July 11, 2013

Bunnahabhain 23-Year Review - Smoky Like Sunday Morning

Smoky Like Sunday Morning

Existing as smoky beast lovers such as we are can be difficult in the summer months when trends tend toward daquiris, margaritas, Coors Light, and the other undignified yet thirst-quenching warm weather libations.  In preparation for a well-deserved summer holiday vacation, hubby and wife went searching for something both smoky and cool.  The Commodores-era Lionel Richie of single malts if you will.  Something with smoldering Islay smoke yet suitable for an early evening with toes in the pool.  Something Easy.

A. D.

Buying independent bottlings of scotch is usually a great option.  Companies like Douglas Laing, Signatory Vintage, and Berry Brothers & Rudd specialize in hand-picking their own casks from select distillers.  They take great care in barrel aging and bottle each cask at precisely the right time when the spirit is mellowed but not over-wooded and has just the right flavor.

When you buy an Original Bottling (OB in whisky-speak) from a distiller, one of their goals is brand consistency.  In other words, every bottle of Glenfiddich 18 on the shelf needs to have the same smell, taste, and color (we don't mean to pick on Glenfiddich, just chosing a brand at random...).  In the real world, barley and yeast are living things that change depending on the season and the conditions.   With cruel efficiency, the distillers must play God to combat the variability of nature.   So they do all kinds of nasty things like chill-filtering and caramel coloring.

Independent bottlers have no such restraints and produce a unique expression of each cask, celebrating the distinct characteristics of the vintage.  And folks like AD Rattray certainly possess the required expertise for the venture:

A D Rattray on Facebook

Founded by Andrew Dewar and William Rattray in 1868, A D Rattray Ltd came to represent a number of well-known Highland Malt distilleries.  In the late 1920s the partners sold the business to William Walker. Well-established as a whisky broker, Walker set about expanding the business with the acquisition of a number of smaller merchants. A D Rattray Ltd has returned to the family and is owned by Mr Tim Morrison, previously of Morrison Bowmore Distillers and fourth generation descendent of Andrew Dewar. Today the company’s principal purpose is to bottle unusual and exclusive casks of Scotch Whisky, with each one chosen to reflect the different styles of the six individual whisky regions of Scotland. Whether from Mr Morrison’s own stock or independently sourced, only casks which are found to be of exceptional quality are bottled under the A D Rattray Cask Collection label and released into selected markets.

Bunnahabhain 23

We loved the Bunnahabhain Toiteach, a great big peat bog monster of a dram and one of our first reviews on the site.  The 23-Year promised to be more refined, lighter, and according to its tasting notes at KLWines: "Supple in texture, light in fruit flavor, hints of earth and smoke, with that little kiss of vanilla on the back end."  That sounded appropriate for the east coast's current July heat wave.  Also this model was available in a half bottle, perfect to pack in an overnight bag and still leave room for wifey's weekend wardrobe.  The half bottle is also nice because for around $70, you can experience a nice old beast without breaking the bank.

Tasting Notes

Appearance: Light gold. Not the most attractive color, but we give them points for honestly with no artificial coloring.

Nose:  Granny Smith apples, lemon zest, briny ocean salt, and mild peat smoke.  Reminiscent of fishermen who convert old rowboats into smokers and grill that morning's catch right on the beach.

Body:  Delicate, sweet, with nuts, oak, chocolate, lemon cake, and stone fruits.

Finish:  The smoke that's been hiding behind the sweet layers comes alive big-time.  Almost to the point of burn but just shy, it's very pleasing and long - more peaty than smoky, a back-of-the-mouth tart herbal burst. Coming out of the smoke, the apple and citrus return for a nice well-rounded fruity and peaty finish.


With a beachfront balcony and a school of dolphins paying a late afternoon visit, a couple of rocking chairs and two glasses of Bunnahabhain is just the ticket.  At around $140 dollars a bottle, this might not be our everyday dram, but it's a great treat for a well-earned special occasion.  It has earned a solid SmokyBeast "B+".  Just right for a balance of lightness and smoke, a good choice for our weekend getaway.  Don't call us, we let the cell phones die yesterday...  /SmokyBeast

School of dolphins swim by at the beach

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