brine

Springbank 15 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

springbank-15-year-old

The best drams are those that come with a sense of place. The Islay peat monsters smell like the fresh peaty air of the island on which they were made and taste like the fires the locals use to keep warm in the winter (and the summer). The drops from Speyside are as luscious and floral as the green fields which line the roads in the sunny north east (at least it was sunny the day I was there. Maybe I used up Scotland’s sunshine quota that day…)

Equally, whisky made at Springbank distillery tastes like the town in which it is made. Campbeltown was once a thriving maritime city full of trade, shipbuilding, and of course, fishing. Now, hold your horses there Whisky Waffle. Surely I’m not implying that this dram… is the whisky equivalent of fishing? Crazily enough, that’s exactly what I’m suggesting! And it works. As in really, really works.

Unlike the 10 Year Old Springbank expression, the 15 has spent its extra maturation time in ex-oloroso sherry barrels and the added complexity is clear from start to finish.

On the nose, oily, briny characteristics are immediately noticeable. There is the faintest hint of smoke, perhaps blown in from nearby Islay. The palate is gently spicy, courtesy of its 46% nature. There are flavours of caramel and pineapple contrasting intriguingly with meaty and, dare I say it, fishy aspects. The finish is pleasingly long, really encapsulating the seafaring town with notes of salt and sea-spray.

On this blog, I do boast about a range of things, but even I can’t say I have ever been to 18th century Campbeltown (or even the current 21st century edition for that matter). However, by simply pouring myself a dram of Springbank 15 and closing my eyes (don’t try it the other way around – you’ll waste good whisky!), in my mind I am immediately transported there. I can smell and taste it for sure!

★★★★

Bunnahabhain 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

Bunna 12

The world of whisky is a lexicological minefield, populated by distilleries and bottlings with all manner of weird and wonderful names. The birthplace of whisky in particular likes to play mind games with the innocent, wide-eyed bystander, the Scottish tongue bending words in ways you just wouldn’t expect.

A true prince of the pack is a distillery from Islay with a name that causes the unprepared mind to melt at the sight of it. Gather your wits dear reader and say hello to Bunnahabhain (phew!). Right, so just to be clear, that’s BOO-na-HAVen (but to really get it, here’s a helping hand from Brian Cox).

The Bunna, as it is more colloquially known, is one of the oldest distilleries on Islay, producing drams since 1881 in the village of the same name. Naturally, being from Islay means that Bunna drams are peated. Unlike other distilleries on the island, however, they aim for a far more subtle maritime nature, with the Bunna motto being ‘the gentle taste of Islay’.

Encased within a heavy black glass bottle emblazoned with the sailor logo and the Roman numerals XII (a numbering system used for their aged releases), the Bunnahabhain 12yo is the core release of the distillery. Made with water from the Margadale spring and bottled at that sweet spot of 46.3%, the 12yo brings forth a rich golden hue.

On the nose the 12yo is light, smooth, sweet and fruity, with ripe autumn apples, dates, plum jam, red grapes and raisins from the ex-sherry casking. Mixed in with the fruits are chestnuts, cashews, pistachios, dark chocolate, brine and rich oak. A veritable cornucopia indeed.

On the palate the liquid hits sharp, salty and dry, like taking a mouthful of seawater on a summertime dip. Underneath sits salted caramel, ginger, mixed peel, seaweed and a faint hint of driftwood smoke. The finish is again salty, and lingers on the tongue like the end of a day at the seaside, a mixture of brine, sweat and sunscreen.

Bunnahabhain is certainly not one of the Ileach peat monsters, choosing to keep that beast well chained in its cave. Instead it manages to sing an incredible song of its maritime environment, perfectly capturing the salt laden winds that blow in from the stormy Scottish coastal waters. The Bunnahabhain is indeed a whisky that is as complex in its nature as it is in its name.

★★★