Wednesday, 22 April 2015

An ode to Islay 4: Bunnahabhain

HelmsmanAs I said last time, I’ve had a bit of a blind spot for Bunna.  I’ve really enjoyed that which I’ve had but it can be pricey and I’m not a massive fan of the young, heavily peated stuff.  I did a quick horizontal about a year ago but it was the Old Particular Bunnahabhain 16 and 17 recently that’s really excited me about the distillery.

What I’m looking for is old, dark and dirty.  Twenty-something indies are a good place to look.  Feis stuff first though…

Bunnahabhain Dràm An Stiùreadair (The Helmsman’s Dram), Feis Ile 2014, 56.7% A⊕

The cheaper of the two Feis bottlings from Bunnahabhain - bourbon casks for 9 years then finished for a year in Marsala.  I love Marsala finishes.

bunnahabhain-dram-an-stiureadair-feis-ile-2014-whiskyNose - Lightly peated, sour red fruit (plums, red cherry), wax and wood beyond its years, definitely.  Crayons, oak chips, play bark (the stuff on the floor in your more caring playground), umeboshi, and a Sunday lunch of roast chicken and roasted carrots.  With water, some more sweet shop notes come through - boiled sweets, pineapple kubes (which I tried again, for research purposes, recently, and they barely taste of pineapple.  Really rather subtle.  Mostly like boiled sweets).

Body - Heavily peated.  Pear, ash, spicy wood.  With water, more toasty oak and sweetness.

Finish - Medium, a little sour, great balance and good integration.  A real drammer.

What’s not good about it - Not much.  Directly compared to the Cruach-Mhòna (next) it is a little musky and dusty but makes up for that with complexity.

What’s good about it - Feisty and fun, balanced and rich, a lovely nose.  It took me two attempts to write notes for this it was so enjoyable.

Bunnahabhain 17: Westering Home, 53.4% A⊕+

The expensive one of the pair of Feis Ile 2014 Bunnas.  This was distilled in November 1996, matured for nearly 11 years in (presumably) a bourbon cask, then moved into a Cognac cask in October 2007, and finished in a Sauternes cask from December 2013.  Quite a journey!

Big thanks to Stumbler for this sample.

bunnahabhain-17-year-old-westering-home-feis-ile-2014-limited-edition-whiskyNose - Sweet, sour apple, a calvados edge, dusty bookcase and beeswax.  Black pepper and a back note of celery, some green apple, and really very sweet with soft toffee, toast and honey, and floral notes of rose and lily.  Some really lovely aged cereal in here when you can spot it.  Complex, intense, balanced and very interesting.  With water, some of the cereal and wine drops back and the more classical flavours come through.

Body - Wow - salty, Spanish ham, olives, toffee, the Cognac really comes through in the delivery with spicy peat backing it up and juicy sweetness all around the mouth.  With water, the toffee dominates more and the intensity doesn’t come down much.

Finish - Long, toffeed, the Sauternes wine comes through with salty peat reappearing late on.  

What’s not good about it - The wine influence is a little overt here for me, the overall dram is a little bonkers.

What’s good about it - Complex, fascinating, balanced, intense, and challenging.  A real blockbuster!

Bunnahabhain Cruach-Mhòna, 50% A+

Travel Retail - and 50% NCF and no added colour, even if it is NAS.  Good stuff.

Sep13-BunnahabhainCruachNose - More sweet shop, gently peated lemony beauty.  Light wax, light toast.  The intensity isn’t there but the balance and poise is.  A lovely, drinkable nose.  With water, more of the sweet wax comes through and some wet oak.

Body - Classically peated, not too complicated, lemon sweetness and honey.  With water, a little more juicy orchard fruit and some sliced ham.

Finish - Medium to short, sweet and a little oily.  Some numbing peat at the end.  

What’s not good about it - Lacks intensity and complexity.

What’s good about it - But it does have finesse and poise, and it’s very drinkable.  For about 50p for 10cl this is a good thing.

Bunnahabhain 23 years old, Abbey Whisky Rare Drams, 44% A+

I always thought this was good but not that good, but I live to be proven wrong and upgrade whisky scores, nothing makes me happier.  Talking of which I must re-review that Signatory Cambus...

bunnahabhain-23-year-old-the-rare-casks-release-2-abbey-whisky-webNose - Sweet, sharp, still a bit boring I’m afraid.  Sherbet fountain, pickled lemons.  With time, patience, some warmer tones start to come through - maybe this was the problem before, I was operating off a remnant of a tweet tasting (about a cl, not enough for patience).  Warm candle wax, an old polished table, and finally some of the tropical interest I’ve been looking for with icing sugar pineapple, dessicated coconut and pastry.  

Body - Drier than expected, like a dirty martini.  Tasting it makes the nose more complex and interesting, waxier and more elegant (I love it when that happens).  Again, the delivery requires patience, revealing a quite wonderful balance with pepper, olive, tippex, unripe pear and agave nectar.

Finish - Long, tannic and dry and clarty, like a very good chilled vodka can be.  Last time I thought it ended on fruit, but now it seems elegant and dry.

What’s not good about it - I will retract my earlier “uneventful” and call it “restrained”

What’s good about it - But I’ll add elegant.  And with the due respect, it’s got a beautiful balance for it’s enormous restraint.  A calmer, quieter man than me would get on very well with this.

Bunnahabhain 1987, 26 years old, Berry Bros & Rudd, Cask 2462, 49.8% A⊕+

Bottled for Whisky Import Netherlands, 2014.

20150418_103050Nose - Dark plastic, magic balloons, fake (blue) raspberry, dried apricot and popping candy.  Otherworldly - this is the stuff that makes old, unpeated Bunna so compelling.  Also faintly medicinal, a touch of bandage and refreshers.  Has that Islay funk.  With time, deep, dirty and tropical, like a 30+ year old Tomatin.  With water, the fruit comes out with the peat - hubba bubba, kilned oak and fake apple.

Body - Complex, spicy, deep and quite chilli hot.  Fake strawberry now, fizzing tannins.  With water, freshy and more complex, juicy and wooded.  Epic.

Finish - Long and toasty, mango, plywood bitterness.  Strawberry laces still.  Water softens the tannins and spice and makes it quite refreshing.

What’s not good about it - Not much - it’s quite stern actually (approaching challenging), but that’s balance for you.

What’s good about it - Deep, dirty, complex and sexy.  Balancing light peat.  It’s fruity, well integrated and balanced.  Winner.  Still available, get one in the Netherlands.

Wemyss Bunnahabhain 1988, Kirsch Gateau, 56% A⊕

kirsch-gateau-1988-bottled-2014-wemyss-malts-bunnahabhain-whiskyNose - Instantly epic. The kind of dark, deep but sharp sherry that speaks of perfect wood and perfect spirit.  I searched high and low for this after I tasted it originally but it was long gone!  Sweet fruit and nut chocolate, dark chocolate too, refreshers (the top, icing sugar note with the fake tropical edge), and deeply nutty.  Black cherries, juicy and from the can.  It’s everything you want from a sherry bomb.  With water, juicier and more orange fuelled, with xmas pudding mix and pencil shavings.  A comforting sulphur backnote.

Body - Rich, chocolatey and spicy with clove, orange and other xmas spices.  Tons of orange zest, this is what I’m hoping the Amrut orange whisky is going to taste like.

Finish - Medium, bitterly tannic, extremely rich to balance that but not oversweet.  This is atoms away from being overbalanced but just pulls it out of the bag.  

What’s not good about it - it’s touching “challenging”, with the bitter orange, but this is well balanced.

What’s good about it - Epic whisky - intensity, amazing wood, perfect balance and full of warming spices.  Great burps too - sad to have missed out on a bottle for the archive!

SMWS 10.77, Bunnahabhain, Beware of the monster, 6 years old, 61.4% A

October 3 2007, 196 bottles, refill hogshead.  A recent bunna from SMWS (but not the most recent, I missed that).  

20150419_202146Nose - Sweet citrus, very boozey. Still quite closed after 7 months.  I stick by my old nosing notes: lemon ash, wood fires, joss sticks, brine.  Damp cardboard, jellied eels and lemon juice.  With water, a touch of sandalwood box, young cereal, a pile of oyster shells.

Body - Sweet, bright, fascinating.  Lemon toffee.  I get the toffee on the nose too having tasted it.  Water mellows things out and makes it seem less young, with unripe strawberry and flint.

Finish - long, spicy and peppery, with lemon pepper, grey salt and gravel.  

What’s not good about it - Young and simple, lots of cereal...

What’s good about it - ...but still big, competent and interesting.  A real drinker but not as impressive as I used to think.

Next time, my favourite industrial scale distillery, Caol Ila.

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