New Whiskies

Batch 126

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Batch 126: Bunnahabhain and Glenglassaugh

Only two distilleries tasted this week: Bunnahabhain from Islay and Glenglassaugh, also coastal, but located on the other side of Scotland, on the mainland near Portsoy. But if you think that means a uniformity in terms of flavour, think again.

We start with the Bunnas. Both cask strength, they offer pleasures, but of a contrasting type: one rich and chocolatey – the definitive Christmas dram – and the other all subtlety and minerality (as long as you can get the dilution right).

The rest of the batch is all about Glenglassaugh’s new Wood Finish range, including two Port finishes (one peated), plus a rich PX and a peated Virgin Oak.

It all works, up to a point, with the unpeated examples taking centre-stage, thanks to a combination of good distillery character and the richness of the casks in which they’re finished. The peated whiskies, on the other hand, just lack a little weight and ‘grunt’, says Dave Broom. But, he says, it’s a worthwhile avenue of exploration.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Bunnahabhain 2009 Cask Strength (Gordon & MacPhail)

    Bunnahabhain 2009 Cask Strength (Gordon & MacPhail)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    59%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    This starts with Bunna’ in its nutty guise: a mix of hazelnut and wholemeal flour, which then gives way to Sherried notes of cake mix, crystallised ginger, candied plum and raisin. As the cereal continues to recede, it’s replaced by a more complex mix of citrus, beeswax, chocolate Rice Krispie cakes and that seductively sweaty Sherried note. Water brings out marzipan, clove, glacé cherries and an increasingly velvety effect. A grower, so give it time.

    Palate

    A soft, quite pillowy start, then the bran notes begin, immediately followed by a mix of rich, dark fruits rolling in the mouth. The tannins are only light, but a cypress-like quality suggests a maturity beyond its years. As with the nose, this needs time and ends up mightily impressive. Some water brightens things, pulling out more red fruits.

    Finish

    Medium dry, light chocolate and fruits.

    Conclusion

    A beautiful Bunna’. Highly recommended as a Christmas dram.

    Right place, right time

    Dosing up the Christmas cake with extra booze.

    Bunnahabhain 22 Years Old (Cadenhead)

    Bunnahabhain 22 Years Old (Cadenhead)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    50.4%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Aromatic, with an intriguingly vinous, almost Viognier-like quality of soft peaches, vanilla and heavy florals, giving a very different quality to the G&M bottling. A slight cider vinegar element begins to pull through, adding a slight sharpness, but there’s good oxidative maturity here (especially when water is added), bringing old paper and a hint of oiliness. Altogether it’s pretty subtle.

    Palate

    Crisper than you might expect from the nose, with a certain angularity when neat, which adds a firm counterpoint to the soft and fleshy centre. It benefits from water, which changes the edginess into a sodium-rich minerality.

    Finish

    Sweetness finally, and out with apricot and mature fruits.

    Conclusion

    Slightly puzzling, but get the water right and thou shalt be rewarded.

    Right place, right time

    As spikily rewarding as a Thelonious Monk solo.

    Glenglassaugh Peated Port Wood Finish

    Glenglassaugh Peated Port Wood Finish
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    46%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Highland
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    There’s more obvious cask influence here than on the unpeated example, along with an intense smokiness which takes you into a meaty realm of smoked ham smeared with a cinnamon and clove glaze. A tiny touch of damson gin adds a bright edge. It does seem young, though, with a hint of rubber hanging around in the background. Water carries on the porky theme, but ups that rubber note.

    Palate

    Dry, yet fruity. The peat comes through like a slightly dilute, smoked fruit tea: cherry, hibiscus and blackcurrant. It’s actually quite light, and only touches down briefly in the middle of the palate before pipe tobacco carries through onto the finish. As on the nose, water shows a youthfulness.

    Finish

    Gentle smoke.

    Conclusion

    Promising, but this just needs more grunt (and maturity) to work.

    Right place, right time

    Sweating beside the barbecue.

    Glenglassaugh Peated Virgin Oak Wood Finish

    Glenglassaugh Peated Virgin Oak Wood Finish
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    46%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Highland
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    The smoke is low here and there’s a green element (garden bonfire) not seen in the other examples. A sweet, tiki-esque blast of pineapple and flowers comes as a surprise before a sappiness emerges. Water shows it to have decent balance and brings out a fresh and perfumed herbal element – and smoke.

    Palate

    A light start, but again things seem strangely dilute. The mid-palate has this mix of green, leafy florals and a slightly tart fruitiness. The smoke is well-controlled and the virgin oak has brought a more grippy texture with some oily terpenes, but it just lacks heft, something which is underlined when water is added.

    Finish

    Slightly thin. Smoky.

    Conclusion

    I wonder what would happen if you aged in virgin oak and then in refill, rather than the other way around? Anyway, this is a worthwhile avenue of exploration. This just needs a little more weight.

    Right place, right time

    Pine logs spitting on a summer fire.

    Glenglassaugh Pedro Ximénez Sherry Wood Finish

    Glenglassaugh Pedro Ximénez Sherry Wood Finish
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    46%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Highland
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    Big, concentrated Sherried elements come at you immediately, with classic raisin aromas taking you into tarry, molasses-rich funk. There’s some red fruits still and, while water shows more cask impact, there’s enough weight here to balance.

    Palate

    PX-dominant, with a dark richness stirring in extra liquorice while nodding respectfully to a sweetened South American rum. The cask has added better mid- palate concentration compared to the Port finish, with some extra tamarind paste. More concentrated with water, where a creaminess starts to develop.

    Finish

    Fades and thins slightly, but not before a bitter edge adds balance.

    Conclusion

    The finish is in charge, but things remain well enough balanced.

    Right place, right time

    Dribbling PX over vanilla ice cream.

    Glenglassaugh Port Wood Finish

    Glenglassaugh Port Wood Finish
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    46%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Highland
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    A tiny hint of pink and a suitably sweet, strawberry juice-accented start, with some added boiled sweets, and mango smoothie dusted with cinnamon. As it opens, you get more soft fruits and a little peachiness amid the red fruits. Water shows just a little more oak, but also brings out a floral note. Good distillery character, in other words.

    Palate

    Creamy red fruits to start with. The mid-palate is very soft, with red fruit – you can stir in cherry, cranberry and raspberry now – and with a pleasing, balancing twinge of bitterness. The addition of water ends up with the flavours of summer pudding drowned with cream.

    Finish

    Fruity and slightly dry.

    Conclusion

    A little bit tight, but balanced.

    Right place, right time

    Overdosing on fruit at the breakfast buffet.

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