The Whisky Warehouse No. 8 – Bunnahabhain 14 year 56.7%

Long back, a very talented multi instrumental, multi country music buddy encouraged “Bunna” explorations as his kind of Islay – not really peaty but having substance and character to spare. Over the years, I’ve had mixed experiences – some excellent, some so so and some that didn’t quite do it for me.

Bunnahabhain 14 year (24 Oct 2002 / 31 Oct 2016) Bourbon Hogshead No. 3048, 56.7% 307 Bottles

  • Nose – Initially greeted us with quite a distinctive coconut oil… which settled down into salt water taffy, candied guava, fresh bread, orange comfy or cointreau, even a bit of coffee candy, swirling about with a hint of smoke too – more like an echo or subtle embers than a live burn…overall leaving an impression of fruity
  • Palate – Silky smooth… some salted caramel, spicy desert, herbal, buttery… with a wee bit of even peanut butter, richly rolling around nicely on the tongue
  • Finish – Lovely and long, delicious
  • Water – No need… truly

I have to confess that this is without a doubt the best Bunnahabhain I’ve had in a long time. Even better as it sits in the glass, opening up more and more. While a different character, there was an element of the lightly salted ‘buttery’ quality that made us think of the insanely delicious Aveux Gourmands.

As for the folks at Whisky Warehouse No. 8? I’ve taken the liberty to ‘google translate’ my way through Julia’s terrific tasting notes:
Whiskeys from Bunnahabhain are always good for a surprise and this single barrel is no exception. Anyone who wants to deduce the taste from the nose impressions of this bottling will be amazed at how different the whiskey ultimately behaves on the palate. At least one can rely on the well-known attributes of most Bunnahabhain bottlings: hardly any wood, a little salt and a good balance of all aromas.
  • Nose: Soft and fully ripe fruit notes such as cherries, star fruit and lychees. Underneath there is a layer of salty peat that has a slightly medicinal effect, but also a damp campfire that was already burning the day before.
  • Taste: Spicy like in a hay barn, herbal notes like dried thyme and thistles, slightly nutty and almond-like, the fruit notes linger in the background, but they now appear much fresher and crisper. The peat and smoke notes also remain surprisingly restrained.
  • Finish: It is especially the herbal notes that stay on the palate for a long time and become dry towards the end. Very late, a pinch of fleur de sel tickles the taste buds.

What about other Bunnahabhain explorations?

My “Last Chance” set also contained:

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The Whisky Warehouse No. 8 – Glenturret 8 year 57.5%

This would be my 3rd Glenturret 8 year from an independent bottler! We were rather impressed by the North Star’s Glenturret – which was distilled the same month as this Warehouse cask and bottled within a month of each other. I’d also had the pleasure of trying Chorlton’s Ruadh Maor aka peated Glenturret.

So what about this one from The Whisky Warehouse No. 8?

Glenturret 8 year (Dec 2010 / Apr 2019) Bourbon Hogshead Cask No. W8 181, 57.5% 330 Bottles

  • Nose – Even before putting in the glass, we had a whiff of our wee bottle and went – Mmmm….sweet smoked bacon! And then into the glass it went and… huh? Where did the delicious aroma go? Instead we found a brine, hay… predominantly cereals like hot (slightly boring) porridge, wet fall leaves, rubber gum… is that gym shoe? Curious
  • Palate – Ah.. now here is the light peat smoke, bay leaves, cinnamon spice, a bit of ginger bread… not a heavy peat, more like peat ‘adjacent’
  • Finish – It does last…

Let’s be honest, we were a tad disappointed. I happened to have the North Star Glenturret bottle handy and pulled it out to compare, making my virtual tasting companions a wee bit jealous. Yup! There were all the fabulous elements we enjoyed about the Glenturret – a nuanced peat, tasty cereals, maple bacon… We dismissed the Glenturret and moved on to our other minis..

However a funny thing happened along the way… as it patiently sat there… an amazing alchemy with air took place. We returned for a revisit and we delighted to discover much that we enjoyed in the North Star was now present! Where had all those lovely qualities been hiding?

  • Nose – Gingerbread joined the light puff of smoke,
  • Palate – Some cheese, smoked meats chased by cinnamon spice
  • Finish – Remained dry and long

Even on the first go, we enjoyed the palate more than nose alone… however with the revisit it was clear this had all the makings of a rather enjoyable dram. Certainly one to wait for it…. wait for it… as it just might be “Legend… wait for it…. dary!

Curious about other Glenturret experiences?

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Peaty persuasion – Laphroaig Four Oak 40%

So there I was, one fine evening early 2021 in our wee country home outside of Mumbai… during these days of lockdown, being able to spend time in a calm place where you can freely walk about outdoors, even have dinner with a neighbour, is such a special treat.

To then discover your neighbour also enjoys whiskies… well… that’s another level! I brought a few drops from an Arran flight, and he shared a recent purchase – Laphroaig Four Oak.

Hmmm… peat? The evening was a nippy 20’c, the breeze fragrant… why not?

And I am so glad that I did! Even better, back in Europe I had a sample to enjoy – bringing a lovely memory of a special evening.

Laphroaig Four Oak 40%

  • Nose – Smoky cinnamon, almond pastry, lightly fruity,
  • Palate – Tasty cinnamon spice, more smoke, vanilla cream, silky smooth
  • Finish – Sweet and long, tobacco leaf… even ashy

So…. what I like is that this is a kinder, gentler Laphroaig… young, fresh… silky smooth… not bad. Quite clear this was 40%… but works.

That evening in the country, as I kept sipping, I kept thinking how it had been such a long time since I enjoyed a cinnamon smokey spice.

And back in Nurnberg?

Even more enjoyable…

What more do we know about the Laphroaig Four Oak?

Four different casks are selected by hand; ex-bourbon barrels. Small quarter casks, virgin American oak barrels and larger European Oak hogshead. Four Oak is an extraordinary fusion of flavours including sandalwood, pine, fir and willow. It’s the big malt from the shores of the big ocean.

This complex combination creates a golden, creamy peat-smoked Islay malt with warm, toasted vanilla notes.

  • Colour – Bright Gold.
  • Nose – Aromas of peat smoke with stewed fruit and warm, toasted vanilla.
  • Palate – Hints of sandalwood, pine, fir and willow, experience oak embers and seaweed with smooth buttercream.
  • Finish – Salted liquorice and peaty.

Here’s what more our Whisky Lady shared in her evening of peaty persuasion :

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Advent Minis – Caol Ila 8 Year Old 46% – Provenance

After a rye, bourbon and highland, it was time to turn to something peaty – and what is a more classic expression than Caol Ila?

Caol Ila 8 Year Old – Provenance (Douglas Laing)

  • Nose – Pure peat, wood smoke, cured meats, bacon, maple
  • Palate – Full peat, cinnamon, a clear classic Caol Ila, nicely rolled around on the palate with a lovely peat
  • Finish – Nice finish, cinnamon spice

While I can’t guarantee it, I think this is cask #13077, which was aged in a refill hogshead from February 2011 to February 2019. After its maturation, it was bottled at 46% ABV with an outturn of 392 bottles.

Here is what the chaps over at Master of Malt have to say:

  • Nose: Toasty at first, becomes increasingly coastal. Sweetness of honeycomb in the background.
  • Palate: Flapjacks, oatcakes and plenty of smoky barley.
  • Finish: Meaty malt and black pepper spiciness.

Here are a few others we tried from my advent calendar minis:

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Original Club – Caol Ila 8 year 59.2%

Our original tasting club in Mumbai has a tradition of sampling blind. We also try to explore something new – which sometimes leads to amazing new discoveries and sometimes disappointments.

What this means is trying familiar distilleries but in new avatars. In this case, we explored an old favourite Caol Ila from Hunter Laing’s newer Distiller’s Art bottling line of Single Casks. Then to add an even further special twist, these particular bottles were picked up from a particular store at cask strength.

Caol Ila 8 year (2009 / 2018) 59.2%, Sherry Hogshead, Bottle 173 of 180

  • Nose – Varnish, sharp, astringent, light banana, honey and caramel, vanilla, overall quite young
  • Palate – A bit harsh, raw, salty, spice kick, very piquant, hint of bitter coffee, chocolate
  • Finish – A warm burn, jaggery, spice, salty butter lingers… long and tingling

We suspected it was likely an ex-bourbon cask and definitely was high alcohol with an ‘in your face’ quality. Powerful and unbalanced… so we added water – a generous dollop. What a difference water made!

  • On the nose, it brightened it up, revealing lemon, floral honey.
  • Then on the palate, rounded it out, smoothing it into buttery leather, old wood and had much more depth
  • Suddenly it had an insane long finish!

While there were clear hints of peat before adding water, there were just too many forward elements competing for attention. With the water, it was truly a different dram.

What else did we explore?

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Singapore’s The Swan Song

Imagine a place that has only one of a kind drams… those rare bottles where there are merely a few hundred or so ever produced. And once gone, they are no more!

That is exactly what you can expect at The Swan Song in Singapore.

It is tucked away behind the main Prinsep Street, up a flight of stairs and open only Thursday to Sunday or holidays. Why? Put simply this is a passion project run by individuals who were brought together by a philosophy that sharing is caring.

Here you can try a rare open bottle from a closed distilleries such as Lochside, Port Ellen and Brora or explore mature marvel from the 1960s.

Kelvin Hoon and Arun Prashant are the men behind this remarkable place. Arun I had met years before when he managed The Auld Alliance where he was responsible for one of my most memorable tasting evenings in Singapore. Amazingly after many years, when we walked in, he remembered that night too.

So under his able guidance, what did we try November 1, 2018?

We began with a Cadenhead’s Linkwood-Glenlivet 28 year (1989/2017) 43.7% with only 289 bottles from a barrel purchased by The Swan Song, The Writing Club, Quaich Bar and Ubin Seafood.

It was rich, complex, one that makes you slow down and unravel its many layers. In short, it was the perfect way to get into the mood for something truly special.

Curious to know more? Just check out Justin Choo’s post on Spirited Singapore with some insider insight.

Then my companion and I each selected one dram:

Lochside 22 year (May 1979/Jan 2001) 50% (Douglas Laing’s Old Malt Cask) 1 of 276

I had such fabulous memories of the Lochside 1981, that this was an easy pick. And it absolutely did not disappoint!

Port Charlotte 12 year (2004/2016) 57.3% (Highland Laird) Bottle 81 of 225

Spot on for my friend – peat, complexity and just a damn good dram!

And an incredible experience in honour of my birthday…

Longmorn 1969 61.5% (G&MP), bottled in the 1980s

Can I just say… words failed me. This was by far the highlight of my entire trip to Singapore.

Huge thank you to Arun and team for your generosity of spirit with your spirits – a unique collection that is there to be enjoyed by the discerning or those who simply want to discover! Bravo to the team and look forward to more opportunities to enjoy a dram there on my next trip to Singapore… before it sings its swan song.

You too can enjoy your Swan Song experience in Singapore at:

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Dubai Dream Drams – SMWS “Harmonious Balance” 19 year 55.2%

We almost didn’t open this bottle… after sampling a quintet of “Dream Drams” in Dubai early 2019, we stopped to enjoy a delicious dinner, socialize with our better halves until someone somehow came to the conclusion that we simply had to open just one more bottle!

So out came this Laphroaig, bottled by the folks over at Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS), fancifully dubbed “Harmonious Balance.” Matured for 19 years in refill ex-bourbon hogshead cask, this whisky truly turned out to be the “show stopper” of the night!

SMWS 29.229 “Harmonious balance” 19 year (13 May 1988) 55.2% (Laphroaig)

  • Nose – A floral perfume, hand spun candies, a hint of tobacco leaf peaking through  honey
  • Palate – A delicious spice, peat yet more nuanced and balanced than expected from a Laphroaig, think a mild sweet cigar not a brash bold bad boy, chased by a bit of sweet salted toffee
  • Finish – What an absolutely glorious finish! By far the longest, lingering and lovely finish of the evening… much after sipping, one could still enjoy the sweet peat and touch of spice with a chocolate minty freshness too

For many, this was the favourite of the evening… even those who purport to not care for peat were won over and we must admit it was aptly named “Harmonious balance” as all the elements came together in the most beautiful way.

When I compared our impressions with the full version of their tasting notes found online, there was a clear resonance in experience. Here is what the SMWS folks had to say

Imaging waking up, looking out the tent door pitched on the beach and seeing a glorious sunrise over the sea. We then made breakfast on a driftwood campfire by toasting bread and having it with salted butter and thick set honey. To taste, cigar smoke sweetness at the start, ashy with a hint of tar in the mid palate and a slightly herbal/peppermint finish – all in perfect balance and harmony. When we reluctantly added a drop of water the sun continued getting higher in the sky and the scent of fresh salty sea air made us feel ready for whatever the day had in store for us.

It was one of only 234 bottles produced from the cask, last seen online selling for approx EUR 200.

Our Dubai host put together a remarkable collection of “Dream Drams“:

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Dubai Dream Drams – Kilchoman Sherry Single Cask 59.5%

Started in 2005, Kilchoman was the first new distillery on Islay in nearly 125 years. More importantly, the distillery crafted a distinctive “Islay character” style that challenged assumptions that quality required age.

Recently in Mumbai, I had the pleasure of chatting with Kilchoman’s founder Anthony Willis in the Spirited Stories tent at The Vault Biennale, where he shared with pride their journey into the world of whisky making.

There will be more on that another time, for now let’s focus the whisky! This particular single cask release featured as the 5th whisky sampled early January 2019 in Dubai.

In keeping with our “unique” theme, this bottle was one of only 42 produced to be sold from the Kilchoman distillery shop. It is approximately 5 years of age and according to Whisky Base, last sold for EUR 161.

Here is what my tasting companions found…

Kilchoman Sherry (8 Nov 2007/22 Feb 2013) Cask 447/2007 59.5%

  • Nose: Wet wood, campfire, burnt sugar cane, cinnamon, black pepper
  • Palate: The peat from the fresh bottle was quite pronounced, edgy, taking time to settle down and reveal the sherry dimension
  • Finish: A sweet peat cinnamon
  • Water: Tamed it considerably but for some it still remained a bit brash and unbalanced

I could swear one of the guys called it an “utara” whisky… which in Hindi literally means “descend” or “bring down” but is also slang for what you drink the next morning to take the edge off a bad hangover… like “hair of the dog.”

For a few of my sampling companions, this was simply too powerful and peaty for their palate – which is perfectly fine as half the fun of tasting a range of whiskies is discovering your personal preferences. That said, moving to a fresh pour of a cask strength at nearly 60% after the Longmorn 25 year or Strathclyde 38 year was certainly a shift in approach!

For these gents, perhaps something like the rich fruity Kilchoman Sanaig 46% might have been a more natural progression in our sampling journey. For a strong expression like this, having the right setting, time to ease into its personality, slowing down and settling in, makes all the difference.

Here is what the folks at Kilchoman have to say in their tasting notes:

  • Colour: Rich golden
  • Nose: Nice, combines peat and sherry, typical Kilchoman cloves and cinnamon
  • Palate: Soft peaty aromas with overtones of sherry, slightly dry on the palate. A good example of Kilchoman in sherry wood.
  • Finish: Clean, long and rich

If you are curious about other Kilchoman tasting experiences, check out:

The other Dream drams generously shared by our Dubai host included:

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North Star Spirits Series 5, Regions 5, Bottles 5

Once a year, two of our Mumbai whisky groups come together to celebrate our mutual passion for a fine dram. This time, I selected the whiskies – ordered online and brought in by another member for our sampling pleasure. I was inspired by an earlier introduction to North Star Spirits and honed in on their series 5, tending towards the more affordable options available with a nice cross-section from different regions.

While the Whisky Ladies sponsored the whiskies, the gents hosted our evening in a gorgeous South Mumbai home with a most civilized sit down tasting followed by a brilliantly paired dinner. To put it mildly, the bar was set high!

And did the whiskies deliver? Read on to discover…

Our 5 Region North Star Spirits cask strength quintet from Cask Series 005 included:

Each was distinctive, unique and completely worth trying!

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North Star’s Caol Ila 12 year (2006/2018) 54.6%

Our final North Star Series 5 whisky was from the Islay region with a Caol Ila whisky. While it was the last, it was an entirely appropriate tasting order with this peaty robust dram coming after some lighter, flirtatious whiskies.

Here is what we discovered with the North Star Cask Series 005 Caol Ila…

Caol Ila 12 year (April 2006/May 2018) 54.6%

  • Nose – Hello peat! Sweaty, yheasty, medicinal… quite ‘wintry’, pine nuts, spirit of “peat fun”, some salt, kept evolving with the peat much less pronounced, giving way to other aromas, green asparagus, young potato starch, burnt maple bacon, sweet citrus, lightly smoky sweet grass, burnt sugar, sour cherry
  • Palate – Proper peat, some spice and everything nice. Crêpe Suzette with cherry liquor flambé, perhaps with a touch of citrus too
  • Finish – Green chilli and wasabi, sweet grapes

For those of a peatier persuasion, quite enjoyed this one. The bottle shared a few more details – noting the Caol Ila was bottled from a refill hogshead, un-chill filtered and natural colour.

As for what Iain Croucher had to say about it in his North Star’s tasting notes?

  • Nose: An Oligarch’s humidor… a big dusty one
  • Palate: A peated Sherbet Lemon, doubled-dunted with a peated Soor Ploom
  • Finish: Reminds me of well-seasoned hardwood burning near a new carpet… all subjective of course

Now I must share, we had the most hilarious response and commentary on this one – thoroughly enjoying the reading of the tasting notes… including having to look up what exactly is a “Soor Ploom.”

In case you are curious, a “Soor Ploom” according to Wikipedia is

a sharp flavoured, round, green boiled sweet originally associated with GalashielsScotland.

A “childhood favourite,”[3] they are pale green and “slightly acid in flavour”.[2]

Overall it was terrific having a chance to try such distinctive drams – well worth exploring.

For those curious about cost, this whisky was purchased online in July 2018 from Master of Malt for £76.36 / USD 100 / INR 7,215 and was opened in November 2018.

Don’t miss the other Whisky Ladies guest reviews of North Star Series 005 whiskies covering 5 Scottish regions:

Or check out the Original Group’s North Star Discovery:

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