salted caramel

Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

bunna-18

I would like to start out by saying that I am a big fan of Bunnahabhain (so this review is not going to be biased in the slightest). Yes, we all know that Islay is famous for its heavily peated drams, but I have a definite soft spot for this gentle islander.

I’ve actually been to the distillery, a few miles up the coast from Port Askaig, but to my eternal discontent I haven’t actually done the tour as we were pressed for time and had several other tours booked that day. The buildings may look rather grey and foreboding, but the people are so friendly and warm. Please pop by and say hello to them if you get a chance.

I really got a taste for Bunna on the ferry on the way over to Islay because it was the dram of the month and they were pouring doubles. Standing on deck in the blasting wind and watching the islands of Islay and Jura hove into view with a warming glass of Bunnahabhain in hand definitely leaves a lasting impression on a lad.

While I may have cut my teeth on the Bunna 12 Year Old, I recently acquired a bottle of the 18 Year Old and tell you what, it’s pretty exceptional. Bunnahabhain dials back the peat hit in favour of softer, earthier flavours. The nose is rather like tramping around the rolling interior of the island, bringing forth moss, springy peat-laden soil, wind-twisted woods and the occasional gust of salty sea breeze (plus the colour is like the dark waters of the lochs that stud the landscape).

Other flavours floating through the air include roasted chestnuts, dark chocolate, spit roasted lamb with salt and rosemary, stewed quinces and brandy-soaked raisins (sherry casking par excellence).

The mouth is quite salty, but strikes an elegant balance, like a high quality piece of salted caramel served with delicate slices of pear poached in butter and sprinkled with brown sugar. The finish is rounded, warm and comforting, like curling up on a squishy couch in front of a glowing fire on a cold night.

While I rather enjoy getting smacked in the face with a massive slab of Ileach peat, there’s something about the softer side of Islay that keeps drawing me back again and again. One day I will return to Bunnahabhain and explore it properly, but until then I will sit back with a glass of the 18 Year Old, close my eyes and be transported back to one of the most magical places in the world.

★★★★

#IslayWeek

#LetsGetPeaty

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Whisky and Chocolate: why has it taken me so long?

Posted by: Nick. Photos courtesy of Craig Johnstone

Whisky. Chocolate. Two undoubtedly magnificent creations. Why, then, has it taken me so long to realise that combining the two is the best idea hit upon since a particular Bill Lark fishing trip?

Enter Ian Reed, organiser of tenuous themes for Whisky Business, who decided the night’s proximity to Easter was as good an excuse as any to bring along chocolate bunnies to the next gathering.

While the selection of whiskies was sure to be excitingly varied, the selection of chocolate turned out to be less so, although this was through no fault of mine or Craig’s, who both brought some excellent blocks (disclaimer: mine was slightly more excellent). Ian gathered everyone together. It was time to begin.

Whisky n Chocolate dram 1

Whisky number one, it transpired was the Scapa 16 Year Old, a lovely and easy drinking Orcadian drop. However tonight I couldn’t help but notice an intriguingly pleasant bitterness about it, so selected an equally bitter 70% dark chocolate to accompany it. My results were as follows:

Bitter + bitter = not bitter!

Strangely enough, together the two bitter flavours cancelled each other out and left smooth and sweet strawberry and melon notes I hadn’t noticed before. A win for the paring!

Whisky n Chocolate dram 2

Whisky number two was immediately picked by Craig as a rum barrel finish, which was either a lucky guess or proof that he knows his stuff. The whisky was a 15 Year Old BenRiach, which had indeed been finished in rum barrels. I selected a Lindt Salted Caramel to accompany it.

Rum barrel + salted caramel = tropical punch!

Apparently the secret to unlocking the fruit flavours in the rum finish was a block of salted caramel chocolate! Two out of two for the chocolate paring!

Whisky n Chocolate dram 3

Whisky number three had been matured in sherry casks, this much I could tell. I quickly ruled out Glenfarclas and took a stab at another famously sherried whisky: Glendronach. Imagine my pleasure (read: smugness) when it turned out to be the Glendronach 18 Year Old (Big Sam) Allardice. One sip gave away the Olorosso maturation. It was dry. As in really dry. And I loved it. I went for the strong stuff. 90% dark chocolate. No messing around here.

Dry whisky + dry chocolate = the Sahara desert.

I suspected that one ingredient may make the other sweeter in comparison. I was wrong. This combination could not even be crossed upon a camel. And I loved it. Three out of three.

Whisky n Chocolate dram 4

After a short break filled with science jokes from Bish, and vaguely Easter-themed jokes from Rosie, we moved onto whisky number four: the clue from Ian being that its name was Gaelic for ‘natural’. Because I speak fluent Gaelic (or because I’ve read it on the internet) I immediately realised we were trying the cask strength Glenlivet: the Nadurra. I needed a feisty chocolate to compete with this, so selected my own contribution: a fancy and fully-flavoured Anvers salted caramel chocolate.

Strong whisky + strong chocolate = Pirates of the Caribbean!

Ok, yes, by this stage of the night my pairing notes were starting to get, shall we say, ‘creative’, but hear me out. I mean this in a way that these two flavours did not go together. At all. In fact they clashed. In fact, they clashed entertainingly, one might even say ‘swashbucklingly’ (if one could pronounce such a word at this end of the evening). Hence: Pirates of the Caribbean.

Whisky n Chocolate dram 5

Whisky number five, the final dram of the evening, was wonderful. There was subtle peat on the nose, mild sweet spices on the palate, and a warm lingering finish. It had to be Laphroaig, and as it turned out, it was the 18 Year Old. It was a wonderful dram and I paired it with the 70% dark chocolate. At this point of the night, the equation was simple:

Whisky + Chocolate = awesome.

I don’t think I really need to explain this one.

Five out of five.