K&L Exclusive Casks from Islay Icon Bunnahabhain – K&L Scotch Whisky News

K&L Exclusives: Fabulous Bunnahabhain Single-Cask Expressions

“A stunner in a long line of exceptional Staoisha casks from Signatory.”
— K&L’s Andrew Whiteley on the 8-Year-Old

“I just can’t believe this thing is only ten years old. So much going on here—this bottle will keep giving and giving for ages.” — K&L’s David Othenin-Girard on the 10-Year-Old

Right up there with Hart Brothers and Old Particular, Signatory is one of our all-time favorite independent bottlers, and we’ve just secured two more spectacular exclusive casks of Bunnahabhain from their cherished stocks. Some of our greatest bang-for-the-buck single barrels in recent years have come to us through this top-tier Islay distillery, and this pair is no exception. Looking first at the Staoisha 8 Year Old, it’s an all-star dram made for the hardcore peat fan. While other coveted names in the peat game have all but disappeared from the independent market, the Staoisha pipeline is humming along, bringing us wonderful peat monsters like this dechar/rechar hogshead, which “gives it another level of complexity,” per our own David Othenin-Girard. The 2012 Bunnahabhain 10 Year Old is yet another spectacular treasure from one of K&L’s most beloved Islay distilleries. Andrew explains, “In a short 10 years, this has become a bomb of flavor from an epic distillery in an equally epic sherry butt.” While the demand, and consequently the prices, for Islay have jumped considerably in recent years, these impeccable casks still come in at a relative bargain that no hardcore Scotch connoisseur will want to miss.

2013 Staoisha (Bunnahabhain) 8 Year Old “Signatory” K&L Exclusive Dechar/Rechar Hogshead Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky (700ml) ($89.99)

K&L Notes: Islay’s Bunnahabhain, historically, was a fairly heavily peated malt. From the 1960s onward that peat faded into an unpeated version that is the backbone of the brand’s official bottlings today. With the renewed interest in all things peat and smoke, the distillery reintroduced production of a heavily peated malt, which can be mainly found in the Toiteach bottling. This smoky spirit only makes up approximately 20% of the distillery’s production and is therefore in somewhat short supply. Fortunately for lovers of independent casks, some of these young heavily peated distillates have found their way onto the open market. Many have been snatched up by our friends in Pitlochry, Signatory. Indeed, we’ve purchased a number of them from the famous bottler, and they are a delight for fans of heavy peat smoke. At a delightful and smoke-appropriate eight years old, these Dechar/Rechar casks are really beginning to sing. If you’ve loved these in the past, you won’t want to miss this iteration.

Andrew Whiteley | K&L Spirits Buyer | Review Date: October 27, 2022

If you’ve followed along with our single cask program over the last five years or so, you’ll already know these casks. If you haven’t, this is the perfect introduction to Bunnahabhain’s incredible heavily peated style. While they’ve been overtly delicious for years, this 8-year-old iteration takes the cake. It drinks like a cross between cask-strength bottlings of Laphroaig and Talisker—downright smoky and salty. It smells like being on an old, tall ship that is about to pull into harbor. The dechar/rechar cask imparts an intensity similar to a first-fill Bourbon barrel with lots of vanilla and caramels, but the salty sea kelp powers through here. Remarkably, there is a flash of bright malt on the forefront of the palate that cuts through the smoke in a considerable way, adding tremendous sweetness to the attack. It slides into a burst of citrus peel and vanilla. A stunner in a long line of exceptional Staoisha casks from Signatory.

David Othenin-Girard | K&L Spirits Buyer | Review Date: October 21, 2022

The awesome Staoisha malt clocks in at around 40+ ppm and is distilled on Bunnahabhain’s gorgeous, old, onion-shaped stills. That puts it on par with Ardbeg as one of the special Island’s peatiest whiskies. But aging that ultra-peaty malt in this dechar/rechar hoggie gives it another level of complexity that some of the less active wood types do not provide. Considering the absolutely delicious and unique character of the spirit, it’s a bit of a shame the distillery doesn’t do more with this ultra-smoky style, but no matter if we can keep getting these casks out of our bottlers. Let’s have a go with it. The color is a gorgeous, deep gold. The nose offers an absolutely unending array of green herbal and smoky flavors—wormwood, dill, smoked kippers, salted licorice, meadowsweet, camphor, mesquite, bandaids, and lime zest. On the palate, it starts surprisingly sweet before picking up some blustery, fresh peat smoke and wild, almost diesel-like mechanical character. Unsurprisingly, water brings out a lot of character, subduing the forward, fresh peat and adding lots of citrus and salty character. Big vanilla notes hang around behind that with some really fabulous roasted clove character as well. On the palate, there’s still plenty of smoke, but lots of oily lemon and a very voluptuous texture. We’re not getting single casks of Ardbeg or Port Charlotte on the market these days, but with these Staoishas on deck, you’ll hardly even notice.

2012 Bunnahabhain 10 Year Old “Signatory” K&L Exclusive 1st Fill Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky (700ml) ($149.99)

K&L Notes: Bunnahabhain, originally founded in 1881, has, like many distilleries, had a rocky history. Built at a heady time for the Scotch industry, it is simply massive. The huge size helped it supply Highland Distillers (the precursor to Edrington) with copious amounts of smoky malt for blends like Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark. The 60s saw a doubling of the stills and the removal of the floor maltings, but eventually the 1980s took their toll and the remote distillery was mothballed in favor of easier to operate venues. While the closure was short, the distillery wasn’t really returned to its former glory until recent times. Now under the stewardship of Distell and with massive upgrades underway, Bunnahabhain, while still hard to pronounce, has become a household name (at least in those households that drink single malt). The enormous still provides ample copper contact giving a lighter profile to the spirit, but in a return to the classic style of the 19th and early 20th centuries, this cask from Signatory is a first fill sherry butt of the highest order.

Andrew Whiteley | K&L Spirits Buyer | Review Date: October 27, 2022

The color of this 10-year is outrageous. It’s dark like molasses in the bottle and pours looking like XO Cognac from a big house. The nose is sherry-forward and loaded with toasted nuts, orange peel, and raisined fruits. If you diligently examine the aroma, you’ll find a plethora of malty goodness underneath. Sweet grain tea, chocolate malt balls, and the salty influence of the sea. On the palate, stewed fruits and a mushroomy umami note arise from the complicated interaction of spirit and cask. In a short 10 years, this has become a bomb of flavor from an epic distillery in an equally epic sherry butt. The finish highlights citrus, chocolate, and salted caramels and lingers for a long time. At 65.4% ABV, it’s no wonder it’s a powerful Scotch. With a touch of water, fruit tumbles forth bouncing between fresh and rancio notes. It’s a delightful cask with tons to offer. If you like a sherry bomb, you’ll be happy with this with no effort required. If you want a complex malt with a big sherry profile, but one that isn’t a one trick pony, this will reward the patient drinker willing to sit with a dram for an extended period of time.

David Othenin-Girard | K&L Spirits Buyer | Review Date: October 21, 2022

Lots of B distilleries coming from Signatory this year. I think the B distilleries rival the C distilleries in terms of the finest set of Scotch distilleries associated by an arbitrary factor like the first letter in the name. Nonetheless, we do very well with the B distilleries and a big part of that is Bunnahabhain! Somewhat like Bowmore, which offer some interesting if not always very exciting distillery releases, it is the independently bottled stock from Bunnahabhain to which we can attribute its stellar reputation. Although the quality contrast between distillery releases and IB bottlings is not as stark as its Islay neighbor, there seems to be a lot of really good Bunnah that makes it out of the clutches of corporate ownership. That’s likely due to the multiple owners this old distillery has had over the years, but as we see younger stocks in high-quality barrels come through, it becomes clear that the current owners aren’t opposed to divesting high-quality stocks to the right partners. The worry with such an active sherry butt and the sometimes more subtle spirit of the famously unpeated Islay, is that its character gets lost behind the bold sherry flavors. We’re very grateful to not have that problem with this stupendous cask. That’s not to say that it’s not absolutely packed to the brim with intense sherry goodness. The color is a deep, brown sherry. The dark nutty aromas of oloroso are tempered by the robust savory character of the malt, adding salty umami and an almost sweet, oceanic character. Less like the sea itself and more like the windswept sands and rocky beaches of Islay, with the salty churning currents of the straights of Islay bubbling in the distance. Rich roasted espresso beans, black berry jam, cedar, sweet tobacco leaf, dried mango, salt- and caramel-covered nougat candies. Rich and surprisingly drinkable at the extremely high proof, offering tins of molasses cookies and dark fruit compote, with a dark herbal quality. With water we have more vibrant plum and stewed peach. This thing absolutely loves water. Super complex now, with lots of dark chocolate and salted caramel. On the palate, it sweetens considerably, adding fruit and a caramel finish to the tanned hide and the old, antique wood. I just can’t believe this thing is only ten years old. So much going on here, this bottle will keep giving and giving for ages.

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