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Friday, April 26, 2019

Bunnahabhain 20 year old 1997 Palo Cortado Finish

I'm a fan of the Bunnahabhain's 1997 experimental peated distillations. It's big and dirty whisky. Or at least it was when it was younger. I'm more used to the 13-15 year old range of the stuff. But suddenly...it's over 20 years old?! That's terrifying. What happened? What are all these gray hairs in my beard?
above the boat captain...in the reflection...there's a crooked old man...
I had thought all that spirit was sold off to blenders and independent companies. Or maybe it had and now the distillery has bought some back? I think this is the first official release of that distillate. There was a 2017 Feis Ile bottling (finished in virgin oak, WTF) but the tasting notes I've read show no peat.

The distillery opted to give this small batch a finish, or secondary maturation, of "almost" two years in Palo Cortado casks. Palo Cortado is an unusual and interesting sort of sherry, and I'm going to direct you to SherryNotes for a deeper dive. Style-wise it sits between Amontillado and Oloroso, and should not be very sweet.

Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Distilled by: Highland Distilleries Company Ltd.
Current Ownership: Distell Group Ltd.
Region: Islay, but not the Sexy South

Age: 20 years (22 Nov 1997 - 26 Apr 2018)
Maturation: 19 years in "traditional oak whisky casks", then less than two years in Palo Cortado casks (size not specified)
Alcohol by Volume: 54.9%
Outturn: 1620 bottles
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(Thank you to Matt W for the sample! Additional note: after being a bit quirky upon opening, this bottle was left to sit for three months before this sample was poured)

No smoke on the nose, instead it's more organic, like moss and seaweed. Delicate sherry notes. Walnuts, brine and a hint of prunes. Orange blossoms. The expressive palate starts with smoked meats and little bit of red curry. Then lime juice and very dry cheese. Marijuana and marzipan in the background. Dried berries show up later on. Smoked meat and smoked nuts in the finish. Ginger, chile oil and limes.

Going to take this down to regular Bunny strength.

DILUTED TO ~46.3%abv, or about 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose starts with moss, earth and flowers. Then sticky candy and ground mustard seed. Hints of wood smoke and gunpowder. The palate has become much sweeter with a hint savoriness. Think brown sugar and bacon. Lemon candy, salt and a little bit of moss. The finish is sweeter too. A little tangy and salty and mossy.

It's almost two whiskies for the YOOOOGE price of one. The diluted version is simpler but a real joy to drink. The neat version would be a thinker more than a drinker were it not so thunderous. But it's not really peat that causes the (entertaining) ruckus. Instead it's the bold spirit and a reserved parcel of casks causing mischief. In fact my notes have me doubting how many of these casks held the 50ppm-peated-malt spirit. (Or 30ppm, as per Jordan, who is probably right.) This reads less phenolic than many similarly aged Springbanks and Ardmores. Could they have blended a couple unpeated casks into the vatting? No matter what's in the mix, this is another great official Bunnahabhain. If it were one-third the price, I'd buy a bottle!

Availability - A couple dozen retailers worldwide
Pricing - Europe: €350-€550 w/VAT; USA: $500-$600
Rating - 89