New Whiskies

Batch 108

by
Bunnahabhains and Wemyss

What’s the collective noun for a group of Bunnahabhains? That’s what’s on Scotchwhisky.com editor Becky Paskin’s mind this week as she makes her way through a bounty/basket/bevy of Bunnahabhain bottlings – three limited editions from the distillery and a fourth from independent bottler Wemyss Malts.

The four expressions each showcase a different side of the Islay distillery’s character, and its preference for finishing whiskies in various casks.

First up is a straight-up Bunna’ matured in a hogshead for 27 years, which despite its age retains a youthfulness that has Paskin fawning over its herb garden of aromas.

The next three whiskies have all been matured in second-fill oloroso Sherry butts and given various finishes, to different degrees of success.

A Bunnahabhain 2003 PX Finish is such a sweet Sherry bomb that it has Paskin reaching for the cheese platter (and dialling for the dentist). However, a second Sherry-finished expression, Bunnahabhain 1980 Canasta Finish, provides a much drier and more complex experience, and commands a high score. Finally, Bunnahabhain’s peated alter ego, Moine, gets a ‘winey, fruity’ French brandy finish.

Just to break up the flow, two additional expressions from Fife bottler Wemyss Malts are thrown in. An unctuous and polished 20-year-old Clynelish gleans strong praise from Paskin, while a more delicate, yet spicier, 20-year-old Glenrothes has her scrambling around a hedge maze, seeking a way out.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Bunnahabhain 1990, Hike to the Haven (Wemyss Malts)

    Bunnahabhain 1990, Hike to the Haven (Wemyss Malts)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    46%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Availability
    US only
    Flavour camp
    Fragrant & Floral
    Nose

    Very perfumed and grassy – all Parma Violets and lemon balm. There’s sweetness in the form of milk chocolate, but even that’s peppered with nuggets of floral Turkish Delight.

    Palate

    The rose note carries through onto the palate with a rounded fruitiness in tow, then – suddenly – things take a bitter, salty turn. Spice appears from nowhere, bringing up the rear with cooked plums and cured figs. Hold it long enough in the mouth for worn leather and shiitake mushrooms.

    Finish

    Earthy, savoury, but short.

    Conclusion

    A real journey in a glass.

    Right place, right time

    Turn right at the herb garden and follow the path to the magical forest.

    Bunnahabhain 1980 Canasta Finish, 36 Years Old

    Bunnahabhain 1980 Canasta Finish, 36 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    49.5%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    Gosh, it’s a very dim shade of brown, akin to a tarnished penny. A very dry, dusty nose: empty walnut shells, a book cabinet that’s not been opened for years. There’s nougat and prune juice, dry oloroso Sherry and some black pepper. There’s soul here.

    Palate

    Sweet, with a sour dryness: old leather books, damp earth and wooden furniture. The fruit is rich and dark – dried citrus peel, raisins, prunes – and accompanied by a complementary saltiness, the effect of which is more Christmas pudding than cake.

    Finish

    Dry, fruity and earthy.

    Conclusion

    Drier than most Sherried malts; there’s balance and complexity. Excellent.

    Right place, right time

    Someone left the windows to the beach library open again.

    Bunnahabhain 2003 PX Finish, 15 Years Old

    Bunnahabhain 2003 PX Finish, 15 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    54.8%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    Thick, like sugar syrup. It’s all molasses and burnt honey, dense wild strawberry jam, salt water taffy and hazelnuts. Very Christmassy. Very Sherried.

    Palate

    Rich and sweet, as you’d expect, with a thick, syrupy texture bordering on liqueur-like. It’s very, very Sherried. In fact it’s so Sherried it’s almost one-dimensional. It doesn’t go anywhere else.

    Finish

    Sweet. Sherried.

    Conclusion

    There’s little dryness, and bucketloads of rich fruit and sweetness, so it will no doubt appeal to Sherry bomb fans. However, four years finishing in first-fill PX casks has completely destroyed any semblance of Bunnahabhain character. This could be from any distillery.

    Right place, right time

    With a Manchego or vintage Cheddar.

    Bunnahabhain Moine 2004 Brandy Finish, 13 Years Old

    Bunnahabhain Moine 2004 Brandy Finish, 13 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    55.7%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Immediately there’s the brandy finish, in fruity red wine and black pepper, though it works in tandem with the bready maltiness of a young Bunnahabhain. The smoke is obvious, but not overpowering.

    Palate

    Soft and malty at first, with juicy forest and orchard fruits gently tumbling over the tongue. But it becomes punchy – an intense spiciness on the mid-palate rises as a precursor to a wave of smoke.

    Finish

    Smoky and quite long.

    Conclusion

    The brandy finish adds a rounded fruitiness to Bunnahabhain’s smoky alter ego.

    Right place, right time

    Snacking on strawberries on a blustery coastal walk.

    Clynelish 1997, Coastal Orchard (Wemyss Malts)

    Clynelish 1997, Coastal Orchard (Wemyss Malts)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    46%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Highland
    Availability
    US only
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    Thick and unctuous, but reluctant to give all its character away on the nose. Waxy red apple skin, thick milk chocolate and a recently-polished table is about all you’re given.

    Palate

    Soft brown sugar and rich fruit, then baking spices gently emerge, building to a crescendo, before sloping off in a whirl of toasted oak, salty grilled pineapples and bouncy balls (in a good way). A beautiful, waxy texture.

    Finish

    Sadly, a little too short.

    Conclusion

    Rich, fruity and syrupy.

    Right place, right time

    Behind the Big Top. Someone nearby bobs for apples as the crowds cheer the unicyclist in the ring.

    Glenrothes 1997, Italian Bakery Delight (Wemyss Malts)

    Glenrothes 1997, Italian Bakery Delight (Wemyss Malts)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    46%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Availability
    US only
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Delicate and fresh – a classic Glenrothes, albeit youthful for a 20-year-old. Orchard fruit blooms with Conference pears, Golden Delicious apples and fragrant apple blossom. Wemyss’ Italian bakery emerges as icing sugar and flaked almonds, buttery flaky pastry, and a swift grating of orange zest. 

    Palate

    Much fiercer than the nose lets on – it’s got bite. Rich fruit from the off gives way to a rising charred, spicy heat on the mid-palate. Water calms the storm, revealing a secret apple bon-bon beneath, redolent with sour green apples, a dusting of icing sugar and a rich toffee heart. But it’s nowhere near as characterful as the nose suggests.

    Finish

    Spicy and dry. Surprisingly, the lingering flavour is of dark chocolate nibs.

    Conclusion

    The nose is no indication of the palate; the palate no indicator of the finish. It’s a dram that keeps you guessing.

    Right place, right time

    Turning this way and that, he admitted the hedge maze had gotten the better of him.

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