...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Single Malt Report: Bunnahabhain 16 year old 1997 Chieftain's hogshead #3181 (K&L exclusive)

Adult voices speaking in babytalk tones shriek out from Mathilda's toys over and over and over and over and over as I write this post.  I'm going fugging (per Norman Mailer) crazy.

Last week I reviewed a pair of 2015 K&L exclusive single casks (here and here) from friends' samples.  Today, I'm reviewing a single cask K&L found in 2014, and it's from my own bottle!  Bottles of this one are still on the shelves, and have an Insider's Advantage price, so I wanted to make sure I got a review out before they're all gone.  I'm straining to be relevant here, people.

In 1997, Bunnahabhain experimented with distilling some highly peated (50ppm? 38ppm, thanks Jordan!) spirit and then promptly discontinued the exercise for more than decade.  It seems as if they traded most of those peated results away to independent bottlers.  And I've really liked the results.  '97 Bunnahabhain is kinda punk.  It's scuzzy and imperfect and tends to play only power chords.  So when I read that the K&L Davids were bringing back a cask I was very excited.

And then it arrived with a $130/bottle price tag and I was a lot less excited.  My hope was that someday it would wind up on clearance and drop below $100 dollars.  Four months ago, that very thing happened.  $97 is still on the high side (though I guess mathematically appropriate), but luckily my fellow '97 Bunnahabhain geek Jordan (of Chemistry of the Cocktail fame) was willing to split a bottle with me.

So with the final two ounces of my half bottle, I did an actual tasting last week.

Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Independent Bottler: Ian MacLeod
Brand: Chieftain's
Age: 16 years (August 1997 - May 2014)
Maturation: Hogshead
Cask number: 3181
Limited bottling: 259
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 56.1%
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: No

Color - Dark gold.  In the bottle it looks almost as if it's a first fill sherry cask.

Nose - In my first pour from the bottle, all I got was bus exhaust.  Which was great.  But, onto the official nosing...  It's deep and dingy.  Charred, burnt pine.  Sometimes a little sugary (confectioners') and candied.  Orange blossoms, dark chocolate, and salty ocean air.  Big peat, but also graceful peat.

Palate - More smoke than moss.  More honed and refined than any other '97 Bunny I've had before.  Dark chocolate and mellow vanilla sweetness, but also some peppery charred beef around the edges.  There's a richness that almost seems sherried, like a sweet nutty praline thing.

Finish - Extensive vibrant peatin'.  Pleasantly subtle vanilla, sugar, and salt.  Pipe tobacco.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Nose - The burnt piney note remains in the forefront.  Burnt pan scrapings.  Pencils.  Hints of oranges and limes.

Palate - Sweeter and more aromatic.  An almost floral peat (NOT Bowmorian).  Still quite strong, a little rougher young spirit shows up.

Finish - Shorter.  Salt, slightly bitter, and peat residue.

This makes me wish more indie '97 Bunnahabhains would make their way to The States, but since this clearly did not fly off the shelves I don't know how many more of these we Yanks will ever see here.  For some reason even the peated '89 Juras sell out faster than the '97 Bunnas.  Is that due to the allure of larger age statements?

I'd recommend this bottling to those former fans of Ardbeg who have lost confidence in the single malts coming from LVMH.  I'd also recommend it to geeks who like indie Caol Ilas and Bowmores.  As mentioned in the notes, there's something sherry-ish to it.  Whatever it is, it works.  If anyone else finds this characteristic let me know in the comments.

As Mathilda's toy threatens "I SEE YOU, MONKEY" for the fourth straight time, I'm getting creeped out and will end this post thusly.

Availability - K&L Wines only
Pricing - $96.99 via Insider's Advantage
Rating - 88

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