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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Islay Trio – Bowmore Gold Reef 43%

After being surprised by the Bunnahabhain Eirigh na Greine, our Islay trio continued with another dram that was a variation on the distillery style.

We sampled completely blind, having no idea what we were sniffing, swishing and swilling away… until the reveal…

Bowmore Gold Reef 43%

  • Nose – Soapy peat, ash, carbolic were clear initial top notes that then subsided to reveal spice and sweetness, with roasted red peppers, Mexican beans, ham and bacon, then shifting from peatier qualities to fruity sweet, then coffee nuts and raisins, new leather shoes, with a sherry quality, nice and sweet, almost herbal, then green capsicum, followed by cinnamon
  • Palate – Heavy peat, mint with a curiously ‘closed’ quality after such a multi-faceted nose. Very dry, woody, a bit sour, yet a faint feel of cod liver oil – it may seem a contradiction to have it both heavy almost oily yet be dry, but there you have it! Again the cinnamon came to the fore…
  • Finish – Very dry, long, spicy, cloves, ash oily
  • Water – This one asked for a few drops… which transformed it into cinnamon candy, that ‘is it or isn’t it oily?’ quality clearly shifted into oils, with a soft sweetness, taking it from the territory of ‘not sure about this one’ into the ‘dangerously drinkable dram’ dimension, going from bold to subtle. Remarkable.

Overall we liked it and appreciated the different layers. There was an interesting ying/yang interplay of “manly” peat with cinnamon sweet.

Speculation turned to what could have made such a dram – our sense was likely a mix of sherry and bourbon, clearly peat!

But which distillery? One member immediately piped up “Well… it doesn’t have a typical Bowmore character”…. So we moved on to other possible Islay distilleris but were stumped.

With the reveal, I simply could not believe this was the same Bowmore Gold Reef the Whisky Ladies tried a just a few months ago in April 2017. The experience was entirely different.

I had my tasting notebook and flipped back to earlier pages to read….

  • Nose – Treacle, apple, summery caramel, toasted coconut, marzipan, with tropical fruits. Maple syrup joined peat with sweet vanilla and hint of spice
  • Palate – Peat, citrus, heat, bitter chocolate, a bit of dry wood
  • Finish – The heat opens up revealing honey sweet, cinnamon then settles into a bitter finish

So we had peat, dry wood and cinnamon in common but as for the rest? It was like we were having a completely different whisky!

We then turned to the official tasting notes:

  • Nose: Vanilla, coconut milk, delicious baked peach, oranges and lemons
  • Taste: Tangy peat, pineapple, juicy mango and kiwi fruit tempered by sea salt and olive oil
  • Finish: The long, honeyed, zesty finish

Again… much puzzlement and head scratching… Other than the peat and maybe – just maybe – olive oil, the balance was… huh??

We began to try to find out more about this whisky. Sure enough – ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks…. and also caramel colour.

We all know palate is personal – my impression may be quite different than yours. Which is what makes tasting together so much fun – comparing and contrasting impressions and insights.

Two different tasting groups. Two completely different experiences. How fascinating.

What did we sample with our Islay trio?

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Islay Trio – Bunnahabhain Eirigh na Greine Batch 5, 46.3%

Exactly two years ago, the 1st batch of Bunnahabhain Eirigh na Greine 46.3%   was part of an interesting Islay trio together with the rather original Bruichladdich The Organic Scottish Barley 50% and quite memorable Caol Ila 1997 (bottled 2009) 43% by Gordon & MacPhail.

Then, same as now, we sampled completely blind before the whisky was revealed. None of us could have guessed our host would repeat…

Bunnahabhain Eirigh na Greine “Morning Sky” Batch 5, 46.5%

  • Nose – Initially came across as quite yoghurty and sour, then shifted into lemon curd, began to open up into berries, fruits – including jackfruit – shifting to green chillies, concentrated rose water, a bit of acetone or resin, back to yoghurt, musty cardboard, the sweetness faded, as it further opened took on bitter kerela, green veggies, against the backdrop of an old musty bookshelf. Returning back after some time and we found Monginis cake and a syrupy sweetness…
  • Palate – First impression was bitter, citrus, light spice with an undertone of pepper, black coffee, chewy, with a rather prominent tobacco flavour, then copper, metallic tang, wood
  • Finish – A bit short, that tobacco flavour remained with a hint of dark chocolate
  • Water? – No need

For two of us, the initial sense was akin to Irish pot still but then the tobacco quality tipped the scales towards something else entirely. We struggled with this one – it clearly wasn’t a standard Speyside, just as it wasn’t an ordinary Islay… speculation ran rife but none could guess. At best, we could comfortably peg it as NAS, young yet delicate.

The reveal was a complete surprise.

It has natural colour and is unchill filtered, matured in ex-red wine casks.

Just to compare, what did we find years ago with Batch 1:

  • Nose – 1st impression is very sweet, but seems like it is hiding, a medicinal element with one exclaiming “I would love to have a headache with  this!” Seems a bit oily, smells like fermented rice or dosa paste, after more airing the nose settles on being sweet, sweet and sweet as in candy sweet
  • Taste – Quite a light whisky, a bit shallow then surprises with something coming from behind – like winey grape peel or chewing on a jasmine or rose petal, sweet like gulkand (rose petal jam), a bit of sea salt
  • Finish – There but…
  • Water – The oiliness goes away, simply flattened the whisky and wouldn’t recommend adding
  • Overall impression – Not so complex, no peat, an easy drinking whisky that remains at a ‘surface’ level with the flirtatious wine / rose petal an interesting element

We compared it with the official tasting notes and were somewhat puzzled….

Our Master Distiller has perfected the recipe to ensure that Bunnahabhain’s signature taste, which includes roasted nuts and fruits with hints of sea salt and smoke, is further enhanced by sweet, rich and spicy aromas imparted by the Italian and French red wine influence.

Official tasting notes:
  • Nose – Rich dried fruits, toasted hazelnuts with hints of mouth-watering candy sweets, butterscotch, marzipan and rose syrup
  • Palate – Lively and satisfyingly smooth. A tantalising fusion of ripe cherries, prunes, apricots, orange marmalade with subtle hints of rich cocoa and spicy oakiness
  • Finish – Temptingly warm, nutty and spicy

The nose we could see where it came from but missed the very yoghurty quality we found weaving in and out, rather prominently at times – with it being more sour fermented dosa paste in the 1st case and clear yoghurt in the 2nd. I suppose I could even accept a bit of cherries, cocoa and spicy oakiness… but orange marmalade? Apricots? And none of the other qualities we found…?

The 1st batch more clearly had a wine-like dimension whereas the 5th batch had that hint of peat with the tobacco dimension. Clearly batches make a difference. And why not?

This whisky was purchased by our club member from Singapore duty free. It sells for approx USD 75 through Master of Malt.

What did we sample with our Islay trio?

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Islay revisit – Bunnahabhain, Bowmore + Ardbeg

Our original Mumbai based whisky tasting club has an unwritten rule – no repeats. We also taste blind so as not to be influenced by brand or pre-conceived notions about a particular whisky or distillery.

Yet after so many years, our obsession with exploring new territories presents a challenge to find something ‘new.’

So why not have an evening that deliberately sets us up to sample whiskies we’ve had (or similar to ones we’ve tried), but each with a twist… being expressions that aren’t necessarily representative of a distillery ‘house style’ – if such a thing even exists anymore!

We also observed that our impressions bore little relationship to official distillery tasting notes… Past experiments have helped provide insight into possible reasons with a range of factors including the whisky temperature, ambient aromas and environment, tasting order which can influence perceptions of the whisky to follow,  conversation and company, and frankly just the mood of the taster!!

What did our host “trick” us with?

Click on the links above to read our tasting notes, comparing with previous experiences and distillery official tasting notes…

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