Today, three Islay’s I enjoyed over the summer of 2021.
Distilled in 2010 from a 2009 crop of Scottish Barley, this heavily peated single malt was first filled into an array of ex-bourbon, ex-Syrah and ex-VDN (vin doux naturel) casks. In 2018, this spirit was transferred into Fernando de Castilla oloroso hoggies. distiller.com: ‘The breakdown is as follows: 30% first-fill ex-bourbon, 40% second-fill ex-bourbon, 5% second-fill ex-syrah wine, and 25% ex-vin doux naturel (French fortified wine). In 2018, the whisky was placed into oloroso sherry hogsheads from Fernando de Castilla to finish maturation. It’s bottled without chill filtration’
- N: In one word, unctuous. Despite everything – the complex cask maturation program, those wet[tish] casks, a high [40 ppm?] phenol count – incredibly, I find it’s barley first and all the bells n whistles thereafter. Thankfully, the [cardboard-y~matchbox/char-y/flat-packed furniture] oak itself is not overwhelming. Previous cask contents-wise, the [salty] vanilla-y/fruity [feint-y] toffee-d [raspberry coulis/confectionary rhubarb & custard] flavours remain a firm fixture. Surprisingly, it’s not overly animated/dynamic overall [in comparison to some Octomore’s, for example], though it all sits well as a whole, albeit a curious whole. Other descriptors include [dirty chimney]-smoked ham/meats,… wet muddy spinach,… honey,… leathery, a touch of tobacco. I like it.
- T: We’ve a similar salty crisp yet oily [creamy,.. chocolatey] unctuousness on the palate, becoming more grapey, a touch peppery, some flat Cola fizziness, and phenol-slick-yet-dry/not dry [read on] on delivery. The grape influence is fully involved, juicy, fruity and complimenting, juxtaposed against the dry phenolic > ashy light saline note – the spirit meanwhile remaining resilient. Despite the abv, this one doesn’t swim at all. Diluted, it’s very lacking,… shallow even. As a result, I enjoyed most of the bottle neat, happy to persist [life is hard, eh?] with the manageable spicy edge.
- F: The peatiness is relatively muted/tamed for Port Charlotte, but I think that’s the grape influence at play. All that farmy carbolic dirtiness is there, albeit slightly buried. As a result, the finish is initially short if lingering, not dissimilar to a [JW Black: WLP83] blend. Question is, where’s that lovely barley spirit gone? The spirit remains firm – the Laddie way – if rather simple/basic at this stage. We finish with more of the fruity vanilla-y [lime cubes] confectionary cocktail over phenolic/ashy/smoky Twix and toasted tea cakes,… a hint of mackerel skin?
- C: Gimmicky/fun/worthwhile? You decide. I enjoyed every drop. Score-wise, unctuous barley-led oiliness should never be overlooked. On the other hand, this high-octane colourful whisky looks good initially, but is easy scrutinised. Bruichladdich’s [slightly more affordable] Bere Barley is a better choice.
Scores 85 points
Staying with the same distillery, we’ve another malt with a complex make-up.
- N: Despite this one’s complex barley/cask-based makeup – further reading: WoW90 – it doesn’t reek of [previous cask] ‘wizardry’, initially – speaking more of the actual oak itself. Let it sit, however, and those ripe & varied fruity wine influences start to come through, though thankfully, the barley spirit easily manages to champion its surroundings – as IS the Bruichladdich way. Then there’s a coastal [medicinal & farmy] aspect – cows/sea air [all very Islay-esque], sootiness, and a hint of oyster juice over toasted honeyed/caramel-y/banana-ey [tropical-ish] barley,… charred cask, a touch of vanilla,… fusty yet fresh,… bready date & ginger cake, hazelnuts, brown sugar,…. All very promising.
- T: Finding this peppery, even with a little water,… the spirit is decidedly intact, the wines at bay/assisting only, though overall it’s less fruity than the nose had at first presented itself. With an oaky drive [and a medicinal/oyster sauce hint, again], this young/not young malt, despite being fairly weighted [& fatty/slightly greasy], doesn’t hang around.
- F: We are soon into a pleasing and lingering [fruity-ish & fresh] chocolatey/malty/peppery~salty finish, concluding neatly over a bone-dry floury > chalky > marzipan-y barley sugar affair.
- C: Technically superb, just in the middle I found it somewhat vague. Emotionally, a few commentators have mentioned it, that this whisky evokes Islay, the longing for it, and the return of its glorious festivals. For that, it’s a firm thumbs up.
Scores 87 points
Staying on Islay, we move to the East coast for our final bottle polish.
After a successful first contact via a bottle split – WLP – I simply had to have a bottle. There’s so much ‘whisky talk’ here!
- N: In comparison to Balblair’s similar-aged 1991-vintage 27yo I have alongside, this is clearly a grander,.. richer old boy. In isolation, and at first, it’s not so obviously well aged given a youthful spirited sawdusty/resinous/pine needles/straw side, seemingly from a cask re-activation at play which can aide/pleasure yet trick the nasal senses. Once opened out, however, it’s all about the malty [Manuka] honeyed fruits > and flowers with a twist of lemon & grapefruit peel, ginger & carrot cake, > husky coconut & pineapple, metallic raisins,.. the mild resinousness moving into a creamier fustiness later on. At the heel of the bottle, I’m picking out some very mellow [3 sherry butts vs 28 hogsheads] sulphurous notes, famously in keeping with some of Bunnahabhain’s output at the time [1980s], but it’s nay bother and all mixed up within the general pleasurable/desirable stewed nature of things. Simply put, we’ve a charmer that’s been treated with upmost consideration.
- T: If there was ever a question over this one’s age on the nose, on the palate, there is little doubt – the spicy-ish activation serving to bolster/lift this one’s long-awaited reveal. [With water] we’ve most agreeable old/oily/greasy, sour > bitter-sweet,… soft yet permeating salty/oaky-malty/ > spicy,.. chilli chocolate!,….. later moving towards a soft/mild yet focused pith-citric [drying lime/lemon > blood orange juice=grapefruit] dry maltiness,.. It’s a long and enriching travel with a phenol hint and some [sherried] ‘flor’ action on the turn.
- F: [Eventually] softer but remaining energised and [desirably] salty & vegetal-cellulose-waxy & salivating-dry, [Smarties casings]-malty, and [pithy-dry] citrusy, the consolidated fruity/malty/floral aspect remaining from the nose. Then there’s the [green/Pau D’arco/black/matcha and > fruity/aromatic spicy] teas ,….. a very mild & soft [Polo] menthol suggestion,… tannic-ish, old skool [tobacco] dry permeated [fruity] vanilla…. and heaps of complementary extras. It’s remarkable how the very clean spirited [with a phenolic touch followed by char into ash] this old Bunna is, whilst remaining staunch/forthright,…. [I lose myself to the Thesaurus].
- C: This is some masterful blending of 31 casks, and bravo for bottling/keeping this at 49.1% – it’s the strength that made it what it is! Also, it was an absolute bargain when it came out!
Scores 90 points