Yes, yet another finished Bunnahabhain, so nothing new, as our recent exploration of the distillery confirmed. But please bear with me as this one is a little different and ultimately démodé.
That’s the issue facing many distilleries right now with an abundance of ex-bourbon matured casks within their inventory. Scottish distilleries don’t have the luxury of the Wild West, or Ireland as its also known as, where you can fill any wood and gauge the results. With rigid discipline comes consistency and a convenient symmetry. For Scotch, this is the issue. As educated consumers, we want more, but more of the unknown, variety, experimentation and the outer limits.
Step forward the art of acing, finishing, or whatever you want to call it. As Lily Allen foresaw in 2009, everyone’s at it. Why can’t we all, all just be honest. Admit to ourselves that everyone’s on it…
Roll out the sherry cask, the rum equivalent, a seasoned cask, or the SMWS constant of a red wine barrique. While I acknowledge some cask acquisitions mean you cannot provide real detail about the previous host, legacy or contents. There does need to be a little more detail than just another line of sherry wood, like Cadenhead’s have been using since the dawn of time. But at the end of the day, it does come down to the liquid even with an air of mystery.
So, let’s break that mould and actually give you some detail.
For further information on the cask and history of the liquid, I asked Anatoliy of Scyfion, who also provided the bottle to review and share. Now then, now then, here’s detail when you ask about a cask…
So, this Bunna was distilled in October 2007 and stayed in 2nd fill bourbon barrel till April 2016 when it was transferred for a long finish in Pastoral wine cask from Chateau Purcari from Moldova. Pastoral wine is made from Cabernet-Sauvignon grape and then it was fortified with distillate. Wee prehistory… previously this wine was called Cahors in honour of French Cahors wine delivered by Tsar Peter the First from France for Holy Communion. But due to long logistics, it was fortified to preserve the wine. Since that it was traditionally called Cahors in all post-Soviet regions. Nowadays, taking into account legislation in the EU, the title of the wine was changed to Pastoral. This Bunnahabhain was bottled in July 2018 after two years in Pastoral cask.
With this on board, I asked about the decision to reduce the strength, as I know some indies do prefer to add a little water to tone things down, expand the outturn and unlock more characteristics.
The decision to reduce to 46% was based on the reason to involve the newcomers in the whisky world, with tasty easy sipping whisky matured in a traditional and well-known wine cask, with one of the most interesting Islay distilleries. Which produce smooth (even when Moine) and elegant whisky.
On the topic of cask acquisition and sourcing such vessels. This insight suggests why many distilleries rely on relationships, brokers and volume rather than quantity. Spending a great deal of time and effort for a single cask, doesn’t seem efficient to the big boys possibly?
The negotiations to buy cask from the winery it’s always a challenge. Especially if we’re talking about wineries that usually doesn’t sell casks. The first point that they don’t have too many casks and every cask is needed for reserve wines or maturing brandy. But charm and unstoppable desire, plus friends who are always keen to help, from a local drink community that is key! And money of course… Though there are a lot of examples, when the management of winery imbuing the opportunity to be the part of the experiment and in this case, the negotiations would be shorter.
So, all of this makes me think a little more than usual. We’re always told about distillery or bottler X sourcing the best casks, but where’s the proof? The definitive answer comes in the glass. And on an increasing basis, many finishes produce the consistent results that prompted the need for a finish in the first place. And if everyone is at it, where’s the differential? Great sherry casks are scarce. Rum casks seem very hit and miss. And the wine exponents can be deployed like a blunt tool, causing more damage than revival.
We should ask more questions as we’ve done here. Demand a little more insight into the origins of what’s sitting in your glass. In doing so, we appreciate such choices more and can open up new avenues of debate and appreciation. After all, we deserve better.
This Bunnahabhain was bottled by Blackadder for Scyfion in 2018. It is therefore natural colour, non chill filtered and bottled at 46% strength. The outturn was 348 bottles and I’d love to tell you if this was still available, or where you can purchase it, but maybe that’s when we can all travel again?
Scyfion Bunnahabhain 2007 – review
On the nose: a funky nose with ups and downs. Sweet and savoury in parts, hints of Mortlach and cheesy in places i.e. a hard cheddar. Old socks, oranges, red liquorice and with time raspberries. Plum jam and tart in places. Cloves, dried fruit, unused matchsticks, beef tomato and red grapes. Adding water brings out figs, a little cherry note and some red apples.
In the mouth: well, it is less winey than I anticipated. Easy drinking at 46%, dried cranberries, marzipan and a coating texture. Candied orange peel, marmalade and dried raspberries. Drying towards the end and play dough. The addition of water gives us a Turkish Delight with an extra helping of cloves.
As suggested, this really had a funky nose from the off. A real mixture and a dram that definitely benefits from a little airing in public, before digging in fully. Once it’s cracked though, there is a great deal of fun here. Sadly, what traces resided of Bunnahabhain have been firmly lashed by the pastoral cask, so anyone looking for a gentle coastal vibe with a pert kiss from a wine cask will be a little astounded and taken aback.
Whoever decided to tone this one down from cask strength and bottle at a more palatable 46% offering, made a wise decision. At cask strength, I think this would have been a wine-bomb that would trump any sherry-bombs. A medieval blood-red mouthful, which would reside on the palate for a couple of days. Thankfully, the addition of water has relieved us of that ordeal. After all ladies and gentlemen, sometimes casks have too much to say and you need to show some discipline.
Another fun and original release from this foreign bottler. A pastoral cask, whatever will they come up with next?