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
  • 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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Speed Tasting – Mystery Malt Blend…

Last month, we had a remarkable experience “Speed Tasting” and rating five different drams in the space of just a few minutes, quickly assessing and determining a score based on nose, palate, finish, character and complexity.

With three down and just two to go… the clock was ticking!

What were my hasty impressions of Dram “D”?

Mystery malt aka “House blend”

  • Nose – Tight berries, clear sherry stamp, then resin, mocha, and waves of peat, campfires
  • Palate – Very accessible… perhaps a low alcohol strength? Yet high in flavours. Peat, sweet grass and more… again those rich berries, more chocolate
  • Finish – Lovely, not over powering with a sweet peat that holds
  • Character & Complexity – Delicious, great interplay between sherry and peat

For quite a few – including me – this was the highest rated dram of the evening.

What exactly was it?

It was Keshav Prakash’s own home blend… with leftover Glendronach 15 year and 4-5 Islay malts. A bold blend that somehow worked!

Photo: Keshav Prakash

What were the other whiskies “Speed Tasted“?

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Old Particular’s Laphroaig 19 year 53.9%

Just as we were about to dash out the door after our zip through a remarkable set of minis from Krishna’s Collection, this 19 year old Laphroaig from Douglas Laing’s Old Particular  was opened.

Me? I took one sniff and knew rushing through this wouldn’t do justice so took my wee sample home…

However the other gents gamely carried on… enjoying immensely!

My turn came a few weeks later, on a relaxed evening after a manic few weeks of work.

Laphroaig 19 year (Oct 1996-Feb 2016) Cask No 10720 53.9% (Old Particular) Bottle 1 of 22, Refill Hogshead

  • Nose – Medicinal, smoky, maritime sea salt, a bit of black pepper peaking behind, then mellowed into an incredible cinnamon sweetness, chased by an almost pine freshness… after some time more like creme brûlée, chocolate caramel. cappuccino with a dusting of mocha… in short yum!
  • Palate – Wow! All chewy leather and toffee, nicely smoky and spicy, all swirling about, chocolaty even
  • Finish – Leather, tobacco, more of that cinnamon sweetness, long and lingering

It gave the impression of a beautiful complex nuanced dram… As I literally only had two small sips, no chance to try with water but it was a delight to have any at all to try!

It also was my first snifter of the evening, with no hint of harshness for the 1st nip of alcohol, let alone a cask strength one. An exceedingly good sign of it being a dangerously drinkable dram!

I’ve not had the pleasure of “Old Particular” bottles but if this was any indication… I wouldn’t mind keeping an eye out…

No luck tracking down further details about this particular sample, however the Old Particular Laphroiag 18 year can be found at The Whisky Exchange for £150.

What else did we sample in our Krishna Collection evening in July 2017?

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Cadenhead’s Caol Ila 36 year (1980) 52.3%

After the Glen Garioch, we seemed more in the mood to return to the Islays and a peatier dram. Particularly if it happened to be a Caol Ila 36 year, bottled by Cadenhead’s! Who wouldn’t be tempted? And what did we find?

Caol Ila 36 year (1980 – July 2016) Bourbon Hogshead, 52.3% (Cadenhead’s) 210 bottle

  • Nose – Paint shop, fevicole adhesive, creamy, muted, original bitter hing (asefetodi) , ritaful (soap nut), burnt orange peel, echo of peat. As it opened up, it revealed a sweet spice
  • Palate – Lots of vegetables, from an echo of peat, it grew into a proper peat and soooooo sweet and smooth
  • Finish – Green capsicum then a long cinnamon spice

And Krishna’s reaction? “OMG! This is beautiful for a winter day.”

This is definitely a whisky that benefits from time to open as it became more brilliant as it aired. For me, the nose was the most rewarding element. Perhaps not for everyone. And certainly not for everyone’s pocketbook but worth settling down with if you get a chance.

This whisky last appeared on Scotch Whisky Auctions in Nov 2016 for a winning bid of £280.00. 

What else did we sample in our Krishna Collection evening in July 2017?

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A remarkable 1970s Bowmore 12 year 40%

Much has been said about how whisky styles have changed over the decades. That opinion is widely shared by those who started their sampling journey in the 1980s where most single malts were distilled in the 1970s or earlier. Yet most of these impressions remain in memories rather than the opportunity to test the theory.

Today, obtaining a sample of such earlier styles is challenging… most are found in private collections or auctions. Which is where this lovely little Bowmore 12 year miniature from the 1970s came. A wee dark coloured squat bottle that simply stated its age, alcohol strength and that it was matured in sherry casks. No hint of further details as this was simply a standard issue bottling for its time.

Bowmore 12 year (1970s – 80s) 40%

  • NoseHing (asafetida), pomelo, passion fruit vying with grapefruit, smoke and peat yet quite restrained, subtle, as it continued to open more fruit like cashew, pineapple and mango
  • Palate – Just as hing was the 1st predominant aroma, cashew fruit was on the palate, intensely sweet and dangerously drinkable with just a kiss of peat, brilliant body for a 12 year as it really sits on your palate
  • Finish – Peaty, leather, chocolate

This may sound a bit fanciful, but it had a joyful character on the nose, bright and fruity, superbly accessible and enjoyable on the palate with peat most pronounced in the rather delicious finish.

Like the Glen Grant 60 year old just sampled, this Bowmore was matured in sherry casks – but clearly of a different calibre and character than today’s sherry. Again, much more restrained overall, even the peat quality was faint – leading to speculation of re-fill sherry casks and curiosity about how the “barely there” peat quality came into play.

It truly was such a contrast in style to any Bowmore sampled in the last few years – which are often quite bold in character. Whereas this wasn’t clamouring for attention by swaggering into our senses, instead gained exclamations of “Fantastic! Stunning! Superb!” for its much more nuanced dimensions.

For some, it was the clear favourite of the evening – no simple feat given its competition!

Krishna shared his opinion that this Bowmore 12 year has all the “beauty of the old style.”

He went on to regale us with the tale of the term “FWP” (French Whore’s Perfume) used to describe a shift in character – particularly pronounced from Bowmore post Suntory coming into the picture for a few years. First detected by some whisky enthusiasts, they identified a peculiar soapy quality that they felt ruined the whisky… later linked to the soap used to clean the stills!

Since corrected, another Malt Maniac Serge shares:

The original ‘problem’ originated in the 1980’s and was corrected at some point during the 1990s. The FWP spirit sort of worked its way through the system and you shouldn’t detect the unsavoury FWP trait any more in bottlings that were released in recent years.

This 5 ml bottle was purchased by Krishna Nakula for £8. For those interested, a 740ml bottle could be found on Whisky.Online.com for a mere £450.

Whisky.Online.com

What else did we sample in our Krishna Collection from July 2017?

PS you can contrast my sampling of a more recent incarnation of the Bowmore 12 year here.

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Krishna Collection – Enjoying a few drams with a Malt Maniac

India’s Malt Maniac Krishna Nakula is a rather fine fellow to dram with… So when we thought July would be a slow whisky month, a few of us decided it would be an absolutely brilliant idea to see if Krishna would be free for a short visit to Mumbai. Lucky us – he was!

And he didn’t come empty-handed… Nope. He brought along an assortment of miniatures that we had the pleasure of enjoying a wee nip… quick glimpses all concentrated in a brief but memorable one hour of discovery.

What did we sample?

Links to more detailed tasting notes are provided above. Some were truly quite an eye-opener, so be sure to check out what we discovered!

Other evenings with Krishna Nakula include:

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Dream Drams – Mortlach 1976, Lochside 1981, Mosstowie 1979, Aultmore 2007

There are tasting experiences that collectively push the bar to a completely different level.

On this particular monsoon evening in Mumbai with Malt Maniac’s Krishna Nakula, none were standard distillery drams. All but one would qualify as ‘adult‘ whiskies, representative of an older style… From Gordon & MacPhail‘s rare old collection  of closed distilleries to Signatory Vintage‘s mature cask strength set to a unique Master of Malt single cask series, these were no ordinary single malts.

These were the drams that dreams are made of… prompting a few of us wonder… are we truly worthy?

What did we sample?

  • Mortlach 37 year (1976/2013) 43% G&MP
  • Lochside 24 year (1981/2005) 43% G&MP Old Rare Collection
  • Mosstowie 35 year (1979/2015) 48.1% Signatory Cask Strength
  • Aultmore 5 year (2007/2012) 66.8% Master of Malt
  • Laphroaig “T5” 21 year (1987/2008) 53.4% – Bonus Dram!

You will simply need to be patient over the coming weeks as I catch up with all the marvellous malts enjoyed. Trust me… it will be worth the wait.

And a HUUUUGE thank you to our host, whisky contributors who made such an exceptional evening possible! You know who you are.

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Monsoon malts and more…

I love this part of monsoon – the temperature dips, the rains have a wildness and for a bit of time, we have just the right conditions to curl up indoors and enjoy a good dram.

So one fine Friday night, I and two whisky affianados found ourselves free to explore a few interesting whiskies… just because.

What all did we sample?

  • Eddu Silver 40% – Buckwheat whisky from Bretagne, France 
  • R & B Distillers – New entrant bottling interesting whiskies
    • Borders Single Grain 51.7%
    • Raasay “While We Wait” 46%
  • The Exceptional – Craft Distillers Sutcliffe and Ex Macallan’s Willie Phillips new baby
    • Blended Grain Scotch Whisky 43%
    • Blend Small Batch Scotch Whisky 43%
  • Highland Park 12 year 40% – An echo of an 18 year favourite
  • Finlaggan Cask Strength 58% – A most enjoyable mystery Islay

Oh yeah, and an absolutely undrinkable chilli rice-whiskey from Laos… Plus an impromptu chilled cocktail playing around with the Eddu’s unique qualities.

Tasting notes coming in the next few weeks… or so…

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SMWS “Moonlight night at the beach” 20 year 51.9%

Last in our Bombay Malt & Cigar Scotch Malt Whisky Society evening was “Moonlight night at the beach” where we finally, firmly entered into the land of peat – Islay style!

29.216 “Moonlight night at the beach” 20 year (26 Nov 1996) 51.9%

Islay, Virgin Oak Hogsead 293 bottles

  • Nose – Well hello peat! Then as it settled in, revealed citrus, summer meadow, bitter ash, sweet then sour, chocolate cinnamon, bitter almond,  then back to ash, shifting between sweet and smoke
  • Palate – First hit of ash, the 2nd sip was pure sweet, further sips found it to be quite chewy, curiously soft and became increasingly gorgeous as it opened, nice, heavy and almost oily
  • Finish – Sweet cinnamon, long and satisfying

The whisky was wonderfully complex. Peaty but not in an overly forceful way – clearly a mature dram.

And with water….

  • Nose – Citrus, lemon drops, orange, embers rather than a raging fire, sweetness, spice
  • Palate – Young cigar, bitter, wet…
  • Finish – More linear but still most enjoyable

And as it continued to open up, took on a delicious maple bacon. Mmm…. bacon…

Of all the whiskies we sampled in our SMWS evening, this one was unmistakable – a clear Laphroaig! Not of the current mass market “hit me over the head peat” but a mature, much more nuanced older style  Laphroaig. And yes – our guess was spot on.

Here is what the SMWS folks have to say:

The scent made us all feel very cosy and warm; baked chocolate marshmallow apples, a steaming creamy bowl of porridge and gingery plum cake. To taste, crunchy, chewy and crispy skin salmon crackling at first before sweet flavours arrived in the form of honey cured hickory smoked bacon. With water we made a campfire on the beach out of driftwood under a moonlit sky and ate sugar coated fennel seeds and chocolate covered coffee beans both infused with a gentle sweet peat smoke. Nineteen years in an ex-bourbon hogshead, finished in a virgin oak hogshead with a heavy toast and a medium char.

DRINKING TIP: For a walk on the beach at night

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