Greetings, folks! Connas here again with a round up of the whiskies which marked the first ever Malt Gallery from Distell. No doubt you’ll all be up to date with my shenanigans from the launch night in That London a while back. Here are my thoughts on the constituent whiskies!

Bunnahabhain Background

I like me some Bunna! It’s a robust, dark and fruity spirit from the north coast of Islay that’s sometimes overlooked due to its spirit being mainly unpeated (other than one weeks’ worth of Mòine production per year) while most its fellow islanders are famous for smoke-filled whiskies direct from the firepit of flavour bombs. I still urge newcomers to beware of big flavour regardless of the lack of smoke!

However, one of these two examples come with an extra warning. It’s spent time in *shudders* wine casks. I must be honest with you here, Loungers, I’ve had some bad experiences with wine cask maturation, so – for me at least – this first Bunnahabhain needs to earn its stripes! Let’s go…

Bunnahabhain Mòine (peated spirit) 2008 Bordeaux Cask Matured, 58.1%, £75

Colour: Copper in front of a glowing red coal fire.

Nose: A whiff of ash makes way for dark dry fruits, raisins, dates. Sticky dark caramel is cut by sharp lime and salt…

Palate: Rich! (what else?!) More peat than the nose would suggest, a second of lime cordial, then a coating of those dry fruits in toffee. Black pepper and pungent dark sour cherries and dark chocolate with the slight fade of cigar smoke…

Finish: Dry and husky, baked plums and faintly acidic wispy oak, wispy wine stained oak as it happens… For a long time… Hold on, there’s a touch of chocolate limes right at the very end too!

Comment: It’s a good dram, it has complexity, it has peat, it has richness. It just hasn’t quite turned me from red to green as far as wine cask maturation is concerned, there’s a sour dryness to it that has yet to win me over. And at the very least, I’m confident that it’s older sherried stablemate will have more appeal to my palate!

Onwards!

 

Bunnahabhain 2003 Palo Cortado Cask, 54.9%, £275

Colour: Brass

Nose: Salted butter, toasted nuts with a slight edge of sour cream and mint yoghurt. Earthy notes, not quite peat smoke, but rough soil with occasionally sprouting and diminishing fresh lemongrass and a background of Christmas spices…

Palate: Mmmmm, that’s my Bunna! A cold, oily, rich shock of butter coats and melts to unveil white plums, pears, honeycomb and blackcurrant preserve. The (not quite peat smoke) earth is back with a sharper edge of salted, sour citrus which almost paradoxically invites back the blackcurrant and merges wonderfully into a clearing coat of olbas oil on a cold day at an allotment.

Finish: A medium finish with a sweet and sour theme, candied fruits and preserved lemons, with the faint memories of an old packet of tobacco in a forgotten drawer in the allotment shed…

Comment: I’m a happy drammer right now people: lovely, thick, sweet whisky with a salty edge where it needs it. This is the kind of Bunna I love! Great whisky.

 

Ledaig Background

Ledaig, pronounced as we now know (thanks to the philosophical musings of one Mr Stephen Woodcock) as “Lay-chick”, hails from the Tobermory distillery on the Isle of Mull and is traditionally known as “Peated Tobermory”. And I’ve really been impressed with offerings of similar specifications, so let’s see how these two fare…

Ledaig 1998 19yo PX Cask Finish, 55.7%, £150

Colour: Copper

Nose: Metallic, engine oil, spiced plums and cold earthy smoke make way for a deeper blackberry whiff in the background.

Palate: Initially currants and raisins in treacle, then a cascade of candied citrus, oranges, lemons and even a touch of lime appearing with a suggestion of milk chocolate. All this is subtly followed by a far-off hint of vanilla with a pleasant, medium-smokey blanket.

Finish: Medium to long with great balance: citrus and cinnamon cling on for dear life, then clove takes hold until bedtime.

Comment: Well, I’m far from disappointed. I’ve long been an advocate of Ledaig distilled in the mid to late ‘90’s and I’d happily rate this among my favourite examples. Marvellous!

 

Ledaig 1998 19yo Oloroso Sherry Cask Finish, 46.3%, £130

Colour: Amber

Nose: Thicker on the dry fruits with the odd waft of fresh berries. Faint smoke appears for a second and is enveloped with blackcurrant cordial.

Palate: Sweeter than the last one, dried apple and currants with a slight dusting of sugar, subtle jerk seasoning spices led by black pepper and a gentle covering of sweet, dry, berry smoke from a bonfire on a cold spring day.

Finish: The short side of medium, brambles and fizzy smoke fade to a tarter orangey note.

Comment: I think I just preferred the other one on this occasion. Still great, but pipped to the post by its more pungent colleague. Still though, mid to late ‘90’s Lediag, don’t say I didn’t tell you…

 

Deanston Background

Deanston is a great place to visit, far from your traditional looking distillery. It’s an old Cotton Mill just outside of Stirling on the River Teith and is the largest of the Distell Distilleries. Interestingly, the whisky isn’t the only thing that they use water from the river for, it also drives a hydro turbine which produces all the electricity for the site. This offering has spent the last 2 years of its maturation in Brandy Casks.

Deanston 2008 Brandy Cask Finish, 56.4%, £60

Colour: Hay

Nose: Dry and oaky to begin with, then tumbles between grapes and raisins. Somewhere, there’s a citrusy-spiced butter note in there too… Intriguing…

Palate: Rich toffee and dry fruits are the headline, and there’s an underlying freshness that is kept in check with stronger oaky influence also. Hmmmm…

Finish: Those dry fruits persist, and sweet spices fade with some woody vanilla. Once again there’s the hint of soft fruits, mandarin (even melon?) but they’re very much on the side-lines.

Comment: I can comfortably say that this is the best whisky I have ever had out of Brandy casks – it being only the second whisky I’ve ever had out of brandy casks! I think this Deanston is proof that there can be room for fruitier and spirit-driven characteristics to shine from maturation with Brandy Casks. That balance has not quite been achieved yet, but in my opinion, they’re on their way… And I’m sorely tempted to follow them.

 

Tobermory 2005 12yo Fino Cask Finish, 56.4%, £110

Am I allowed to say ‘Unpeated Ledaig’?! Just kidding, the only distillery on the Isle of Mull was founded in 1798, which makes it one of the oldest in Scotland. Famously, the distillery was forced to temporarily halt production in 2012, as a lack in rainfall meant that the Loch from which their water is collected could not sustain them! Thankfully, as is the way in Scotland, that didn’t last for too long…

Colour: Copper

Nose: A blast of orange zest quickly makes way for a savoury cottage cheese note. Then a slight coastal burst of salt with a sweet honey dryness.

Palate: Almost paradoxically, an initial savoury blast followed by autumnal berries, blackberries, currants and greengages all flash by as if they were supposed to melt into the dark chocolate that follows. Then back to that salty cheese note, more of a hard cheese this time around (I kind of wanted the nuttiness to return too, but hey ho…), and some far-off wisp of a slightly perfumed smokiness.

Finish: Dry, but long-lasting: that orange peel is back, with black cherries, dark chocolate and old wood chippings.

Comment: I like it. Admittedly, I’m lacking in experience with sherried Tobermory, but this one has all the trappings of a solid PX-finished whisky. Although it may lack (but only slightly) in complexity, it certainly grabs you by the palate and takes you on the journey you’re expecting, with a few nice surprises on along the way. Good stuff!