Earlier this week, Bunnahabhain announced the release of two new exciting limited edition expressions in the form of Bunnahabhain 2003 Pedro Ximenez Finish and 2004 Moine Brandy Finish. Well kind of. Both these releases were already announced and available directly via the distillery’s web shop last year. They sold out pretty quickly. Turns out that Bunnahabhain have been sitting on a fair few more of these limited edition bottles and are now looking to disperse them beyond the boundaries of their website – which incidentally is looking much improved since the distillery’s recent trivial logo update. So, as I’ve had both these ‘new’ bottles sitting in the bar for some time now, seems like an ideal moment to crack them open for a proper look-see.
Bottle Name: Bunnahabhain 2003 Pedro Ximenez Finish
ABV: 54.8% Distillery: Bunnahabhain Region: Islay
The 2003 Pedro Ximenez Finish is a 14 year old whisky bottled at 54.8% ABV. It has spent 11 years in 2nd fill sherry butts before being transferred into 1st fill PX casks for 3 years of finishing. Sherry on top of sherry – you should be able to guess the direction this one is going in. It is a release of 5,000 bottles and has an RRP of £85.
Nose: Big sweetness as expected. Fruitiness here is almost entirely of the dried variety - figs, raisins, prunes and dates – these sit alongside rich chocolate cake, sticky toffee pudding and molasses. Toasted hazelnuts and walnuts along with leather and dusty wood provide some additional aromas beyond the almost bottomless fathom of sherry influence. After a little resting, some buttery biscuit notes alongside something a touch meaty – marmite perhaps (more on marmite in the conclusion). The addition of water adds some light ginger in to the mix and heightens the mustiness and dustiness of the wood.
Taste: Viscous, almost syrupy and with a of body on arrival. The sugar-obsessed love affair continues anew – this is almost like a liquid dessert. Toffee sauce, a slide of black forest gateaux, berry trifle. It’s after dinner stuff certainly. The palate has a bit more going on than the nose first revealed – nuttiness is merged with earthiness in the form of some damp sappy wood and moist soils. There’s more wood influence and spicing coming through now – ginger and tingly white pepper. Everything is very much as the nose implied – dried fruits, chocolate and sugars. Water adds a level of creaminess – sugars becoming more caramel, toffees becoming more fudge. It also unlocks some underlying maltiness.
Finish: Medium in length with a very nice level of dryness. Chocolate and delicate pepper still lingering.
Bunnahabhain 2003 Pedro Ximenez Finish is going to be a marmite dram. If you’ve got a (particularly) sweet tooth you’ll probably love this rich, intense liquid-pudding of a whisky. If you’re not big of sweetness, or, the ‘sherry-bomb’ style then stay well clear. To my palate, (and I do have a fair sweet tooth), this worked well – yes, it’s incredibly sweet, but it has become not saccharine, nor cloying. It’s really rather drinkable, even at 54.8% - though will take dilution quite well also. Despite a rigorous sherry maturation regime, the 2nd fill (presumably oloroso) and the 1st fill PX feel in step with each other – overall balance is pretty good and I did not detect even an ounce of sulphur here. This all said, with sherry on top of sherry, can you discern that this is from Bunnahabhain? – probably not. Tasty it is. Evocative it is not.
The 2004 Moine Brandy Finish is a first for Bunnahabhain. Whilst the distillery has experimented with somewhat comparable casks in the past (cognac in the Taiwan exclusive ‘Frenchman’s Rocks’ for example), this is a maiden outing for brandy casks being used to finish their peated (‘Moine’) distillate. The release is a 13 year old whisky that has spent 10 years in ex-sherry butts before being finished in French brandy casks for three years. It is botted at 55.7% ABV and is a release of 6,000 bottles with an RRP of £80.
Nose: Immediately coastal, but with some sweetness – candyfloss on a beach. Starting with tangy citrus peels, this get smoky quickly – a rather intoxicating melange of soot, ash, TCP, surface cleaner and burnt rubber tyres. It walks a very fine line between sweet smoke and dirty engine rooms – in short, it feels very Moine to me. Additional fruitiness develops in the glass after a short time – orchard fruits – these are joined by overt coastal influence – salinity, sea shells and rock pools. Also developing is an underlying bready and cerealness (not a word) – toast spread with burnt butter and cornflakes. A little dilution brings up rubberiness and salinity further – bicycle inner tyres and sea water.
Taste: A slightly oily and chewy arrival that has a lot of tangy citrus upfront (lemons and limes, peels and zest). This develops into orchard apples and pears and then swiftly moves to the dark side of the force with a wave of semi-coastal, semi-medicinal smoke. It’s 50% candyshop, 50% hospital. Smoked pear drops, candyfloss next to a bonfire, sugar water mixed with Dettol. In the mid and back palate some underlying minerality develops – rock pools and wet slate. The addition of water enhances the fruitiness and brings out some Bunna nutty elements – walnuts in particular.
Finish: Long. Very long in fact. Tangy and syrupy orchard fruits with demi-sweet surface cleaner and a really rather lovely progressively drying finish.
Bunnahabhain 2004 Moine Brandy Finish has oodles of big and bold flavour, but rather cleverly manages to present itself as more subtle than punchy. It rather feels like a hybrid of Port Charlotte CC:01 shaken up with a good slug of Ledaig - Sweet, candied, dirty peat mixed with the contents of a Pirelli factory. It all works exceptionally well offering balance and intrigue in equal measure, whilst still staying close to its distillery roots. Whilst I'm naturally more inclined toward unpeated Bunnahabain, I'm finding a lot of these recent Moine releases pretty compelling. This is no exception.