Sensory overload

Posted 15 August 2018 by Matt / In Bunnahabhain
The Dramble reviews Douglas Laing XOP Bunnahabhain 1975 40 year old

Bottle Name: Bunnahabhain 1975 40 year old

ABV: 51%
Cask Type: Refill Butt
Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Bottler: Douglas Laing (XOP Range)
Region: Islay Age: 40

Douglas Laing’s XOP (Extra Old Particular) is described as the ‘big brother’ to the well-known Old Particular range from this independent bottler. The selection of single malts and single grains which make up this series of single cask bottlings are drawn from the company’s ‘family jewels’ – they’re invariably older, rarer and always worth keeping an eye out for in terms of a special treat. As with many independent bottlers, you’ll find that the prices for particularly aged-whiskies are much lower relative to original distillery bottlings - as such, they’re a good target for those looking for birth year whiskies – particularly if you’re getting a bit long in the tooth and were born in the 1970s.

Today’s review comes via Bunnahabhain in the form of the XOP 40 year old. It was distilled in January of 1975 (the month that both Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham joined Fleetwood Mac) and matured in a refill sherry butt (DL 10704) for four decades before being bottled in February of 2015 (when Ellie Goudling maintained the UK Number 1 spot for the entire month). The butt produced 258 bottles at an ABV of 51%. There’s still some bottles available in mainland Europe – but with quite a premium (699 – 900 Euros) – not too many have been sold at auction, but you might do better there – last summer a bottle sold on SWA for £400.

Nose: Candy shop sweetness, greenhouse fruitiness and a touch of woodwork make for particularly inviting nose. Honey laden cinder toffee and a touch of milk chocolate (Crunchie bars – yum!) mingle with estery sweetshop goodies – pear drops (ethyl acetate) and foam bananas (isoamyl acetate). This fruitiness extends into fresh and tinned apricots, mangos and poached pears. Running throughout is a slightly charred note – akin to burnt toast. It sits alongside delicate pastries – iced buns, choux pastry and eclairs. There’s a sense of confident and comforting softness here – milky latte, rich tea biscuits and suede leather. In the background, aged wood – polished mahogany, marquetry and teak oils. The addition of water heightens sweetness with more estery fruitiness, as well as pronouncing a slightly mineral, salty side – hewn granite, rock pools and some coastal air.

Taste: A rather glorious arrival that manages to be both waxy and oily at the same time – there’s lots of weight and texture here.  Fruits are up first and explode in the front palate with tart apples, fresh pears and mango puree. There’s a touch of prickly chilli pepper spice that further lifts these fruits and adds to the ‘wow’ of the arrival. The mid palate brings incredibly complexity – leather bound books, antique furniture, walnuts, salted peanuts, almond brittle, bitter ginger and a touch of distant charred smoke. There’s a lot to process here. In the back palate, nuttiness transforms into soft buttery biscuit (base), pretzels and strudel. Reduced (just a few drops) this somehow manages to become even more sensational – mouth-watering juicy fruitiness, sponge cake, cookie dough and chalky lime.

Finish: Long and continuing with soft, but perceptible wood tannins, bakery flavours and drying ginger spice.

Douglas Laing’s XOP series is known for both its well-aged expressions and its high quality. This 1975 Bunnahabhain is no exception. Of all the 40 year old whiskies I’ve been reviewing this month, this might be most moreish. It’s all very well talking about refinement and elegance when it comes to old whiskies, but here, the deliciousness is so high that these adjectives don’t quite sum up the experience. Of course, there’s depth of flavour and complexity (I filled a whole page with my initial notes), but these too feel oddly second tier – this is delectably luscious and enchantingly lovely.

Score: 92/100

Master of Malt
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