Birthday Chorlton – Bunnahabhain 18 year 53.4%

In many ways, this was the most interesting whisky we tried in an extra special Chorlton birthday quartet. This was exactly why it was the 1st expression that led to acquiring three additional bottles and several evenings of tastings – from London to Mumbai – where we sniffed, swished, and savoured our way through these unique bottles.

Bunnahabhain 18 year (28 Feb 2002 / 2021) Sherry Butt 53.4%

What was our impression from London in October 2022?

  • Nose – Initially very ‘fresh’ yet shy, red delicious apple skins, a hint of sherry, dry wood, a bit of tobacco leaf, something a touch sharp, then started to open up further with banana cake and brown sugar, shifted again to sour cream
  • Palate – 1st sip was harsh then it mellowed into a spicy fruity smoothie, caramel, oily with substance, then roasted nuts
  • Finish – Spice and smoke that gradually sweetens

It was full of contrasts – shy on the nose but forceful on the palate, kept shifting and changing. It is also one of those whiskies you need to spend a bit of time with… try only once and you would miss its quirky chameleon character.

The longer we spent with the Bunnahabhain, the more we appreciated it. For one London-based Whisky Lady, this was the clear favourite.

We also thought it would go well with cheese… which is exactly what I tried later in Mumbai – definitely works – particularly a nice sharp old cheddar.

How did this contrast or compare with our Mumbai tasting experiences just a month later in November 2022?

  • Nose – Lemon, mint, vanilla, asparagus, mushrooms, stewed cherries… though a bit shy it kept moving around and revealing different elements the longer it was in the glass… next was camomile, waxy, biscuits, tinned peaches, marscapone
  • Palate – Honey, apples, some forest moss and more mushrooms, pine, green chillies, milk chocolate, nutty… take too large a sip and you would be greeted with a brushfire!
  • Finish – Cloves, star anise, pine needles, green chillies, very dry, edging towards smoke

Just like our 1st experience, this Bunnahabhain is not to be underestimated. It captivated us with its curiously shifting character. For most, this was the favourite and our only regret was having to split 100ml between 8 ladies! We would have loved to add a bit more to our glass and settle down with it, see if it continued to morph or rested on a few elements.

Did this contrast much with the gents? For the most part, we agreed, adding a few further observations from our experience:

  • Nose – Began with very light iodine that one gent described as what he typically expects from a Bunna – iodine without the heavy peat of other Islay whiskies – then shifted into fruits like pomegranate, then a cantaloupe, a hint of rye bread, some raisins, followed by a camomile-based herbal tea (think Sleepy Time!)
  • Palate – Incredibly sweet, well-rounded and well-balanced, loads of different kinds of honey, milk shocolate bars
  • Finish – Very long, subtle spices

There was no doubt this is a complex whisky, well worth taking time so that could evolve through its different dimensions.


What did David have to say? The following is an extract from his email…

And, lastly, we have the official festive special – an 18-year-old sherry cask Bunnahabhain. Please note that this is available to pre-order (see note below), and that my tasting notes aren’t super-considered as I’m just going off my brief notes from the cask sample.

So, the nose on this starts with sea air, light wax and mandarin, before richer notes of buttery brioche, praline and milk chocolate covered raisins appear. Just a touch of smoke too: cigar and joss stick.

For the palate I see I’ve written “Lovely!” in my notes… Again it starts in a very clean and crisp way (red apple, pink grapefruit) before the richer development (toasted nuts, honey, Daim bars, cinnamon pastries). Slight smokiness and orange marmalade in the aftertaste.

This is proper Bunna, a great example of the distillery style, and the sherry is beautifully integrated. We got 322 bottles from this sherry butt at 53.4% and they’re available for £150 each.

I purchased this in June 2021 from Master of Malt for GBP 151 as had missed the original Chorlton direct offer in December 2020.

We’ve enjoyed exploring Chorlton’s La Nouvelle Vague series:

Here is the full set of Chorlton‘s sampled til date from the L’Ancien Régime series:

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Chorlton Birthday Drams – Glen Elgin, Tormore, Orkney, Bunnahabhain

This Chorlton quartet was the birthday gift that just kept giving! It began as a single bottle purchased as an extra special 60th birthday gift. Then the other Bombay Malt & Cigar gents offered to ‘chip in’, so I purchased another 2 bottles. The trio was then augmented with an additional bottle to become a remarkable quartet!

All four were from the La Nouvelle Vague series:

The quartet was originally opened in June 2022 in London during a special evening with Sukhinder Singh (Elixir, The Whisky Exchange) and two Bombay Malt & Cigar gents (naturally including the “birthday boy!). As I missed it, we rescheduled for October 2022, also in London, sharing with a former Bombay Whisky Lady and other friends.

However, our tastings with these bottles weren’t done! Two sets of 100ml samples were re-bottled and dispatched to Mumbai for two evenings:

  • Whisky Ladies on November 1 as a special joint birthday treat for myself and one other Whisky Lady (sharing the same birthday) who flew in from Hyderabad… the only challenge here was splitting 100ml between 8 ladies!
  • Bombay Malt & Cigar gents on Nov 6 to share with the others who were intended to be part of the original 60th birthday celebration that inspired the whole set! Which just so happened to also be my partner’s birthday (who joined us for dinner)

It was so interesting to see the commonalities and differences between the tasting sessions! Different settings, different personalities, and different whisky style preferences meant we could experience different dimensions. What an incredibly rewarding way to experience such lovely and varied whiskies!

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Remarkable Gordon + Macphail Whisky Ranges

Gordon & Macphail is in a class of their own – with a 125-year history – they are no mere “indie bottler”… With long-term relationships with distilleries, an impressive set-up of their own casks, legendary warehouses with an exceptional range of old and very rare whiskies, this is one area at any whisky show you shouldn’t miss!

So what did we try at the London Whisky Show?

We began with the Discovery range, a newer series launched to introduce accessible, affordable single malts to the world:

  • Green for ex-bourbon casksGlenallachie 14 year 43%This ex-bourbon cask was a nice contrast to the current GlenAllachie sherry or cask finish styles
  • Purple for ex-sherry casksBunnahabhain 11 year 43%A solid expression
  • Grey/off-white for smokey/peaty – Caol Ila 13 year 43% – Skipped as was a bit early for peat!

We then progressed to the Gordon & Macphail’s Distillery Labels with Ardmore with a whiff of sea breeze, soft peat, and sweet!

From there, we got serious with their Connoisseurs Choice range, which has been a consistent series from Gordon & Macphail since 1968. We’ve tried many remarkable drams in this series which showcases various distillery spirits matured in Gordon & Macphail’s own barrels. At Whisky Live 2022, we tried:

We thought this would be the end of our journey…. however then our fabulous Gordon & Macphail’s guide shared a pair from their exceptionally rare Private Collection with:

Wow, wow, wow! What an amazing journey through some fabulous whiskies! And a very clear reminder of why Gordon & Macphail are worthy of slowing down and spending time exploring…

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London Whisky Show – Gordon + Macphail Discovery

I’m an unabashed Gordon & Macphail fan, so quite early in our explorations at the London Whisky Show, I made a “beeline” to their area! To get the full experience, we started at the beginning…

For the uninitiated, the Discovery line was created for just that – a place to begin your discovery of whisky at a reasonable price point. They colour code their offerings to help guide the approach… On offer was:

  • Green for ex-bourbon casks – Glenallachie 14 year 43% (approx GBP 50)
  • Purple for ex-sherry casks – Bunnahabhain 11 year 43% (approx GBP 46)
  • Grey/off-white for smokey/peaty – Caol Ila 13 year 43%

My starting point was naturally the ex-bourbon expression.

GlenAllachie 14 year 43%

  • Nose – Yum! Initially a bright toffee, cream, and butterscotch… then it was joined by young orchard fruits – like a granny smith apple – some honey then again shifted to vanilla cream
  • Palate – Soft and creamy, like having a delicious cream puff that dissolves, some praline followed by more vanilla and a hint of malt and nuts join the desert approach
  • Finish – Buttery goodness, rewarding with more vanilla with fudge

Having recently had a few newer styled GlenAllachie which tend to have a heavy play with sherry, I could immediately tell this was more “classic” in style. Our tasting guide confirmed this was indeed their approach – hence only ex-bourbon.

For us, this was a delightful ‘day malt” and a lovely way to ease into further whisky explorations. it has a nice ‘clean’ approach and a lovely dram worth repeating in a different environment than sniff, swish, and spit!

What about the sherry expression?

Bunnahabhain 11 year 43%

  • Nose – No doubt there was a sherry stamp! Yet joining it was also vanilla, sweet caramel, and a hint of something like nutmeg, cloves, and a bit more saline or maritime
  • Palate – Quite dry, dark chocolate, cinnamon, dark fruits like figs or plums
  • Finish – Sweet spices, dry fruit

Quite a solid expression. Curious to know more? Check out what Gordon & Macphail have to say here.

I admit that I skipped the Caol Ila as didn’t want to shift into peat so early in the day.

So then… where did our whisky wanderings take us next?? To explore Gordon & Macphail’s Distillery Label series!

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Dynamic Duo 2 – Bunnahabhain 25 year vs Tobermory 20 year

For our next dynamic duo, we went to independent bottlers – both new to me! From what little I could find, both seem to be German based… and were chosen by our whisky guide to contrast and compare drams in their 20s from Islay and Island.

Now I must admit, I’ve had a mixed relationship with Bunnahabhain – particularly their older whiskies which haven’t always lived up to expectations. However I’m always game to be be pleasantly surprised!

Bunnahabhain 25 years Single Cask (2016) 47.7% (Wiebers Brothers)

  • Nose – Citrus, hay, honey and yoghurt, very light toffee, milky and a bit shy, mineral, musty
  • Palate – Surprisingly light and effervescent, then took a slight odd turn – was that sweet pickles?? Followed by some cayenne pepper, tangy, more of that mineral quality, a tough vegetal
  • Finish – Verbena and cayenne

This definitely fit into the category of “ya gotta work it”… what was interesting is how the empty glass held more aromas than when it held liquid.

I still haven’t been able to find any details on Wiebers Brothers with this having a mere 120 bottles. We aren’t sure when the bottle was originally opened however it is possible it was for some time or not… one never knows the impact of oxidation on a whisky’s character.

Tobermory 20 years (1996/2016) 58.8% (The Alambic Classique Collection)

  • Nose – Lemon balm, beeswax, fresh, sweet grass, honey, fresh raw cashew nut… it began evolving becoming fruitier
  • Palate – Quite a contrast to the aromas! Sweet spices, pink and white peppercorns, lots of character without heat, beautiful and well rounded, light cinnamon
  • Finish – Wonderful! The flavours just carry on and on and on….

Once upon a time, we discovered “mouth breathing” whisky – where you take a good waft of aromas then swig and then breath, seeing what the whisky has to say. In this case, it was like having a lovely aromatic hookah.

Some whiskies are all the nose with the palate a pale shadow, others are the reverse. That would be the case here – an absolute stunner on the palate – really outstanding. This is also one of those drams where just a little goes a very long way – particularly with that remarkable finish. A true class act.

Alambic Classique has been an importer and wholesaler of specialty spirits since 1981, and is also an independent bottler for rare and exclusive single malt whiskeys from Scotland. Our bottle was from their Special Vintage Selection – cask strength, uncolored and not chill-filtered.

What more do we know about this one? It a bourbon barrel from a single cask with 247 bottles.

If you haven’t already gathered so far  – the Tobermory was for us the clear winner!

What else did we explore that evening at The Union Jack in Berlin?

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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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LMdW Artist #8 – Bunnahabhain 35 year 47.9%

La Maison du Whisky’s Artist Series 8 is all about exploring unique casks which represent the artistry and character of their distilleries – be it in a non-Sherry or Sherry matured avatar. The Sherry range was adorned with most gorgeous labels created by Japanese artist Takehiko Sugawara.

At our Whisky Live Sinagapore 2018 tasting, this Bunnahabhain was the ‘penultimate’ dram in the series – both the oldest and most certainly the most expensive at SGD 1,999.

While we had only a wee nip, were left with the following impressions…

Bunnahabhain 35 year (1979/2018) Sherry Cask#9521 47.9% (472 bottles)

  • Nose – A lovely soft understated quality, complex with many nuanced layers – a bit medicinal, a bit floral, a bit of fruit, a hint of spice, even a herbal quality with a tinge of saline
  • Palate – Very soft and light, incredibly smooth, the palate was completely in character with the aromas – beautiful
  • Finish – Long yet subtle

Don’t laugh but what first struck me is how “nice” this whisky is! Exceedingly nice. I’ve been disappointed with older Bunnahabhain’s before but not this one.

What do the folks at La Maison du Whisky have to say about this whisky?

  • Nose – Voluptuous, concentrated. Irresistible notes of emery cloth, tincture of iodine, heady flowers (purple lilac, geranium), cocoa beans and leather provide a lot of fabric and depth to the first. At aeration, it becomes more fruity (orange, fig, apricot), spicy (cinnamon, grated ginger) and exotic (passion, mango). Balsamic, it extends on eucalyptus, cardamom and even basil
  • Palate – Creamy, smooth. True delicacy, the attack in mouth oscillates between the candy with the violet, the blood oranges, the dark chocolate, the liquorice and the dried fruits (date, nuts). With a lot of freshness, the mid-palate is fruity (black grape), liquorice (stick) and honey (linden). These tones precede little bourbon vanilla, ripe bananas and cloves.
  • Finish – Long, fluffy. It preserves and preserves intact every flavor unveiled by the mouth. Then, as and when, she fully satisfies her desire for exoticism (passion, mango, guava). In retro-olfaction, coffee with milk, crushed strawberries, blueberries and ginger permeate the palate. The empty glass is resinous (pine, sweet of the Vosges) and empyreumatic (eucalyptus).

—- From LMdW website with an imperfect google translation from French.

La Maison du Whisky Artist #8 with Sherry

If you are curious, here are a few more Bunnahabhain‘s sampled over the years…

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Smokey Night – Bunnahabhain Chuach-Mhona 50%

We continued our smokey explorations with Bunnahabhain…. typically known as the one Islay distillery that typically doesn’t use peat. Yet more and more you will find Bunnahabhain flirting with variations of peat.

Bunnahabhain Chuach-Mhona 50%

  • Nose – Shy yet familiar, a bit sharp and came across as immature, initially not so peaty, some spice, a bit of zing, honey, hay, sweet grass and then a bit of smoke and ash
  • Palate – Direct, burnt toast
  • Finish – Spice
  • Water – Much sweeter and brought out a pleasant cinnamon

To be honest, this was the most disappointing whisky of the bunch. It was surprising how there was both minimal peat and how young it seemed, missing so many elements we appreciate in a good dram.

And what do the Bunnahabhain folks have to say?

Gaelic for ‘peat stack’, this malt has strong influences of peat and sea salt. 

  • Colour – Pale gold
  • Nose – Crisp and lively sweet peat, with herbal hay, dry smoke and burning grass
  • Palate – Starting light, malty and sweet, developing into smoky white pepper and seaweed saltiness
  • Finish – Lingering dry smokiness with seaweed and spice

Our Smokey Night with the Whisky Ladies also included:

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Bunnahabhain 25 year (1991/2017) 50.5% (Blackadder Raw Cask)

Over the years we’ve sampled an increasing number of independent bottles. Clearly Gordon & MacPhail then Signatory are the ones we most readily come across, however every once and awhile we manage to stumble across a whisky from Blackadder.

Blackadder is known to focus on bottling a single cask, predominantly at cask strength. This particular bottle of Bunnahabhain is from their Raw Cask brand.

Image: Blackadder’s FaceBook page

Bunnahabhain 25 year (1991/2017) Cask No 5436 50.5% (Blackadder Raw Cask)

  • Nose – Brine, prunes, sour plum, then sweet yet tangy like amchor or tamarind, a hint of fulfer, candied fruit, rasins, anar or marmalade orange rinds
  • Palate – Had a very classic matured quality. Rich oriental spices, ripe blood orange, really quite elegant and fabulous
  • Finish – A deliciously long sweet finish, more of that marmalade, quite full and satisfying

The overall sense was a really rather “yummy” whisky. One we thoroughly enjoyed sampling!

Krishna Nakula, India’s Malt Maniac, shared it is an “excellent example of wood management.”

What more do we know? Well.. the helpful folks over at Blackadder managed to track down the label… which explains it was matured in a Sherry butt cask until July 2017 for the Taiwan market with 550 bottles.

Here are a few more Bunnahabhain drams sampled over the years:

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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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