Peating the Unpeated: Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach

Music: Magneta Lane, “Broken Plates”

As a quite note on the hiatus, I have a couple of reviews to write up, but this year has been short on both money for whisky, and decent whisky to purchase. While the former has since passed, there state of new, decent whisky offerings is slim. I do have an Octomore 6.1 in my possession now, but I have yet to open it. Reviews on Bowmore Tempest 2 and 4 are coming (in a doubleheader review), but I’ve been underwhelmed by the 4, and as such, have not been motivated to write the review. Some critics relish the opportunity to slag a mediocre product; I simply become disinterested.

I’d always wondered what a peated Bunna would be like, if it would be peppery and coastal, citrus and rock, or smoky bacon and brine. I almost expected their peated offering to be sherried, much in the way of an Ardbeg: a dark bog, with hints of fruity sweetness. Instead, the Ceòbanach (at 10 years) comes out much like a Caol Ila, with the soot and citrus at the fore-front. A beauty dram, if different from their 12yo.

Nose: Sooty, fireplace-mantle-type ash and smoke. Vanilla and citrus. So unlike the Bunnahabhain 12yo, but not in a bad way.

Palate: The palate is very fresh, and bright. Not spirity, just bright with flavours of vanilla, citrus, and a silty ash. Smoke and peat are here, but more accents than anything. A beautiful dry, tart note that I’ve come to expect from Bunnahabhain. Nothing too complex, but what it does, it does very well.

Finish: The earthiness of the peat rests on your tongue, and the citrus turns into slightly salty notes to complement the smoke in your breath.

Grade: B+

A leg up on the standard Caol Ila 12, as it hits with some of that patented Bunna sourness. I’m a fan, and it makes for an excellent summer smoke dram, thanks to the brightness of the flavours.

“Everybody falls down darlin’, but I’ll stay the same for you.”

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In the Lap of the Gods: Bunnahabhain 18

Music: The Junction, “The Break Makes a Turning Point”

This 18yo really underscores something I’ve come to terms with on my whisky journey: Bunnahabhain is my dram. When I don’t have a particular craving for a peat or sherry bomb, but instead long for a good, complete Scotch, I’ve learned that I’m craving a Bunnahabhain. Their 12yo and 18yo are so well-rounded in all the flavours that make a good Scotch, that I’m always satisfied when I decide to have a sliver of Scotch, and reach for my Bunnahabhain. The 12yo is the perfect daily dram, and when I’m looking for something special, their 18yo is often what I have in mind.

Nose: Its got so much of what the Glengoyne 18 has, and then some. The brown sugar is more of a molasses with this one, something like sticky toffee pudding. Then, the sherry influence makes itself present. There is a hint of smoke, and a really great coastal salt note.

Palate: The smoothness of this dram is unparallelled. Sweetness, oak and smoke. This one comes up like a Highland and comes down like an Islay: instead of a huge sherry influence, it’s more of that port sweetness than anything. Unexpected, but very pleasant. The wood influence from the cask is strong, but again, very pleasant. Sometimes words fail you when you look for the details to describe something that hits all the right notes.

Finish: The wood influence is still there, and the backdrop is slightly sour.

Grade: A

I fell in love with Bunnahabhain’s 12 about a quarter through the first bottle. Before it had a chance to air over the better part of a month, it was a little rocky, but once it opened up, it was spectacular. Bunnahabhain’s 18 is much the same as it’s younger brother; but if I have to open it and walk away for a couple of weeks to come back to this, you better bet I’d enjoy the stroll.

“Break down, and open your heart to me–now that’s a start.”

Cozy in Copenhagen: Ian Macleod’s `As We Get It’

Music: Genesis, “It”

While on a business trip here in Copenhagen, I figured that three weeks in the same place necessitated a bottle of Scotch to enjoy as the nights grew colder. Completely fitting, too, that the most interesting bottle I came across ended up being a young Islay. Smoke and ash do well to warm a soul when the nights are a tad chilly. I liked the gimmick of this one from the start: a young Islay that could be anything, but at least you know that the seasoned whisky shop owner liked it. Even better that the lads and lasses in the shop were in conflict as to which distillery it was from. A true guessing game where your prior was unbiased by previous distillery experiences—a game I eagerly wanted to play.

Nose: Peat, light BBQ smokiness and citrus. A bit of sweet pickles, and a bit of cinnamon hearts, oddly. Plenty of coal, but the brightness of it, with the medicinal background make me say that this is easily Lagavulin. It could possibly be Caol Ila, but I’d give the edge to Lag. Somewhere in between the Caol Ila NCS, and the Lagavulin 12yo CS. Nose is a bit restrained.

Palate: Quite hot with an acetone background without water. Can handle quite a bit of water, and I recommend adding at least a teaspoon. Sweet sugary citrus, peat, smoke and salt. A real mix between the Caol Ila and unsherried Lag.

Finish: Medium, sooty and slightly sweet. Vanilla, peat and smoke.

Grade: B+

Youngens can be too spirity, and need water sometimes. Doesn’t make them worse in my books, if they do well with it; in fact, the bottle lasts longer that way. In short, a poor man’s Lag 12 or Caol Ila NCS. Nothing particularly remarkable about it to vault it into the A- region, but still a damn good peated whisky. For the price, an absolute steal.

“It is only knock and know-all, but I like it.”

The Last of its Kind: Bruichladdich 12 (2nd Edition)

Music: Teddie Films, “Dream and Shout” (“Scream and Shout” Les Miserables parody)

As I get ready to “get hitched”, I find myself looking back on the past, and wondering how much things will change after the papers are signed. It has led me to look back at some sample bottles I’ve stored from bottles long depleted to finally put pen to paper on them and write up reviews.

Nose: Gentle coastal salt and vanilla. The bourbon cask is very noticeable here. Vegetal notes. Apricot and pear. Similar to an Arran Malt. Still a bit young so as to be a bit prickly, but it’s still really good.

Palate: Sweet, barely sugar. Lemon and pear. Slight bit of varnish. Somewhat peated at the end.

Finish: Medium length, warming and tart. Lemon cough sweets.

Grade: B

This one is bittersweet, both in profile and in sentiment. There is something glorious about enjoying a piece of a distillery’s past (which, I guess, any dram is), but somewhat saddening to know that this is the last dram you’ll ever have of this chapter in the distillery’s history.  Mixed feelings, but a damn good dram. If you see a bottle sitting on a shelf this summer for a reasonable price, do pick it up, as it’s a perfect summer dram: light, fruity and sweet.

“Here we go, goin’ take this town, because everywhere we go is revolution.

A Stroke of Luck, Genius: Bowmore 15 ‘Laimrig’

Music: Daniel Mehrmann & Kara Baldus, “Missed Out”

A dirty ‘farclas. A candied Laphroaig. One of those great drams that straddles the line between two types of Scotch well: a briny, smoky peat bomb, and a sweet, rich sherry bomb. Sometimes they marry terribly, sometimes they’re well balanced. This one fits into the latter category.

Nose: Elements of salt and smoked meat, wood, and sawdust. Peaty. Sherry, cherry, berry! There’s noticeable fruit in the one, that’s for sure. The smoke on this one is a damp, hot tobacco. A bit of a solventy note, like shoe polish… Neat! This one takes time to calm down, as it’s sharp on the nose right off the pour.

Palate: Sour berries, smoked meat, peat and leather. The palate then turns to dark chocolate and pepper. A real mixture of the stormiest Islay and and the richest Speyside sherry bomb. Like a slightly younger Bruichladdich Black Art in many ways, at a fraction of the cost. It’s got more heat than the Black Art, but sometimes you have to ask yourself whether that’s a bad thing. I don’t want my whisky to be so mellow that it’s like drinking candied barley; I mean, I could just buy that instead, and it’d be a hell of a lot cheaper.

Finish: Long. Dark Chocolate, brazil nuts and sawdust. Lingering peat.

Grade: A-

I’ve come across a number of great drams lately, after what felt like a long streak of average ones. This happens to be one of those great ones. It’s not the smoothest, easiest beast to get along with, but that’s what makes it great. It is smooth, no doubt, but if you want liquid gold, you’re going to pay.  In a way, it’s like a less mature (and more briny) version of the Bruichladdich Black Art. At 40% of the price, I’d take 2.5 bottles of this over the Black Art any day. While I thoroughly enjoy the Black Art, this is a great mature sherried Islay for the budget conscious. Also, given that it is only $3 more than the 15 yo Darkest, I better not see the Ontario stocks of Darkest drop before this is sold out in Ontario… else, someone is making a grave error. Laimrig + water > Darkest, 8 days a week.

Update: About half way through the bottle now, after dedicating much of the last 2 months to exploring it, and it’s quirkiness loses some of that charm after a while. Still a great dram, but more an A- than an A. Doesn’t make it into the league of Ardbeg just yet.

“Do you ever wonder if you missed out, missed out on it? If you think it’s worth your time to try and find out, find out yourself.”

An Ardbeg Double-Shot: Corryvreckan (2013) vs. Uigeadail (2011)

Music: Queen, “Ogre Battle”

This might just be it. I might just have to except that Ardbeg is my dram. Depressing as it may be in Toronto (it is prohibitively expensive here). So much so that my stock of Ardbeg has come entirely from other provinces/countries, by the good graces of friends bringing me bottles. This Uigeadail is a follow up to the 2010 I enjoyed a year or so ago, and the Corryvreckan is a 2013. The rumours that the Corryvreckan has fallen in quality makes me a bit giddy with delight, if something this good could have been much better under the stress of less demand. It means we may see that day again, in the far off, distant future.

Ardbeg Uigeadail (2011)

Nose: More caramel and less sherry than it’s 2010 brethren. Very sweet, actually. The chocolatey bog is still here, though! Peaty goodness. Give it some time and we get a dusty sticky toffee pudding. Smoked mussels underneath it all.

Palate: Creamy, sherried and peated dark chocolate. It really has that elegance that so many other Islays fail to marry with the brute force of smoky peat.  Seaweed and a touch of salt.

Finish: Long, drying, cocoa, brine and charred wood.

Grade: A

Ardbeg Corryvreckan (2013)

Nose: This one is sweet, too, but immediately brighter. Like salted toffee. Of course, “toffee and caramel” are pretty much the same, but the key point is the brightness of hardened, crunchy, SKOR-like toffee, vs. your typically dark and chewy square caramels. The big note after the immediate sweetness is freshly-shucked oysters; that salty, briny, but bright shellfish smell. Peat and smoke hide in the background.

Palate: Peat, tar, iodine, smoke and ash. A real peat monster if there was one. The attack is somewhat sharp, but it’s more an onslaught of Islay than ethanol. As the Islay tidal wave subsides, there is this creamy, sweet and bright toffee from the nose, as well as some marmalade. How in the world does peat just wash away to leave something so delicate behind? Unbelievable.

Finish: Less drying than the Uigeadail, but just as sweet. Sponge toffee (think the filling of a Crunchie bar). Leather, peat and smoke.

Grade: A

What some would call “unbalanced”, I call magic. Ardbeg does this sort of sleight-of-hand so well with their NAS whiskies: it gives you one thing in the nose, but then completely turns the tables on the palate. Sure, there are common themes throughout, but what is bright and forefront in one, is understated in the other. Together, these two provide a complete experience: the power of Islay, with the elegance of more mainland whisky. The Uigeadail manages to marry their brand of peat and brine with what I can only describe as a Glenfarclas 15, whereas the Corryvreckan marries itself to an american oak Highland Park (something like the 10 at cask strength). Ardbeg shows again and again that “Age does not a great whisky make”. Arguably, without the age statement, a whisky has to work just that much harder to sell you, and I feel like the fine folks at Ardbeg take that to heart.

And with this, the Corryvreckan takes my #1 spot. A momentus occasion. Cue the horns!

“He gives a great big cry, and he can swallow up the ocean.”

Port Choco-lotte: Port Charlotte 10yo

Music: Summertime Sadness (Cedric Gervais Remix) – Lana Del Rey

I’ve been rooting for Bruichladdich since their plan to resurrect the Port Charlotte distillery. Of course, the An Turas Mor was my first foray into PC, due to afforadability and availability. When the Laddie Ten came to Ontario at a reasonable price, I bought 2, and shared them liberally. A great dram at a great price. Now the PC 10 is coming to Ontario, and I’m equally excited. This review comes about from a scotch night with a good friend.

Nose: Very Laddie! Caramel, leather and rubber. Creamy.  Very lightly peated on the nose, despite being young and “heavily peated”. Some Fireworks sulphur, cool!

Palate: Medium viscosity. Spicy, peat, leather, milk chocolate.  A tad sour on the end of the palate, but not overwhemingly so.

Finish: Medium, milk chocolate and peat smoke.

Grade: B+

Like the Laddie Ten, it’s a B+ for it’s uniqueness. Bruichladdich has a knack for novelty, and this is no exception. A peated Islay that has characteristics unlike most Islays, and sometimes that’s a good thing.

“Honey, I’m on fire; I feel it everywhere. Nothing scares me anymore.”