How’s it going Pandas! At time of writing, Singapore has just announced measures to return to lockdown-like conditions for another month.
Here at 88 Bamboo, we wish that you and your family remain in good health and good spirits wherever you are. Bars have been closed but that doesn’t mean we cannot virtually connect and continue sharing a dram together!
The Isle of Islay is famous for its rich, peat-spoke saturated, briny and iodine-y whiskies. But even amongst its eight nine working whisky distilleries, their single malts vary by distillery from robust and smoky expressions to gently smoky expressions on the other. This is because most Islay distilleries continue to use traditional malting methods that rely on peat, infusing a smoky character in their malt. They also source water that has run through peat moors that have a slightly vegetal peaty character.
That said, whiskies from the more northern parts of Islay (such as Bunnahabhain) tend to be lighter flavoured, party because the water they could find is less peaty and there are fewer peatlands available to harvest.
Today, I’d like to try a limited edition bottle from Bunnahabhain (with only 1,650 worldwide) that two of my friends have been giving me rave reviews about.
Region: Islay, Scotland
Distributor: Original Bottling (OB)
Classification: Scotch Whisky
Style: Single Malt
Cask: Ex-Whisky Hogsheads, Portuguese Port Pipe
Age: 11 Years Old
Behind the Label
Brief introduction to Bunnahabhain
Bunnahabhain (‘Boo-nah-ha-vin’) Distillery is the Northern-most distillery, and this should provide you a hint as to its flavour style.
The Margadale River is where Bunnahabhain sources its water from (Image Source: David Webb – Wikimedia Commons)
The name ‘Bunnahabhain’ is derived from the Gaelic phrase ‘mouth of the river’. The distillery was founded by William Robertson and two Greenless brothers in 1881 and is situated by- you might have guessed - the mouthof the Margadale River which empties itself into the Sound of Islay.
The distillery produces one of the most easy-to-drink Islay single malts with its sweet, very lightly-peated profile and smooth texture.
Each year, the distillery produces 2.5 million litres of newmake spirit. A portion of this would be stored in 21,000 casks for maturation in the distillery’s warehouse, and would become the classic Bunnahabhain single malt. The remainder would be used to create blended malt whiskies (alongside spirits from other distilleries).
Our favourite story amongst distilleries
Bunnahabhain Distillery isn’t a distillery that constantly waxes lyrical about its unique origin or ingredients. However, it has one of my favourite anecdotes amongst the Scottish distilleries I’ve surveyed, about how a certain old vintage bottle came to be.
As the story goes, in the cold winter of 2012, one Bunnahabhain worker who was tidying up the cellar was moving a dusty old batch of ledger books dating from the early 1960s. He decided to flip open to view the dated ledgers out of curiosity, but noticed an entry for an extra batch of whisky he did not account for.
Feeling slightly embarrassed, he referred to the stated storage location of that batch of whisky and began searching. His investigation took him to a faraway corner of the facility where he discovered a single forgotten cask of whisky that had been aged for over 40 years.
A single forgotten cask of 1972 whisky.
The happy discovery yielded 750 bottles of Bunnahabhain 40 Years Old, to the delight of fans all around the world.
The Bunnahabhain 40 was said to be a rare example of what an unpeated Islay whisky is truly capable of (Image Source: Master of Malt)
We are not reviewing the Bunnahabhain 40 today. One dram of this stuff probably costs as much as 2 bottles of very good 21 year old Scotch. I just thought this story was a great one to share.
Today we shall share a dram of Bunnahabhain Distillery’s first ever port wine-finished single malt!
This expression had been matured for 9 years in ex-whisky hogshead-casks, then finished for another 2 years in Portugese Port “Pipe” casks.
Let's dive into tasting it.
In the glass, this is very red, the colour of old lacquered oak or dark red pomegranate seeds.
On the nose, very expressive aromas of hot mulled wine. There is a component baked raspberry tart or strawberry jam notes, covered by another layer of mild cinnamon and star anise. Letting it sit for just about a minute was a terrific decision because there is more to it – it gets nuttier with sugar-dusted crushed almonds and lashings of milk chocolate.
The milk chocolate aroma is quite distinctive, reminding me of unwrapping a chocolate Neapolitan square – the type of chocolate that one mind find two pieces in a luxury hotel minibar. This isn’t quite dark chocolate but more similar to sweet melty creamy milk chocolate. (You should remember these addictive things. The sort of chocolate squares where their packaging may be personalised to promote businesses of all types, from restaurants, hotels, cruise ships to banks.)
As a child I have once polished off a dozen of these things while sitting at the lobby of the Hilton without any adult noticing. For trade mark reasons we shall not reproduce Hilton-branded Neapolitans (Image Source: Whitakers Chocolates)
On the palate, there are substantial dominant notes of the same milk chocolate Neapolitans. This is sweet, moderately rich, full-on milkiness coupled with slightly woody earthy notes of chocolates. There is a little caramel component. I do not get much fruit or juiciness- perhaps just some dried red raisins.
Although I am drinking this at 55.3% ABV, the heat from the alcohol is not very pronounced. This is quite unlike typical supermarket Scotches (such as a Johnnie Walker) where the alcohol burn is significantly more pronounced even though the ABV is lower. This is quite smooth with a manageable amount of heat.
I decided to add a teaspoon of water. This really tones done on the milk chocolate flavours. Now the chocolate turns into lightly caramel, butterscotch toffee flavours, with a slight coconut flavour. Sweetness is subdued. I mentioned almond earlier- some sugar-dusted almonds continue to make itself known, although it’s subdued now.
Adding water really increases the complexity of this, almost like fanning out a stack of cards to reveal each layer of flavour. There is a lot more going on. The milk chocolate Neapolitans take a backseat now.
The finish is long and smooth with the richness of the chocolate slowly fading. There is very subtle sooty peatiness – and I’m saying really subtle – one might argue it isn’t there or just slight medicinal notes.
I am glad I procured this bottle. This is quite unlike Bunnahabhain’s other releases that tend to be much lighter and fruitier. This one is actually richer, distinctively milk-chocolatey with darker flavours.
There is greater complexity when water is added. But I actually prefer drinking this one neat because I do somewhat miss the chocolatey flavours that take a backseat when water is added. This is also quite drinkable and so smooth despite the 55.3% ABV, and I would recommend trying this neat before anything else.
(Image Source: Ritter Sport USA)
All that talk about chocolate really got me craving for some chocolate and raisins. It is imperative that you try this Port-matured expression together some Ritter Sport hazelnut raisin milk chocolate. You may or may not choose to pair this with some exercise, that’s completely optional.
Pair this port-matured expression together some hazelnut raisin milk chocolate.