Bunnahabhain 30yo 1979/2009 (45.5%, Ian MacLeod, Chieftain’s, European Oak Sherry Butt #9622, 612 bottles)

Back to some wonderfully Sherried Bunnahabhain. Most of the last few bottles of Bunnahabhain I reviewed were younger and much paler (and peatier) than the bottle I’m about to review. Here we have an independently bottled Bunnahabhain from a highly active European oak Sherry butt. Even though this has aged for a respectable 30yo, and was bottled 10 years ago, I still feel 1979 is not that long ago. If you try this particular expression, it seems to come from another century, or another dimension altogether. I’ll keep it short here, because I feel a lot of words will be needed th describe the complexity of this Malt.

Color: Dark Brown.

Nose: Fresh sea air. We didn’t see that one coming now didn’t we? Remarkably fresh, mint, yup mint. The mint you get from those hard mint sweets, not freshly cut mint, you make tea of. I did think it would be a cloying heavily Sherried Malt, but it’s not. Hints of toasted oak, charcoal and tar. Creamy vanilla powder, milk-chocolate, or better, plums in chocolate and a little bit of honey as well. Old distinguished wood. Wood polish without the petroleum smell, although very far back this does seem to have some petrol fumes going on. Caramel, tar, and some bits from an ashtray. Lots of Sherried notes obviously. Soft burnt sugar and a whiff of french cheese. Sherry and tobacco. It smells like it’s from another century altogether. Doesn’t really smell like a Whisky anymore. This must have been a very active cask. Still, nicely balanced and very chic. Fruity and coal, reminding me of early seventies Longmorn mixed with well aged calvados, since it has this apply feel to it as well. Just this bit though, not the whole experience, reminds me of Longmorn. Lots and lots of aroma’s and quite complex. Log fire and hints of fatty soft smoke. You can smell this one for hours before even thinking of taking a sip. You need to be alone for this one, and certainly not rushing it. If you smell it vigorously, it becomes meaty (gravy) for a brief moment, and some unexpected citrussy notes emerge as well. Beautiful wood notes re-emerge. Hints of old warehouse with old cardboard boxes in it. Dusty, quickly masked by the toffeed fruit. Although it doesn’t seem like it at first, this is a very high quality nose, which is immensely complex and has a lot to give. Wonderful.

Taste: Quite dry and woody, but also very tasty. Slightly soapy on entry. With lots of spices and borderline bitterness. Again you’re in for a treat. I have smelled this for quite a bit now, and doing so, I warmed the glass up in my hand. Fruity, but not much. I couldn’t even tell you what kind of fruit it would be. This has been a long time in cask. Tar and tobacco and maybe some leather. Not very heavy due to the relatively low ABV. Dusty and deep. So definitely a Malt that shows the Whisky can be about the wood it matured in. The creamy vanilla from the nose is lacking here, but definitely here, is the dry tannic wood and slight bitterness. Definitely not a chewy Whisky. Old and distinguished. Like an old mens club. Phileas Fogg style. The body falls back a bit. Finishes great, which makes up for the dry start, with a nice warming aftertaste. I like it. It’s a choice. Sure this could have been bottled (much) earlier. I don’t know if it was chance or choice, this has been allowed to age further, drying out considerably, yet picking up in “style”. It will be remembered for its great finish and the fabulous nose.

If you just pick this up and drink it, and don’t give it the attention it needs, you won’t pick up half of what its got to offer. If you do give it attention and time, wow! The more air it gets though, makes this Whisky less fruity and more about the wood, so know what you’re in for when allowing it to breathe for a while. Still, this is a wonderful malt either way, that develops enormously in the glass, so I can forgive its dryness with ease.

Points: 91

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Lagavulin 12yo 1995/2008 (48%, OB, European Oak, for the Friends of the Classic Malts)

So with the longest day of the year at hand, some would say that this isn’t the time for Peat. Peat needs rugged shores, strong gale force winds and driving rain to be thoroughly enjoyed, doesn’t it? Why not take a light, grassy and lemony Lowlander instead, or even some tropical stuff? Well what can I say, I just felt like it, that’s all.

A week ago I hosted a Whisky-tasting centered around the indie bottler, Signatory Vintage. I opened some bottlings of them, which will feature on these pages soon. Of course a good tasting needs an even better after-tasting, like a good party needs an even better after-party. The after-tasting, yes you’ve guessed it: Lagavulin. The distillery that’s celebrating its 200th anniversary this year, with the release of a 8yo, which will also feature on these pages shortly.

But first this oldie (but goldie). Relatively speaking of course. This Lagavulin was released in 2008 and it took well into 2015 to sell out. It was available in shops for a whopping 7 years! Now that its gone, prices are soaring. It was available for such a long time, because there may have been a lot of bottlings around, but it also gained a bit of a reputation. A lot of people, including fans of Lagavulin weren’t very fond of this particular bottling. I consider myself a fan of Lagavulin, so I just has to open it, and try for myself! But first a thought…

Bottlings like this, baffle me to the max. All this time we hear the industry explaining to us, that colouring is done to ensure consistency in colour from batch to batch. Also, the public, when buying Whisky, or any other brown spirit, may be put off when the aforementioned spirit is too light in colour. So why then is this one-off Lagavulin, bottled in a brown glass bottle, coloured with E150, when we, the public can’t even see the colour of the spirit untill after the purchase? Boggles the mind, and mind you, don’t go around thinking that caramel colouring doesn’t affect the taste, because it does, just read Michel’s article back from the day I used to be in the “Coloured Gang”. Sure, it may be a bit lengthy, but it definitely worth it.

Lagavulin 12yo 1995/2008 FFOTCMColour: Orange brown, just like a Bourbon.

Nose: Excellent smoky nose. It starts with more smoke than peat. Sure peat is next. Earthy, sweet and fatty clay. Ashes. Nice wood, accompanied by red fruity notes and some Italian laurel licorice as well. The fruity bit smells more yellow than red. Funky chewy sweetness. Cream Sherry. Mocha cream, cookie dough and light chocolate powder. Leather. Milk chocolate shavings on vanilla ice-cream held up by the wood. Again a lovely smelling Lagavulin, which always works well when it’s matured in Sherry casks. Hints of tar and also some spices. The creamy Sherry notes overpower the spices a bit, so its hard to tell them apart. If you have read the article I mentioned above, you might remember my comments about mellowing out the aroma’s by E150. I feel that is the case here also. This Lagavulin has a nice, very nice actually, but rounded out smell.

Taste: Quite sweet and creamy on entry, quickly followed by peat and toasted cask. Small vegetal bitter note. Very nice. Lots of sweet licorice, almonds and black and white powder. Pepper & salt and definitely some smoke and nuts. Smoked nuts? Smoked sweet almonds (not the salty ones). Red cocktail cherry and a whiff of artificiality in the fruit department. The sweetness is of the typical sugar-water kind. Its fantastic on entry, but the body is losing it at bit already. Falling apart and being quite simple. In no way, has the finish the length of other Lagavulins, but the one big taste lingers on for a while in the aftertaste. However, it’s more the sweet and fruity bit, with only a hint of smoke, than the peat.

This Lagavulin has matured in first fill Sherry casks, not made with American oak. There was a time when (probably) all Sherry matured in European oak butts and puncheons, which are quite large casks. Today a lot of Sherry casks are made from American oak, impairing vanilla and giving off a more creamy feel. Also the casks made today (hogsheads) are smaller than the butts and puncheons, thus allowing for some quicker maturation.

Let me start by saying this is a good Lagavulin. It drinks easily and there is more than enough happening. I like it a lot. However, if I compare this to other Lagavulins, it isn’t the best one out there. I believe the colouring did its part in mellowing out the aroma’s and blending them together into one big (nice) taste. Nothing sticks out really. Apart from the E150, the casks themselves probably weren’t the best money could buy as well, as well as its previous contents. So for a Lagavulin its good, but nothing more than that, but it’s also a Whisky most others can only dream of producing. Lagavulin has stiff competition from… itself.

Points: 88