This 15 year old Bunnahabhain was matured for over 14 years in an ex-bourbon cask before being subjected to an additional 5 months of finishing in a specially commissioned Rioja Octave.
Nose: Exceedingly shy and wound up tightly. This cries out to be rested. Musty red fruits – hedgerow berries and blackcurrants are joined by some patisserie aromas – iced buns, cream cakes and pastry. Earthiness is quite high here – mushrooms and musty cellars (perhaps a wine cellar?). Minerality is certainly quite expressive here, wet slates and chalk dust. Water adds gingernut and custard cream biscuits.
Taste: A perfectly reasonable arrival that focusses on stone fruits – plums, peaches and apricots – but then quickly becomes exceedingly dry and tannic. Toffee and burnt caramel are played off against some particularly pronounced steely flavours – granite, rock pool pebbles, almost aluminium tin. In the mid to back palate some interesting leafiness arises – quite earthy – ferns and mosses. The addition of water improves the balance of this whisky immensely, reducing the perception of tannins and dryiness, whilst allowing some space for further fruits (blackberries and blackcurrants) to develop.
Finish: Short to medium, crystalline sugar, crystalline minerals – joined by some gum-licking tannins and lip numbing alcohol bite.
Long-time readers will know I’m always a touch wary of wine-finishes and this Rioja Octave typifies why. Whilst the Rioja cask has inferred some new aromas and flavours, the whisky has drawn all of the tannins out of both the wood and the red wine itself, making for an incredibly drying and unbalanced experience. Undoubtedly the small cask will have contributed to this effect. Likewise, it’s important to remember the experimental nature of this series – all have been finished for 5 months and it would be most unlikely to find that this length of additional maturation was somehow perfectly suited to every single type of predecessor liquid. Alas, in the case of this Rioja Octave, the stars haven’t aligned.