New Whiskies

Batch 155

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Batch 155: Bunnahabhain, HAH, AD Rattray The Octave Project

It’s a Bunnahabhain bonanza this week as Dave Broom turns his gaze on six independently bottled single malts from the Islay distillery, including five from a fascinating maturation project using a range of smaller octave casks.

But we start with the oldest Bunna’ of the week, a 27-year-old distilled in 1989 and bottled under the resurrected Higginbottom or HAH name, recalling Victorian whisky maker Henry Albert Higginbottom. ‘A delicious glass,’ says Broom.

Now for the octaves. Bottler AD Rattray took a 14-year-old Bunnahabhain ex-Bourbon hogshead, and split it into five parts, keeping one as a control sample and finishing the other four for five months in 50-litre octaves (a similar exercise was undertaken with whisky from Pulteney and Arran).

The four octaves were specially commissioned from coopers, and were made using staves from larger casks that previously held oloroso Sherry, PX Sherry, Rioja wine and rum. The aim was to see what would happen as a result of a short burst of amplified interaction between wood and whisky.

All four, plus the 14-year-old control sample, are sold in an Octave Project Little Dram Set (5 x 30ml miniatures), while the four octave-finished whiskies are also on sale as 70cl bottles – all available from AD Rattray’s website.

It’s a ‘fascinating exercise and should be applauded’, says Broom, reserving particular praise for the Sherry finishes and the original Bourbon cask sample.

The laid-back flow of these six unpeated Bunnas is reflected in the Spotify soundtrack for the week, led by Gene Clark and featuring the accomplished support of Dennis Wilson, JD Souther and Lyle Lovett. Click on the links in ‘Right Place, Right Time’ to access the playlist.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Bunnahabhain 27 Years Old, 1989, Cask #7719, (HAH)

    Bunnahabhain 27 Years Old, 1989, Cask #7719, (HAH)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    41.0%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Sweet certainly, with light, malty back notes that morph into the smell of crisp linen, alongside the dry note of orange pith. Becomes more estery and sharp; there’s now verjus, green grape, perry and banana skin. Water brings a ginger juice element forward, alongside more of those fresh fruit salad elements – melon this time, and maybe just a touch of kiwi fruit giving a pleasing green edge, which is surprising given the whisky’s age.

    Palate

    Much the same routine to start with, though the maltiness is a little more prominent, reminiscent of wholemeal scones with thick (salted) butter. This continues onto the mid-palate, where that dairy note is churned into cream and the citrus/apple/ginger thing starts to be released on top. Water adds in a slightly sandy, dry quality and some hay, but without the loss of the fresh fruit.

    Finish

    Zesty and clean, with a bittersweet nutshell bite.

    Conclusion

    Spring-fresh and a delicious glass from this revived bottler.

    Right place, right time

    Echoes of springs long gone.

    Bunnahabhain 14 Years Old (AD Rattray)

    Bunnahabhain 14 Years Old (AD Rattray)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    57.1%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Availability
    As part of Octave Project Little Dram Set
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Light and softly sweet opening, with perhaps inevitable nose prickle (at 57%, you’d expect nothing less), although that doesn’t detract from the calm undertow of vanilla and subtle spices. Once again we have Bunna’ in gently flowing, fruity guise; fresh banana and ginger root, cut dessert apple and cut grass. It needs time (and water) to shrug off the alcohol and change that fresh apple note to apple sponge and to add in a light charred element, while some musky scents at the back add interest and suggest that there’s more in here than initially meets the nose.

    Palate

    There’s a hot start, with the alcohol adding to the mix of light mint, citrus and sugar-boosted ginger accents. This sudden blast quickly calms down as it expands, slowly adding sweetness, a light touch of custard, then tarte tatin drizzled with single cream. Water calms things even more, making the whole experience slow, gentle and very softly textured as it now spreads fully across the tongue. This dilution also manages to add depth, bake the fruits some more, and add in touches of dried red fruits and some light caramel toffee.

    Finish

    Slightly hot, with some elderflower cordial.

    Conclusion

    A range of subtle complexities. One to take your time with. Excellent.

    Right place, right time

    Relaxing on the bank listening to the River’s Song.

    Bunnahabhain 15 Years Old, Oloroso Octave (AD Rattray)

    Bunnahabhain 15 Years Old, Oloroso Octave (AD Rattray)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    55.1%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    Soft, with some Sherried funk from the off, this fuzzy mix of wet wool, dried fruit, ginger marmalade and chocolate chip cookie. Still slightly hot, but there’s enough of the softness of the original cask to give some control. There’s a sense of greater solidity and the Bunna’ being bulked up. The mix of fig roll, apple skin and sultana is brought out with the water, but there’s an intriguing restraint.

    Palate

    A sweet and muscular start, the oloroso cask has added grip and weight, changing the aromatics: the ginger is now powdered, the apple stuffed with raisins and cooked in the oven, the figs oozing in their own syrup. Once again it expands slowly, sweetening all the time, adding in praline, light almond and light red fruit. There’s complexity at work here, and while it is bigger than the original, it isn’t ponderous or dry. The addition of water (only a drop or two) shows how well-balanced all the elements are: tea bread, fresh and dried fruits together, sweet tannins, then minty chocolate and liquorice strap.

    Finish

    Long, balanced and rich.

    Conclusion

    Bulked up in Octave’s gym, there’s a comforting familiarity about this. Recommended.

    Right place, right time

    Slowly pumping weights while singing to a Spanish Guitar.

    Bunnahabhain 15 Years Old, PX Octave (AD Rattray)

    Bunnahabhain 15 Years Old, PX Octave (AD Rattray)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    55.1%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    Sweetly fruited and liquorous: strawberries dipped in chocolate, crossed with Fry’s Chocolate Cream, stewing plums and then some red apple. The heat is less noticeable, allowing a rich, velvety, cooked and dried fruit element to take over. There’s added sweetness with water and more Sherry-style funkiness. Bold and rich.

    Palate

    As the nose suggests, the octave has shifted things over to the dark side: fresh, black hedgerow fruits, some blueberry on the tip of the tongue and then that same progression in the middle as it expands, this time with dried fruits (raisin, prune) while all the time a light fragrance carries through. The tannins are chewy tannins and, by the back-palate, you’re picking up light walnut and toffee. Water adds to the overall sweetness, adding breadth as well as some damson and a general juiciness.

    Finish

    Lightly singed/ well-fired fruit cake.

    Conclusion

    The PX has added a dominant dark depth, while binding well to that sweet fruity core. It wears its heart on its sleeve.

    Right place, right time

    A walk in the sunshine, then with the length of her mind, She Darkened the Sun.

    Bunnahabhain 15 Years Old, Rioja Octave (AD Rattray)

    Bunnahabhain 15 Years Old, Rioja Octave (AD Rattray)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    55.9%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Surprisingly quiet and with less colour uptake than you might expect. There is, however, a distinct upping of the spice component: nutmeg, cassia, nigella and more obvious (and slightly dusty) wood. That said, we are now back to sweet vanilla elements, which come across like Victoria sponge with strawberry jam. It is quite shy and reluctant to emerge fully from the (blackcurrant) bushes – though the addition of water does give it a little more confidence – and sweetness.

    Palate

    Though slightly vinous and powdery to start with, it’s worth persevering as you start to notice Turkish Delight and violet chocolate that leads to a concentrated mid-palate, filled with the buzz of roasted spice. There’s a fair whack of heat, though, and it does need to be calmed with water. Do that and not only are things much sweeter, but also more delicate, with more of the red fruit element, still that hint of apple, but more obvious influence from the wine. It also has better length.

    Finish

    Strawberries galore and also wood.

    Conclusion

    There’s a slight tussle here between the wood, the wine and the whisky. Maybe a little longer in cask would have given better integration.

    Right place, right time

    He sat quietly at the bar, occasionally brushing desert dust off his jeans. ‘There’s a New Kid in Town,’ someone whispered.

    Bunnahabhain 15 Years Old, Rum Octave (AD Rattray)

    Bunnahabhain 15 Years Old, Rum Octave (AD Rattray)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    55.4%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    The lightest in terms of colour and the most overtly citric – lime hulls are especially prominent. Behind that is a pretty dry note akin to sun-dried timber, then fresh ginger, some banana and apple. There’s certainly a rummy element here, a light, clean, citric one filled with grass and bamboo. When you add water, you pick up a hint of scented face cream and a slightly metallic hint. It’s a little edgy.

    Palate

    That bite isn’t as noticeable when you take your first sip. Rather, you get sweet banana chews and more of the estery qualities of the original cask and, while the octave seems to have added a drying element, it is the inherent sweetness of the spirit that’s winning out here. In time, you get some tangerine and pear (we’re also back to apple again), and a new peachiness. Water pulls the elements more tightly together, especially in the middle of the tongue.

    Finish

    Lightly acidic. The rum comes through. Slightly hot.

    Conclusion

    The lightest (and the driest) of the collection and, for me, another that’s not quite fully developed. That said, this has been a fascinating exercise and should be applauded.

    Right place, right time

    All in all, An Acceptable Level of Ecstasy.

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