Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach 46.3%

Bunnahabhain is known as the un-peated Islay dram… which makes their Ceòbanach a bit of a departure.

Knowing this limited edition expression was new to the market, one of our Whisky Ladies decided it was just the right twist to bring to our “Contributors Choice” evening.

Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach 46.3%

  • Nose – Perfumey peat, sweet, way more peat than had anticipated, creamy, slightly astringent until it settled down, almost salty
  • Palate – Bacon, bloody mary, spice kick, quite direct, black pepper, citrus and bitter yet smooth and almost oily
  • Finish – Long finish, not heavy, spicy and sweet with a dash of salt too

This was one of those drams that is hard to go back to anything else after such peat. It certainly wasn’t “clobber over the head” peat but it wasn’t a push-over either.

Here is what the folks at Bunnahabhain have to say:

Ceobanach [pronounced kyaw-bin-och] means ‘Smoky Mist’ and harks back to a simpler time; when island life depended on peat for warmth and trade, a time when smoke from the open fires mingled with the salty sea air, to create a ‘Smoky Mist’ you could almost taste.

Bunnahabhain Ceobanach has an unusually rich character; from the sweetness of the Bourbon casks, to the intense Islay malt peatiness, not to mention the characteristic sea air influence from more than 10 years maturing on the coast.

  • Colour – Lemon gold
  • Nose – Intensely pungent depths of sweet oak, seaweed, smoke and elegant light tar with mild antiseptic
  • Palate – Exceptionally balanced malt sweetness, then tangy yet mellow vanilla, white pepper, bitter orange and salt
  • Finish – Lingering oatcake saltiness and sweet peppered smoke

For the ladies in the mood for peat, this one hit its mark.

So what did we sample in our Whisky Ladies “Contributor’s Choice” evening?

Here are a few more Bunnahabhain’s sampled over the last couple of years…

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Whisky Ladies Contributor’s Choice – Mars Iwai, Glenrothes, Glenmorangie, Bunnahabhain

You would think having one Whisky Ladies session in January would be sufficient… and we certainly had a merry evening combined with the gents to explore Douglas Laing blends with a bonus!

However we decided to skip our February session in favour of a late January one to welcome back for an evening a member who now resides in the US.

We went completely random in whisky choices… only knowing who would be bringing a contribution… nothing else.

So what did we sample in our “Contributor’s Choice” evening?

Photo: Rashmi Dhawani

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Trying to give Smokehead a chance….

So we tried Smokehead once before – the Rock edition. To say that it didn’t impress the Whisky Ladies is putting it mildly. While we are always curious to try different things and no strangers to peat, ashtray is generally not our preferred style.

However when approached by the folks over at Ian MacLeod distillery suggesting their standard Smokehead is more accessible than the Rock edition, I didn’t have the heart to refuse their rather sincere representative, though did warn him our tasting would be unbiased and honest.

The little Smokehead mini sat patiently waiting for many months until finally one evening it was time to try a range of peat whiskies. Thus was born the evening of minis of a peaty persuasion – Peat Chimney 12 year 40%Big Peat 46%Longrow 46%BenRiach Peated Quarter Cask 46%Ledaig 10 year 46.3%. Smokehead came along for the ride but the others politely but firmly declined.

What to do with our poor rebuffed Smokehead sample? Try try try again… finally a fateful evening occurred when Smokehead finally was cracked open.

Smokehead 40%

  • Nose – Sweet smoky “breathable” want pulled port, braised steak craving, cinnamon, sweet BBQ rub
  • Palate – Watered down, then ash tray, came out as oddly flat
  • Finish – Queer finish, almost off

Our conclusion “All talk, no action”… in other words the nose was more promising than the palate.

Full disclosure – this sample was provided by the folks at Ian McLeod.

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Bunnahabhain 24 year (1990) 51%

Bunnahabhain is one of those distilleries that is defined by more of what it is NOT than what it is… Kinda like how Canada describes itself by its differences from the United States.

The most obvious is that while an Islay distillery…. it generally does not peat its drams.

When I was first introduced to Bunnahabhain it was described by my friend (who is a fan) as “What women at the pub drink.” Nothing complex or classy, just straight forward and a bit sassy…. having the Islay oomph without the peat clobber.

So what would be its 90 sec “elevator pitch” description? And would this sampling help us answer the question….

Photo – WhiskyFun

Bunnahabhain 24 year (1990) “Blosson” Hogshead cask #7398 51% Hot Malt Taiwan (270 bottles)

  • Nose – It started off by playing “hard to get” then revealed a ladies perfume with a sharpness too, a waft of tropical fruits, then men’s cheap cologne
  • Palate – Hot spice, a sour funky almost rubber quality, a bit of mineral rocks? A seriously solid dram… as it settled had a hint of chocolate
  • Finish – Long and strong
  • Water – Oh please! We found a few drops really opened it up so much… morphing from being in the “I’m not entirely  sure about this one” to a rather beautiful dram

While it is unpeated… that slight rubber or plastic element on the palate could also be describe as almost smokey. Certainly  a conversation Bunnahabhain… where there is more than meets the initial sniff!

This is one of those rare drams that if you don’t happen to be a Malt Maniac are unlikely to encounter… even trying to track down an image was challenging until I went to Serge’s marvellous encyclopaedia of whiskies – WhiskyFun!

So would this experience give us the answer to the “distillery character”? Probably not. But was good to try!

Other Bunnahabhain tasting experiences?

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Peaty Mini – Big Peat 46%

Next up in our peaty minis evening after the Wemyss Peat Chimney, we explored a blend from Douglas Laing.

Big Peat 46% (Douglas Laing)

  • Nose – Began with quite a sharp peat that then disappeared quickly. Baked banana or a banoffee cream pie then also settled into a surprisingly restrained fermented apple, quite sweet.
  • Palate – A delicious peat heat, black pepper, green peppercorns, liquorice root, quite fresh
  • Finish – Peat spice, sweet liquorice, changes to red chilli, cinnamon spice

What we enjoyed most about this whisky was how it kept changing. While consistently accessible – in a good way. There was overall a fresh lightness to its approach – unquestionably peat but one with a delightful ‘freshness’ and spirit.

Here’s what the folks over at Douglas Laing have to say:

Douglas Laing’s Big Peat is a feisty Islay character with a sweet side. This is a small batch bottling, without colouring or chill-filtration and only contains Islay Malt Whiskies, including Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore and (even the now closed) Port Ellen to name but a few!

And their tasting notes?

Opens fresh, salty and clean on the nose, developing to sweet malt dried over peat. On the palate, detect ashes, sweet tar, beaches and smoking chimneys. The finish is long and lingering, replicating the palate with salty, tangy liquorice, smoke, bonfire ashes and a phenolic quality.

We sampled from a closed mini bottle in October 2017. While I can’t recall the exact price, think it was around £5 or so… a full bottle will set you back approximately $55. An exceedingly reasonable price for a most enjoyable dram.

And what else did we sample in our merry mini malts evening?

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Minis of a peaty persuasion

It has been some time since the collection of minis were attacked! The collection came out with the intent to focus on whiskies of a peatier persuasion…

And what did we select?

What was remarkable was the range of peats we discovered…

After all this, we rewarded ourselves with a Machir Bay – no tasting notes, just pure unadulterated enjoyment!!

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A Salty Peaty Persuasion – Wemyss Peat Chimney 12 year 40%

First up in our mini malts session was a blend from Wemyss.

While I’ve seen all sorts of compelling reviews on whiskies from the independent bottler Wemyss, this was my first foray into their offerings. It was a complete impulse buy in London at The Whisky Exchange, and one I do not regret.

Wemyss Peat Chimney 12 year 40%

Wemyss Peat Chimney 12 yearHere’s what we found:

  • Nose – Such a briney peat greeted us. dry with vanilla, salty with a decidedly maritime twist, seaweed, salty caramel, light chocolate.
  • Palate – Mild, organic mulchy peat, great starter whisky with such an easy to sip kind of peat
  • Finish – Warm peat, seaweed salt, sea mist

Overall, it was one of the saltiest peat whisky I’ve tried. We joked that it was like standing on a wind swept cliff in Scotland, breathing in the salty maritime sea air.

What was interesting was we returned back after some time and the peaty salt had shifted to such sweetness with burnt caramel.

It is reputed to be a vatting of 16 different whiskies with a “hefty slug” of 12 year old Islay malt.

Here’s what the Wemyss folks have to say:

Peat Chimney uses an Islay signature malt to give top notes of sweet smoke, salt and peat.

We sampled from a closed miniature in October 2017… a full bottle would set you back around $60.

And what else did we sample in our merry mini malts evening?

  • Big Peat 46% (Douglas Laing)
  • Longrow 46%
  • BenRiach Quarter Cask 46%
  • Ledaig 10 year 46.3%

And here’s more malt miniatures from my The Whisky Exchange:

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Dream Drams – Mosstowie 35 year (1979) 48.1%

Our Dream Drams evening in Mumbai with Malt Maniac’s Krishna Nakula, continued with this Mosstowie 35 year from Signatory Vintage‘s mature cask strength series.

Krishna shared the distinctive feature of this whisky is it was produced using Lomond stills.

Founded in 1964, it was “closed” in 1981 with the Lomond stills removed from the Miltonduff Distillery. These stills were built in the 1960s with the idea of using the 3 adjustable rectifier plates to play around with “the position and temperature of the plates the reflux of the ‘boiling’ whisky could be controlled. The angle of the ‘lyne arm’ at the top of the still could be modified as well to influence the character of the whisky further.” (Malt Madness) The thinking was this would produce exactly what blenders needed and hence would be in demand.

However this innovation fell into disfavour as the maintenance and cleaning was very labour intensive. And more importantly, the demand from blenders did not come close to expectations… Hence while the distillery Miltonduff remains, you won’t find much Mosstowie single malt these days.

What did we find?

Mosstowie 35 year (30 November 1979/15 May 2015), Bourbon Barrel Cask Mo 25756, 48.1% (Signatory Vintage Cask Strength) 171 Bottles

  • Nose – We were greeted initially with sweet varnish, then as that subsided, citrus creamy spice took over, some star anise, lots of oriental spices, sour cherry, cork, fermented sour dough starter, desiccated coconut, kopra, nuts… there was a ‘bourbonesque’ quality, with old wood furniture… one even suggested smelly socks!
  • Palate – Lovely coating, wonderful mouth feel, a dash of salt and almost too much honey, yet settled into something both enjoyable and sufficiently complex to be interesting
  • Finish – Dry, again a bit salty, very sweet, a bit of beeswax, muted but very much there
  • Water – We found it dampened the nose, sweetened it even more, made it less multi-dimensional, only advantage was it gave the finish a nice spicy pick-up

We concluded this whisky had a very interesting complexity. A wee sample bottle of this made it home and was revisited a few weeks later. If anything, it was even more exceptional.

Tasting notes by the chaps at Master of Malt:

  • Nose: Oily toffee, marmalade, vanilla, ginger and cocoa.
  • Palate: Smoky wood spices and honeycomb with touches of menthol and kumquat.
  • Finish: Malty and warming.

This bottle was purchased at The Whisky Exchange in London in 2016 and is no longer available through them. However it was last seen on WhiskyBase.com for € 429.50.

What else did we sample?

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Finlaggan Cask Strength 58%

Our final dram of our monsoon malt evening was my bottle of Finlaggan Cask Strength 58%, bought to join an undisclosed distilleries session.

The story of Vintage Malt Whisky Company‘s  Finlaggan is deliberately unclear. As an independent bottler, Brian Crook‘s team has managed to pull off a feat of balancing quality with price for their brand ‘Finlaggan‘ while shrouding in mystery whether they are from many or a single anonymous distillery. Most speculation favours a single distillery – with names bandied about including Lagavulin, Laphroaig and Caol Ila.

The name Finlaggan comes from a loch on the north side of Islay, just west of Port Askaig and the whiskies under this label are intended to “embody the spirit of Islay” with three core NAS expressions: Old Reserve 40%, Eilean Mor 46% and Cask Strength 58%.

They also bottle Islay Storm, which strikes me as clearly Kilchoman – an opinion shared by another fan of the distillery.

I had the pleasure of sampling the Finlaggan Cask Strength 58% three times with other whisky aficionados and again last night in an impromptu, informal random yet most enjoyable evening at home. While the different tasting notes are all variations on a quite similar theme, together they represent an interesting exploration of an exceptionally affordable, quality dram.

1. The Single Cask – Open bottle

  • Nose – Tar, asphalt, leather, grass, flowers, quite sweet yet also oddly shy and slightly mute
  • Palate – Sharp leather, warm balanced evolution, rather tasty
  • Finish – Sweet spice liquor

It may sounds like a contradiction but it was indeed oddly muted and shy – I couldn’t  help but suspect the bottle was open too long with oxidation taking its toll.

2. The Bombay Malt & Cigar (BMC) Club – Closed bottle

  • Nose – Pudding, overripe bannoffee pie, coconut, Jamaican sugar cane, lemon curd, nutmeg, spice, dry leaves and hay, vegetable… and yes, a curl of delicious smoke
  • Palate – Peppery peat, sweet, great mouthfeel
  • Finish – Smokey bitter ash chased by cinnamon sweet
  • Water – It softened the whisky considerably, bringing out juicy fruits – particularly peaches

Our guesses? After an initial speculation may perhaps be Caol Ila, Bowmore… settled on Laphroaig. But of an older style.

3. Monsoon malts and more – Open bottle from BMC evening

  • Nose – Light leather, slight iodine, chocolate, roasted sesame seed, so sweet
  • Palate – More smoke than heavy peat, utterly delicious, one to enjoy rolling around your mouth
  • Finish – Lovely long smoky cinnamon finish

Rolling around on our palate, considering all factors… our guess was Lagavulin.

The Vintage Malt Whisky Company has this to say about their Finlaggan Cask Strength 58%:

  • Nose: Lovely pungent peat smoke. Smoky bacon with a touch of old leather
  • Palate: Rich sweet smoke. Iodine, lemon zest with a beautiful mouth coating oiliness. Waves of tarry peat
  • Finish: Peppery peat. Soot and ash. Long and warming

No matter the impression, its a marvellously tasty dram at a most affordable price. Definitely gets full marks for value.

Purchased from The Whisky Exchange in London for £48.95 in 2017.

Other whiskies sampled in our Mumbai monsoon malts evening included:

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Islay Trio – Ardbeg Uigeadail 54.2%

After being surprised by both the Bunnahabhain Eirigh na Greine and Bowmore Gold Reef, our Islay trio closed with this Ardbeg.

We sampled it blind, with no idea beyond it being the last of the Islay trio.

Ardbeg Uigeadail 54.2%

  • Nose – Very meaty, a proper peat bog, one even said “the peat is nearly at the level of headache inducing”, burnt masala maggi noodles, curd and sour imli (tamarind)… was that black liquorice?
  • Palate – Wildfire chillie, frankly had a solid “sucker punch”, sour ash, a real khaata meetha (sour sweet) quality, some saunf (fennel), then pure cinnamon
  • Finish – Fabulous long finish, cinnamon spice chased by smoke

One described it as “buzzing with peat” and we began to run through our roster of peatier drams. No stamp of Laphroaig and certainly not Caol Ila or Kilchoman.

It didn’t have the balance or depth of an Octomore, had a different swagger we didn’t instantly associate with Port Charlotte either… so not Bruichladdich….

Our speculation turned to Ardbeg, yet didn’t quite mesh with either Supernova or the more familiar 10 year fare… at least so we thought. Perhaps a sherry dimension peaking in there? Ardbeg but not quite the familiar Ardbeg…?

Again, we were not so confident in our ability to place this whisky.

The unveiling?? Uigeadail!

Which sparked memories of the superb Corryvrecken..

Checking out my old tasting notes online, read….

  • Nose – Hello peat! With a dash of espresso, then a delightful curl of maple syrup, underneath a whiff of iodine, then liquorice
  • Taste – Peaty dancing around a camp fire! A bit of tar, like chewing the end of a cigar, an odd almost flat cola flavour, raisins…
  • Finish – Smoky, dry, rubber… then elements of dried apricot

Not so far off… at which point attention turned to the official tasting notes:

  • Nose: Rich and weighty with heady and smoky aromatics. At full strength, the initial aroma is a beguiling mix of warm Christmas cake, walnut oil and parma violets fused with fresh ocean spice, cedar and pine needles falling from the Christmas tree. A smouldering coal fire and the scent of well-oiled leather brings warmth. The sweetness of treacle toffees and chocolate-coated raisins emerge through the smoke. With water, the deep smokiness increases in intensity, reminiscent of a fired Christmas pudding. Rich flowering currants and warm baked banana and walnut bread are served with simmering mocha espresso.
  • Taste: Full flavoured and rich with a deep mouth-coating texture, the taste is an intriguing balance between sweet, spicy and deep smoky flavours. The flavour is initially sweet. A burst of winter spices sets off a smoky-spicy explosion countered by a sumptuous mid-palate of honey glazed smoked food and chewy treacle. Waves of deep smoky tones and rich aromas build up on the palate like a fine Montecristo cigar.
  • Finish: Amazingly long and chewy with lingering raisiny, deep mocha tones and rich aromatic smoke into the perfectly integrated finish.

What did we sample with our Islay trio?

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