As of writing, Bunnahabhain is undergoing a large-scale £11m renovation effort. Wash Still no.1 has had a new Forsyths-made upper half installed, and there are plans to upgrade the distillery buildings and warehouses over the next three years. Whilst described in several places as 'scruffy' I have always found the distillery to exhibit an oddly appealing Victorian workhouse charm - you can read more about that here. In the meantime Bunnahabhain have a range of new and exciting release for us over the next few months to look forward to.
Before these new release, I’m a little behind the curve on a release from earlier in 2017. This one has been sitting in my bar for some months, and I’ve only just got around to spending some quality time with it. We’re looking a limited release which takes Bunnahabhain's peated spirit ‘Moine’ and matures it in Oloroso sherry casks. It’s an NAS and is bottled at a mighty 60.1%. Kerpow.
Nose: Eating treacle tarts whilst sitting by smoking machinery. Smoke is immediate and is sooty and ashy and very ‘engine room’ (I seem to find Bunna’s Moine this way a lot of the time). Sitting directly alongside this is a huge treacle and toffee hit from some serious exposure to quite active Oloroso casks. There’s an almost meaty note which tastes like animal hides and leathers, and a fair amount of dried berries and incredibly overripe bananas here. Meaty and fruit – like a whole meal in one! A hint of earthiness tied to the peating, and the slightest touches of coffee, chocolate and polish. With water added (we were always going to be trying that when starting at 60.1% ABV right?) the smoke becomes less prevalent, but more pungent – a dirty and salty peat now – and the dried fruits come out to play more. It’s a very different dram in fact.
Taste: Rich and pretty viscous. It’s certainly ‘clingy’ on the palate, though not immediately tannic per se. Leathers again with raisins and heavily spiced toffee apples. There’s a real pepperiness running throughout the experience, which when combined with some sweetness from demerara sugar makes for quite a lovely balance of sweet vs bitter. With water added the bite of the 60.1% is reduced, but somehow only moves us away from viscous to a rather ‘chewy’. Oak spicing is enhanced with some maritime-esque salts coming through and a very intriguing chalky taste which is both cold and metallic. Again, water transforms this dram into something rather different.
Finish: Fairly long finish which is slightly astringent and drying and favours the peppery oak spicing notes. Water doesn’t seem to alter the flavours of the finish but does reduce its length.
First of all, this is all too worryingly drinkable at 60.1%. But, a little experimentation here is a rewarding thing. It’s almost always worth playing with water to see how it influences a dram – sometimes the effects can be quite marked – as is the case with the Bunnahabhain Moine Oloroso. So marked in fact, I find it almost like drinking two very different drams. There’s great balance achieved here between the Moine spirit and the dry sherry from Oloroso casks – it works surprisingly well in producing a dry punchy whisky where neither the sherry, nor the smoke feel like they’re overdone at all. Water changes the complexion of this whisky entirely and whilst you lose some of the careful balance, the experience is transformed entirely across all aspects of the tasting experience: different mouthfeel, different sweetness, different smoking etc. A highly recommended experience. Go out and buy a bottle. In fact, buy two. This is crackerjack.