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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Sinful Samples – Bunnahabhan, Tullibardine, Millstone, Glendronach, Wolfburn

Tis the season to be jolly… and all that jazz! Yet before all the mad social rounds of the season kicked off, we snuck in a completely chilled out informal sampling of samples…

Call it a “Pajama Drams” night, it had no formality just a few folks, more than a few samples to put side by side to provoke some interesting tasting experiences…

What did we try?

It may seem like a prodigious amount for one sitting but we were a disciplined lot… some sniffing, swishing and spitting went on plus a swallows and discarding the balance. Sacralige to some but sensible for us.

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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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Whisky Archives – Cracking open the cabinet…

Another from the tasting archives… this time from Sept 2011. Rediscovering these notes brought a flood memories of my previous Mumbai flat… that had a fabulous cabinet in which all my whisky was stashed… now replaced in our current home by a larger storage space waaaaay up high in our kitchen pantry.

We broke with tradition and merrily abandoned all pretense of blind tastings… instead settled down for a sampling of various bottles. It became a  popularity contest between different regions and geographies as small pegs of multiple whiskies were sniffed, swirled, swallowed, savoured and yes – much discussed!

Samplings from earlier sessions - all quaffed at one occasion!

Speyside‘s dominated the evening with:

  • Aberlour’s cask strength Abu’nadh batch 32 (sampled earlier) and batch 31 were compared. Batch 31 was a clear winner and a hit of the evening! Bold yet with an extraordinary warm finish… with layers to discover and enjoy.
  • Aberlour 10 year held its own with slight smokiness and butter, however was overshadowed by it’s cask strength cousin.
  • Cragganmore 12 year was softer on the palate and a nice contrast to the Abelours
  • Glenrothes 12 year (also sampled earlier) gained appreciation for its smooth fruity aroma, sherry note and oak, medium slightly spicy finish.

Islay‘s were represented by a few familiar friends:

  • Bunnahabhain 12 year 40% is a regular favourite with several folks
  • Caol Ila is also well-known and after the last drop of one bottle was polished off, another was opened… Need one say more?
  • Lagavulin 16 year was also a familiar friend but neglected with all the other options…

Highland

  • Dalwhinnie from the highest distillery in Scotland was a delightful gentler ‘everyday’ favourite

Japan

  • Suntory’s Hakushu 18 year…. In a class of its own with hints of forest, moss, nuanced, with a divine finish – simply exquisite. It remains one of my favourites!

Canada

  • Crown Royal from Gimli, Manitoba (my home province) certainly added a different element with rye, however alas outclassed by single malt companions

Naturally what’s expressed here is only one interpretation based on snippets of conversation and personal bias. Would love to hear others opinions on any of these whiskies…

Slainthe!

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Signatory session take two with cigars!

Quick before oxidation did too much damage, I wanted to share with the BMC lads a sampling from my earlier Signatory session.

However as whisky gremlins (aka friends and I) got into the Edradour and the Bunnahabhain too, it was clear augmentation would be needed to have sufficient for my sipping companions as we puffed on our cigars, post initial tasting. With this group, tasting is not the end, merely the selection process to settle down to savour a further dram or two with a cigar, some nibbles and convivial conversation.

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So what did I do? First began with what our merry malt men had to say about the whiskies…

We kicked off with the Speyside – Glenburgie 18 year (13 June 1995 / 20 Feb 2014) Cask No 6451, 391 bottles 46%.

  • Nose – Flowers, perfume, summer meadow
  • Palate – Surprisingly robust
  • Finish – Spice
  • Water – Adds ‘wood’ brought out vanilla and moss
  • Overall – Light bright and sprightly

Then followed up with the Islay – Bunnahabhain 26 years (6 June 1988 / 7 Aug 2014) Cask No 1874, 175 bottles 48.6%.

  • Nose – Varnish, lots of esters, pineapple, a flick of mint?
  • Palate – Smooth, a bit oily, tart granny apples…
  • Finish – Sits… very dry, black pepper
  • Water – Spicier, less acidic, brings out the peppers and even a medicinal quality on the nose. Then was that gasoline??
  • Overall – One commented the whisky made his lips numb! Certainly not a favourite (and yet the bottle was empty by the end of the evening… Oh the sacrifices these gentlemen will make!)

Closing our Signatory trio in the Highland‘s with the Edradour 10 year (2 Nov 2004/26 Mar 2015) Cask No 406, Bottle 440 46%

  • Nose – Very chocolaty, vanilla, prunes, fig newton, varnish, rum raisin
  • Palate – Very smooth, little pepper, lime?
  • Finish – Not long but rather pleasant
  • Water – Softens, mellows it out and makes it even sweeter
  • Overall – The kind of whisky to sip in a comfy chair, very palatable, well balanced and well rounded

Having tried all three before, I found the Edradour stood up best after being opened. Alas the Glenburgie had clearly lost some of its earlier nuances. And the Bunnahabhain? Let’s just say it is not one to sit in a bottle. The most expensive of the trio was also the most disappointing.

But what to sip with our cigars?

One already has clear sherry preferences. For him, he likes his whiskies robust and full of flavour. Aberlour just so happens to be a personal favourite, so it was only natural to introduce him to the gorgeous A’bunadh Batch 35.

For another, we earlier spoke of enjoying a good Irish dram – when in the mood for something a little simpler and sociable. He’d sampled Tyrconnel before – even has a bottle at home – however had yet to try the Madeira finish.

Now, another member knows his stuff and nothing less than a complex, nuanced and very special dram will do! I knew what remained in my whisky cabinet would not meet such standards. Closest was a few remaining rare Japanese whiskies yet only a single dram left – clearly insufficient to support a good cigar. So the Signatory trio would simply have to do.

And the last? I still haven’t pegged his preference beyond a desire to try something ‘different’. So added an unpeated Paul John Classic into the mix.

My experience pairing with the cigar? I initially thought the Edradour with its rich sherry notes would pair best with my robusto. Imagine my surprise to discover the delicate Glenburgie held its own.

Slainthe!

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Classic Bunnahabhain 18 year 46.3%

I recently ‘treated’ a friend who is a huge Bunnahabhain fan to the spectacular 26 year Signatory’s cask strength single cask avatar.

Did he enjoy? Yes! But was it what he looks for in a Bunnahabhain? Not really. He prefers the nearly no peat Islay character of a typical Bunnahabhain.

So in his honour, I’ve brushed off from the archives tasting notes from a session originally held in August 2013.

Bunnahabhain 18 (TheWhiskyExchange.com)

Bunnahabhain 18 year (TheWhiskyExchange.com)

Bunnahabhain 18 year 46.3%

  • Colour – Gorgeous! A deep rich colour
  • Nose – Nuanced nose with hints of plum and honey. We were so engrossed in our conversation that we inadvertently gave the Bunnahabhain extra air to be delighted when this enabled it to open up even further to reveal apricot and an oaky woodiness without a whiff of peat.
  • Taste – Utterly smooth, creamy. We savoured its warm richness, appreciating its different layers of flavour and a hint of spice.
  • Finish – A lingering finish that brought back plum and rather happy smiles.

This un-chill filtered non-peated Islay offering was the evening favourite!

Here is what the folks over at Bunnahabhain have to say about this whisky:

A nose and a taste of this tells more than a book ever could. The beautiful golden spirit’s aroma releasing honeyed nuts and a slightly sea-induced salty tang. Rich toffee and leathery oak notes can be sensed upon further reading, while the palate tells of mellow sherried nuts and shavings of the finest natural oak wood. ts story ends very happily, with dry notes interspersed with mixed spices fading magnificently into a light salt and sherry finale.

Here’s what others have to say:

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Signatory’s Bunnahabhain 26 year (1988) 48.6%

Next up in our Signatory set, is an unusual Islay… Bunnahabhain is known for going against the grain of smokey, peaty character. The friend who first introduced me years ago to Bunnahabhain joked it was known as a ‘ladies’ whisky for its fresh, aromatic seaside quality rather than bold peat monster.

This just so happens to be yet another bottle acquired during a trip to Singapore. When I have time, one of my favourite stops is La Maison du Whisky. You can count on having a good chat, sample some wares and always walk away with something a bit different.

They also have an arrangement with Signatory for a few special  ‘La Maison du Whisky’ bottles – including from their Cask Strength Collection. This particular Bunnahabhain just so happens to be a delightful example.

2016-02-19 Bunnahabhain 1988

As always, our original tasting group first samples completely blind, knowing nothing about the whisky… these are our impressions…
Bunnahabhain 26 years (6 June 1988 / 7 Aug 2014) Cask No 1874, 175 bottles 48.6%
  • Colour  – Pale gold
  • Nose – “Yowza!” (in a good way) Iodine, quite vegetal, moss, forrest, a medicinal phenolic quality, dried orange peel, cardboard (think amazon parcel with scotch tape), walnuts then more citrus then a light sourness
  • Palate – Thick, sweet, muggy, that vegetal quality followed through on the palate, bitter zucchini, lentils, an earthy element, extremely dry, yet lots of body, lots of layers… chewy, peaty
  • Finish – A stubborn, long spicy, bitter finish – quite superb!
  • Water – Opens to sweet coffee
  • Speculation – Definitely an independent bottler, single cask, cask strength, likely in the 48% range, reminiscent of a superior Oban
  • Overall – The palate has far more character and substance than the nose – a reverse of what we find with most whiskies. Again for some – an absolute favourite for the evening.

And the reveal? A complete surprise!

None even one considered the region could be Islay – understandable as it was neither a characteristically peaty Islay nor a typical Bunnahabhain.

And the age? Not even one guessed we were sipping something laid to mature in 1988!

However when the whisky context sunk in, ‘click!’ it all made sense.

Some older whiskies have an interesting but slightly subdued nose with a superior palate, possessing multiple layers even in a whisky that overall isn’t massively complex. There is just something about hanging around in the cask a bit longer that gives a certain ‘weight’ to the whisky profile.

Alas as this is a unique Bunnahabahain, I could find relatively little additional information, though I do recall Diago from La Maison du Whisky sharing it was an experiment with light peat, making it quite a distinctive dram from this distillery.

Pour mes amis qui comprennent le Française, here is what La Maison du Whisky has to say about this particular bottle:

Single cask #1874 – Sherry Butt Éditionlimitée à 175 bouteilles – Une ExclusivitéLMDW

  • Profil : délicat et poudré. Notes minérales (terre, racines), cacaotées et fumées. Fruits exotiques qui se transforment en fruits secs. Très fine note de tourbe.
  • Nose : fin, onctueux. Derrière la fine âcreté de la fumée de tourbe, on perçoit des fleurs des champs (pissenlit, coquelicot) et des fruits exotiques (ananas, banane). Au fur et à mesure, l’empreinte tourbée se fait plus marquée. De la réglisse verte flirte alors avec des notes de terre et de racines. Plus tard, des fruits secs (noix, amande) leurs emboîtent le pas.
  • Palate : ample, riche. Son attaque est soyeuse, presque crémeuse (lait de coco). Une très fine note de tourbe sèche est présente de bout en bout. Puis des agrumes confits (citron), des fruits exotiques (mangue, goyave) et des plantes aromatiques (tilleul, laurier) procurent beaucoup de profondeur au milieu de bouche. Parfaite symbiose entre le nez et la bouche.
  • Overall : longue, duveteuse. Elle délivre avec profusion des notes de réglisse verte, de Havane et de noix verte. Ses tannins poudrés (cacao) prennent possession du palais avant qu’ils ne laissent place à de nouveaux fruits secs (datte, figue sèche) et aux épices (cardamome, curry, badiane). La rétro-olfaction est herbacée (lichen) et fruitée (citron jaune). Le verre vide est d’une remarquable fraîcheur fruitée (cassis, cerise noire).

Related posts:

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Signatory session with Glenburgie, Bunnahabhain + Edradour

Most single malts tell you surprisingly little about exactly when they began their life.

Sure – the bottle says 10 year but what that really means is the youngest whisky in that bottle in front you was matured for 10 years.

As for the year it was bottled? Look closely… many do not tell you this.

The key with most age statement whiskies is carefully playing around with stock to produce a consistent flavour profile. Which means more mixing and blending between casks than you might imagine to achieve that distinctive taste you have come to call a familiar friend.

However if you really want to explore the nuances of a ‘pure’ single malt, then a single distillation in a single cask preferably at cask strength is the way to go.

And no one does that better than some terrific independent bottlers who keep an eagle eye (or acute nose and taste buds) out for something truly special.

This is the territory that tells you when that whisky hit the cask, which cask and even how many bottles exist… perhaps your bottle even has its own number.

Over the years we’ve had some fabulous Gordon & MacPhail offerings, a few Douglas Laing & Co, however less from Signatory.

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So for three years, I’ve slowly acquired three distinctly different whiskies – two examples of Signatory’s independent bottlings and one from their own wee distillery – Edradour, each from a different region in Scotland.

What pray tell did I manage to track down?

It seemed a fitting trio to fete the beginning our fifth year of whisky tastings as a dedicated group in Mumbai.

Anyone have a favourite independent bottler? Or tried a particularly interesting Signatory bottle?

Slainthe!

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Bunnahabhain Eirigh Na Greine (Morning Sky) NAS, Batch 1, 46.3%

This month, our merry malt explorers were treated to a unique trio of Islay whiskies – familiar distilleries with unfamiliar expressions.

We followed our standard blind tasting format, only revealing the whisky after sniffing, sipping, swishing, speculating and more.

1st up was a Bruichladdich experiment with organic barley.

Next? Read on…

Bunnahabhain Eirigh Na Greine (Whisky Lady)

Bunnahabhain Eirigh Na Greine (Whisky Lady)

Bunnahabhain Eirigh Na Greine (Morning Sky), batch no 1, 46.3%
  • Colour – Rose gold
  • 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
Speculation ran rife with this one. Seemed as thought it likely had a sherry or wine finish. Some thought the age was at most a 10 year, most opting for NAS.  Then the distillery guessing game began, rapidly narrowing to non-peated Islay with Bunnahabhain leading the pack!
With the unveiling, our host for the evening was maha impressed with Bunnahabhain guesses and the winey / rose element.
Bunnahabhain (Whisky Lady)

Bunnahabhain (Whisky Lady)

  • Eirigh Na Greine (pronounced Ae-ree ne gray-nyuh and meaning ‘Morning Sky’ in Gaelic) is an alluringly complex small-batch single malt Scotch whisky containing a significant proportion of high-quality ex-red wine cask-matured Bunnahabhain whiskies of various ages.
  • 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.
  • The influence of the ex-red wine matured whiskies results in a multifaceted tasting experience, with luscious notes of rich fruits, boiled sweets and spicy effervescence.
Official tasting notes:
  • Appearance – Pale bronze
  • 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
Other whiskies sampled in our August session included:
August Tasting Trio

August Islay Tasting Trio (Whisky Lady)

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