“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more”, I mutter to my long-suffering liver as we sit contemplating the four drams on the tasting table today.
Malt has warned you multiple times previously on the perils of excessive alcohol consumption. Before you read any further I’d encourage you to go back and read articles from Adam, Dora and Mark Newton if you haven’t done so before, or just as a reminder if you have. Those wise words were in the back of my mind when conducting these tastings; after all, I am no spring chicken. I was born during the Edmonton Commonwealth Games.
Now that those disclaimers are out of the way, a confession: I usually opt for the cask strength options when browsing my local retailers. An ABV percentage starting with a 5? You have my attention. An ABV percentage starting with a 6? Now you have my interest. I don’t generally add water to whisky bottled under 50% ABV but enjoy the malleability of high strength whiskies to release new flavours with the addition of water.
There is value to be found in young, cask strength independent bottlings. The spirit may not be what it could be if allowed to have matured for another decade or two, but by no means does that mean it will be bad. And after 25 years of aging, all but perhaps a few of Graham’s friends will be priced out of the market.
2020 was a big year for fans of Signatory Vintage in Australia, with a deluge of their releases hitting our shores. My theory is that with decreased foot traffic in UK retailers (and folks being hit financially by the pandemic) the independent bottler had to push excess bottles into secondary markets.
All four of today’s bottles originated from first fill sherry butts. All four are bottled at eye watering strengths in the mid-60s ABV. All four were aged either 11 or 12 years. These were tried over several nights to keep my notes coherent.
Signatory Vintage Bunnahabhain 2009 11-Year-Old Cask 900027 – Review
Distilled 2 March 2009 and bottled 28 August 2020. 627 bottles were produced at a rollicking ABV of 67.9% from a first fill sherry butt. This sold between $200-$250 depending on the retailer. All appear to have sold out in Australia.
On the nose: Rich and sweet. This nose is all cask – treacle, golden syrup, leather, mashed up sultanas. Damp cardboard but you need to dig deep to find it.
In the mouth: At first there’s that assault of alcohol, but I work through that by the second sip. This has a lovely mouth feel. There’s musk sticks, dark honey, stewed rhubarb and fruit mince pie. We are veering dangerously into clichéd Christmas pudding tasting note territory, but there you go. These clichés exist for a reason. I feel a little sorry for the water I add to this fiery cauldron, but it does bring out milk chocolate notes.
Signatory Vintage Bunnahabhain 2009 11-Year-Old Cask 900074 – Review
Distilled 17 March 2009 and bottled 15 June 2020. 591 bottles were produced at a rambunctious ABV of 67.3% from a first fill sherry butt. This sold between $200-$250 depending on the retailer. All appear to have sold out in Australia.
Colour: Pale ale
On the nose: Immediately, a significantly better balance between cask and spirit. Oily aromas emerge, with marbled chocolate, Nutella, warm cheese and onion sourdough. Wisps of barbeque smoke, buttery pastry in the finish.
In the mouth: A smoother mouth feel than cask 900027, the alcohol is much more restrained, and I’d believe the ABV was significantly lower in a blind tasting. Fruits that weren’t there in cask 900027, like kiwi and banana, apple pie, red cherries, cappuccino, beef pie filling and biltong. Adding water rounds this out with the buttery, vanilla notes from the nose emerging.
Signatory Vintage GlenAllachie 2007 12 Year Old
Distilled 24 September 2007 and bottled 31 August 2020. 615 bottles were produced at a rousing ABV of 64.3% from a first fill sherry butt. At the time of writing this is still available for $230.
Colour: Deep gold
On the nose: Boisterous; nothing shy about this GlenAllachie. Butterscotch and cream cheese blend with green apples and moss. Jam donuts and fairy floss. Underneath it all rain on tarmac on a humid day.
In the mouth: The alcohol is coy in the mouth but comes through heartily down the throat. There are spices here such as aniseed and marzipan. Then Poitin, maple syrup, dried mango coming through strongly. It’s a mishmash of flavours with no unifying theme but also, nothing off-putting. Water rounds things out with tablet and sponge cake
Signatory Vintage Deanston 2007 12-Year-Old – Review
Distilled 14 June 2007 and bottled 12 February 2020. 630 bottles were produced at a rowdy ABV of 64.5% from a first fill sherry butt. This sold between $200-$220 depending on the retailer. All appear to have sold out in Australia.
Colour: Golden sunset
On the nose: It is not an unpleasant nose and calls to mind the balance found in the Bunnahabhain cask 900074. Greek yoghurt, vanilla extract, gum leaves, artificial raspberry flavouring and quince paste. Some cinnamon and jasmine emerge the longer I leave it in the glass
In the mouth: Immediate alcohol burn on the palate, this is a meaty whisky that eschews fruitier flavours. An array of salted caramel and liquorice coated in milk chocolate. I also get crab meat, pork crackling, mushrooms fried in a ban with butter and black bean sauce. Water transforms this dram delightfully, now with more salted meats, raspberry sauce and Masala curry
Score: 7/10 (with water)
Let’s start with the two Bunnahabhains: I was pleasantly surprised by the difference between the two casks. Despite the identical scores, my preference was for cask 900074, which was more approachable and more of an everyday sipper, if such a thing is possible with an ABV of 67.3%. I dallied for a moment with a score of 8 for cask 900074 but couldn’t quite get there. Bunnahabhain’s NAS official releases can be confused affairs for my taste. But I’ve owned many independent Bunna bottlings – mostly Gordon & MacPhail – and the quality of the spirit when left to its own devices rarely disappoints.
The GlenAllachie still being available in Australia speaks to the uncertainty around this brand, though they must have an enthusiastic local importer because not too many weeks go by without notice of new releases being available down here from their official range. The price – driven by the high ABV and our local alcohol duty – may be a bit much for a brand which doesn’t engender much passion. The liquid itself delivered an enjoyable experience.
In all: a satisfying quartet from Signatory Vintage, an indie bottler with a good reputation. My hope is they hold some sister casks to these releases – particularly the Bunnahabhains – and we can check back in 5 years from now and see how they are evolving.
All prices in Australian Dollars