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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Single Malt Report: BANFF!! Twice

Oh Banff, the poor ol' distillery, always getting its ass kicked like Officer Nordberg.  It survived a massive distillery fire in 1877.  It survived a thorough bombing by the Luftwaffe in 1941.  It survived a still explosion in 1959.  But in 1983, it did not survive the incorporated genital wart that is DCL/Diageo (Ed.: Dude, let it go already).  And, just for good measure, the abandoned building caught fire in 1991 and then was bulldozed.

There haven't been many Banff releases in recently.  Whiskybase shows only 11 total indie casks released in the past four years.  Winesearcher shows only one store selling a Banff in the US (for almost $2000).  I could say that now would be a good time to go Full Hipster and get into Banff before it becomes the next big ticket dead distillery, but there's really not much of an opportunity to do so.

I obtained two samples of Banff right around the same time last year so I tried them together as I huddled in my secret winter East Coast hideaway.  First, here's a 1974 G&M Connoisseurs Choice mini with the "old map label", meaning it was bottled before 1997 (I think).  Many many thank yous to Cobo for sharing this with me.

Distillery: Banff
Ownership: DCL (proto-Diageo)
Independent Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail (Connoisseurs Choice)
Region: Speyside (Deveron)
Distillation year: 1974
Bottling year: ???, before 1997
Maturation: probably not first fill casks
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

The brass-colored whisky's nose has some nice old stink to it, like moldy honey and manure.  Those notes are soon followed by perfumy dish soap, orange oil, and vanilla.  But with more time, all sorts of scents begin to escape from the glass: cucumber, hay, toasted barley, pencil graphite, sea air, and something vaguely meaty.  The palate has some of the old stink as well. Maybe some dry sherry too? But nothing stronger than a re-re-refill cask.  It has a light bitterness and citrus tang.  It's a bit thin texturally, but has solid notes of coffee, ground black pepper, whole wheat bread, Cow Tales (think vanilla and caramel), and Lucky Charms "marshmallows".  The finish is brief at first, but seems to get longer with subsequent sips.  It's sugary and lightly tangy, but also bitterer than the palate. The coffee, pepper, and hay notes linger on, as do barley and smoked toffee.

This probably was a light charming whisky when first bottled 18-20 years ago.  Now that the old dusty stuff has developed, the whisky has likely become more layered.  I welcome those dirtier notes and the general lack of wood and wine influence.  As I referenced in the notes, I do have a nagging feeling there were refill sherry casks in the mix; and the pepper note rung sort of sulfurous.  Some fun stuff going on, but the low ABV keeps it from really blasting off.

Next, I purchased a sample of a Cadenhead Banff at a LASC event.  Though this Banff may have been bottled around the same time as the G&M, it's a different beast.

Distillery: Banff
Ownership: DCL (proto-Diageo)
Independent Bottler: Cadenhead (Authentic Collection)
Region: Speyside (Deveron)
Age: 21 years old
Distillation year: 1976
Bottling year: 1997
Maturation: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 57.3%

Its color is that of a five-beer piss.  The nose buzzes with bright notes.  First there's fresh watermelon, cucumber, and papaya.  Then confectioner's sugar, cinnamon, citron, and black licorice.  Then, after more than 30 minutes in the glass, the whisky releases fresh-cut grass and grapefruits.  The palate gets dirtier.  Dingy sweet spicy tangy malt with a very oily mouthfeel.  The dark dank (musty moldy) note that had escaped the nose arises here, followed by lemons and peppercorns.  Sticky toffee with orange zest.  Green garden herbs and sugar, like herbal candy.  The finish is loooooong, though simple.  Spicy, sweet, citric.  Then grassy with a hint smoke.

This one is wild.  The nose is plum gorgeous.  The palate is a dark stinger.  And the finish hums pleasantly.  For those who are familiar with such things, this was one of those old green bottles that sat on a random liquor store shelf for a decade-plus before someone smart spirited away with it.  The LAWS entry is the only thing online about this whisky (the lone Malt Monitor entry is by Dave who is also part of LAWS).  And I liked it a lot more than they did; maybe something went wrong with their bottle because the nose seems to have been DOA on theirs.  In any case, I loved this one.  If it didn't lose steam in the finish, the whisky probably would have made my all-time Top Twenty.

So, two Banffs: one good, one excellent.  Some of the difference in quality may have been due to the bottling strengths.  Otherwise both were spirit-forward zippy whiskies that I would be happy to purchase if I could find them at their original 1990s prices.

BANFF 1974 G&M CONNOISSEURS CHOICE (old map label)
Availability - Happy hunting!
Pricing - 700mL bottle will likely be over $300 nowadays
Rating - 85

Availability - Happy hunting!
Pricing - may have been $145 back in 2008
Rating - 91