smith with whom he forms the Islay Boys (see here the tasting).
But then I was surprised because for once he wasn't meeting me on the peat island, but in the north of Scotland on the North Sea at Rosemarkie.
He wanted me to taste the new PICTITRIBE and PICTICOAST.
Surprised but intrigued, I left the French countryside and set off on the Bradpeat towards the Highlands.
It was north of Inversness that I found the small town of Rosemarkie nestled on the eastern side of the Black Isle peninsula. The village was not large but enough for me not to find Donald. So, like a detective I went to Holmes Cottage to investigate (elementary my dear Watson!). I asked an old man but the problem was that my description of a jovial Scotsman in a kilt did not help me completely. The name Donald MacKenzie, on the other hand, hit the nail on the head.
The man, who obviously knew Donald, told me to go to the Fairy Glen waterfall 5 minutes away, as it was a place he liked to go to. So I got back into my beloved Bradpeat and set off to meet him.
It was indeed in this bucolic place that I ran into Donald (as cheerful as ever). He was waiting for me at the foot of the waterfall with two coloured bottles. As usual, he was dressed in his kilt but to my surprise, his face was painted with blue ethnic tattoos representing a snake and flowery patterns!
After recalling good old tasting memories, especially during the numerous wine shows he attends with his sidekick (let's remember here that Donald is certainly one of the most French of the Scots), he explained to me why he had chosen the Highlands and this beautiful waterfall rather than his native island (Islay -NDLR-).
In fact, he wanted me to taste the two new Islay Boys' products, through which he gave us the benefit of his knowledge of highland tastes and, above all, he wanted to pay tribute to the people who lived in these parts in Roman times: the PICTES.
The tasting began with a lecture on the history of the ALBA area by Donald.
We are here to taste whisky and I won't bore you with this, but here is a summary of what he said: Donald explained to me that the Picts were tribes who lived in Roman times and until the 10th century north of the rivers Forth and Clyde (north of Edinburgh and Glasgow, i.e. more or less the Highlands) in a kingdom called Pictavia. At that time, in order to be stronger against invaders, they joined forces (in the 9th century) with the Gaelic kingdom of Dál Riata (further south) to form the kingdom of Alba. Through alliance with others, they eventually formed the people of the 'Scots'.
Donald points out to me that the Highlands are quite large and hide vestiges of these peoples: stones engraved with PICTograms (we're not making this up) telling of their lives and beliefs.
One of these stones is located close to where we are (and that's why he chose this place): the ROSEMARKIE stone is engraved with crosses and Pictish symbols or other symbols considered as religious such as crescents or the head of a man in the fangs of a wolf-like creature (a fragment called the Daniel Stone and telling the story of Daniel in the teeth of the Lion of the Old Testament -NDLR-). However, the researchers did not detect any bottles of scotch!
He ended up telling me that the Picts were also known for their hectic blue warrior tattoos (which explained the state in which I had found Donald!).
Sorry for all the details but, as the Islay Boys' aim was to pay tribute to the Picts, they seemed necessary to understand the tasting.
Unlike the French schools, Scottish history classes always end with a tasting of single malt! So Donald introduced me to the two newcomers.
He started with the PICTI TRIBE and its red label reminiscent of PICTES patterns and tattoos.
Before I got to know it in more detail (although its secret is well kept), Donald explained that he understood my dismay at the idea of producing a non-peated whisky, but there has to be something for everyone.
The PICTI TRIBE is intended as a tribute to the Pictish people of Speyside (yes Speyside is north of the Pictish line and is a region of Highland).
To create it the ISLAY BOYS left their island and went to the DUFFTOWN area in the centre of Speyside. They then went to one of the few distilleries in the area (😉 ) to collect a mysterious and magical distillate which they then slipped into an ex-bourbon barrel.
The Picti Tribe has a golden colour that is quite representative of bourbon casks.
Donald tells me that he wanted to create a rather cereal and fruity single malt, and it is successful.
On the first nose, we discover the presence of cereals and the green of the Speyside meadows. But quickly spices come to tickle the nose and reveal a certain freshness.
The second nose is much more fruity. It starts with white peaches, then banana and finishes on a background of vanilla and caramel.
We then discover a velvety sensation in the third passage (sweetness) while keeping a certain freshness. While keeping its spices, it shows an agricultural side with earthy cereals.
In the palm of the hand there is an undeniable smell of cereals
Its entry in mouth first fruity, then spicy. Pepper and turmeric arrive at full gallop and develop strongly on the tongue. We then have a short passage through the woody tension of the cask (where it must not have stayed very long). Then comes the cereals but the spices remain very present on the tongue and throughout the mouth. The distillate then becomes more mellow and biscuity while keeping a certain woody tension.
The finish is short on the sweet cake side. On the other hand, it is longer on the green and cereal side and even brings a touch of harshness in the mouth.
The empty glass has very sweet butterscotch notes with a hint of wood.
The PICTI COAST pays tribute to the PICTE people of the north coast of Scotland. It is towards an island of the north of Scotland that they went this time: the ORKNEY islands. We don't really know where it comes from either, but we do know that it is not a Highland Park (and as there are only two distilleries on the island .... I let you look for it!)
This whisky is also aged in ex-bourbon casks and not peated (yes!!).
On the other hand, this approach of the ISLAY BOYS is very interesting as it allows to see the undeniable difference between the whiskies on the only basis of the distillate (since the ageing is the same!).
So what about this whisky from... sorry, from the ORKNEY islands that its creators wanted to be fruity and iodized.
When the nose dips into the glass for the first time, it discovers very fruity smells with apple, but also a background of foam and iodine that comes next. On the first nose, it goes from warm and mellow to fresh in a gust of wind (from the North Sea of course).
The second time in the glass it smells like vanilla biscuits. On the other hand, it has a slightly herbaceous side of north coast heather.
The third passage is more tense, with an arrival of spices and a hint of smoke.
In the palm of the hand, it is much smokier than the picti tribe with a smell of roasted cereals and even fuel.
It has a mellow entry but soon the sea wave of the Orkney coast bay comes through and there are clear saline notes. This is followed by warm spices that sting the tongue well. The iodine notes come back and sweep through, bringing a hint of acidity and smoke. The distillate then softens and moves on to honey while retaining the spicy and iodine notes.
Once swallowed, there is liquorice in the throat and a long iodine rush in the mouth.
The empty glass is filled with iodine and sea spray and woody notes that clearly reveal its provenance even if it is not named.
The least we can say is that the ISLAY BOYS (painted or not) make us travel in a beautiful way. After having made us discover the Vikings with FLATNOSE and BARELEGS (including the brilliant BATTLE AXE) and the peoples of the first centuries, I can't wait for them to pay homage to other "surrounded" Scottish peoples!
As for today's two whiskies, go and have a look at your local wine shop or at DUGAS (they have plenty 😉 ) ! It's over here !