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Monday, 30 May 2011

Islay day 8 - If you’re gonna knead the dough, you’ve gotta bake the bread...

Friday during the Feis Ile always seems like the calm before the storm of the weekend. By that we mean Bunnahabhain hold their open day in the surroundings of the north east coastline, before the madness of Ardbeg’s Saturday event at the final fling event in Port Ellen’s Ramsay Hall. The weather had turned a little colder, but by now, we were a pair of city softies carved out of wood by the unrelenting high winds and rain, which had lashed Islay for pretty much the entire trip.

In recent years (when the weather was better) Bunnahabhain have laid on a Highland games themed event with Caber tossing, welly wanging and horseshoe throwing. But this year was a much simpler affair and main attraction was the stupendous locally caught scallops, flash fried in butter and a generous measure of Bunnahabhain 12yo. Our pal Ian Buxton was also around and delivered a fine masterclass tasting, afterwards signing copies of his bestselling book, ‘101 Whiskies To Try Before You Die’. We start to compile a list of drams to make our own 1,000,001 Drams To Try Before You Expire’ tome, but realise we’d need to have started early- from birth until our 80th birthday, we’d need to sample 34 whiskies daily, not counting leap years.

Bunna’s special release this year was a 14yo, which had spent its final 3 years finishing in a Cognac cask (a first for the distillery) to give it an even more concentrated sweet, floral complexity. In addition to the festival, the release celebrates the 130th anniversary of the distillery and was limited to 472 bottles.

Bunnahabhain – Feis Ile Special - 14yo – Cognac finish – 472 bottles – 59.6%

Nose: Lovely sweetened coffee and toffee notes, with vintage polished oak furniture, light cinnamon, hot cross buns and melted butter.

Palate: A very rich oily mouthfeel, with brandy marinated blood oranges, mandarins warming spices (cinnamon and a hint of clove) and a very sweet note, which balances well against the citrus flavours. With a dash of water, oak smoked ham, coupled with some dry red wine notes.

Finish: Hints of soft brown sugar linger on the palate, with traces of spice and zestiness.

Overall: Although quite different to the regular release 12yo, this bottling shows how the spirit is robust enough to take on the fruity notes of the Cognac cask and remain true to the distillery’s character. Hopefully we’ll see further experiments with Cognac in future bottlings.

Being the main home to blended whisky Black Bottle, the brand was out in force for the day, but instead of just offering regular tastings, their team had taken the opportunity to have some real fun and bought in a couple of ‘Slush Puppy’ machines to give the blend a completely different vibe, you can see our reaction in the video below!


On our way back to the south of the Island, we stopped in to see Gordon at the Islay Woollen Mill, which was now fortunately repaired after the 100mph winds. Ridley got measured up for a bolt of Lagavulin tweed, enough to make a 3 –piece suit.

If you haven’t already visited the mill, it’s well worth a nose around- not only does it have one of the oldest looms in Scotland to look at, but Gordon is a wealth of knowledge on tweeds and tartans, having designed pieces for numerous feature films including Braveheart and The Spiderwick Chronicles. They’ll even sell you a length of Bruichladdich tweed, should you be crazy enough to have a turquoise suit made up!

In our next instalment, we ride a attempt to ride a bull, try to perfect a few Flamenco steps and enjoy the best of Ardbeg’s brand new and vintage releases.