Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach

Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Bottled: 2014
ABV: 46.3%
Cask: Bourbon
Age: Limited Edition NAS
More Info: WhiskyBase

I’m a massive fan of Islay whisky.

For me, the style puts all other whiskies quietly in the corner – you get such strong characterful expressions out of distilleries on the island, the kind of whisky that makes you sit up and pay attention – a provoker, challenging you to react.

For this reason, I’ve always found Bunnahabhain to be something of an odd-one-out with its softly-spoken, mellow, and (largely) unpeated style.

It’s not often I try their releases, as I rarely see them in the shops. We stopped by the distillery when we were on Islay but their gates were closed, no signs of life. All-in-all, this leaves it the least explored of the region’s distilleries for me.

Ever eager for the new experience, I was lucky enough to win their competition for a sample of their latest limited edition, the Ceòbanach (Scots-Gaelic for ‘smoky mist’). I was a big fan of the last peated Bunnahabhain I tried, the very smoky ‘Toiteach’, so I’m looking forward to trying this more lightly-peated expression.

Let’s see what this dark-horse of the Hebrides can do to provoke a reaction…

Nose: No peat reek here! I get straw and sweet cedar wood, play-doh, muscovadao sugar, dessert wine, apple strudel and nutmeg.

Palate: Crème brûlée, lemon-curd, pear drops, black pepper, and green apple skin. The peat is in-evidence, giving the fruit flavours more zest and tingle.

Finish: More spices, earthy peat and antique wood flavours, with a touch of chestnut at the end.

There is definitely a flavour at the core of all Bunnahabhain whisky that reminds me of crème brûlée. It really has something very desserty and sweet-shoppy about it.

The Ceòbanach is sweet, light, and zesty with a quiver of peat-tang and a lot of fragrant, fruity, woody notes. It’s got subtlety and complexity to it, building a lot of aroma around a lightly-smoked core.

Good work, chaps. Get some more expressions like this in your regular line-up and I’m sure they’ll go down an absolute storm.

Port Charlotte PC6

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Bottled: 2007, Distilled: 2001
ABV: 61.6%
Cask: Matured in Bourbon, finished in Madeira wine.
More Info: WhiskyBase

Many feel that Port Charlotte whisky, distilled and bottled by Bruichladdich, is the epitome of modern Islay whisky.

It has all the coastal notes and the peaty pow you expect from Islay, but is also an elegant and complex spirit. Bruichladdich is famous for its slow distillation in Victorian equipment (seriously, their still room looks like a scene from a steampunk graphic novel!) and their standard releases before Port Charlotte were only ever very lightly peated (around 5PPM or less).

Launching as the new kid of peated Islay whisky back in the noughties, the Port Charlotte series has been a cult hit ever since. Bottlings tend to be very difficult to source as they were all limited production, with wide global distribution (and some travel retail), so it’s a real treat to get hold of any.

You can pick them up on the secondary market fairly regularly but they’ll set you back three or four times their original retail price.

I sourced my sample from WhiskySample.nl a wonderful, family-run business in the Netherlands. The site is in Dutch (but most modern web browsers will automatically translate for you) and they do ship internationally. Well worth perusing their stock if you’re on the look-out for something unusual to taste!

Anyway, on to the good stuff…

Nose: Not as fierce as expected. Icing sugar and candy, and a rich buttercream.  The wine influence has imparted a thick and floral honey scent as well – really very rich. Some medicinal TCP, but faint compared to your typical Islay (it’s more like a sherbet tingle than creosote or bonfires). Some soft coastal notes of salt and seashells in there too.

Palate: Madeira’s strong and sweet to start, with a rising peat (and ABV!) burn. Very viscous and luscious mouthfeel, a typical side-effect of Bruichladdich’s slow distillation. I get notes of mandarin, blood-orange and grapefruit running through the middle, with some more icing sugar and peaty sherbet.

Finish: Some soft smoke (as opposed to peat) comes out as the tingle calms down and savoury notes of liquorice, hazelnut, and rolling tobacco develop into a long finish (five minutes later, I can still taste hazelnuts!).

Water: It gets a lot peatier (on the nose and the palate) when you add water! I think I prefer it unwatered, with that lovely, thick, creamy mouthfeel.

This is the second of the PC-series I’ve tried (the first being PC5) and I’m well impressed. Even as a self-confessed Bruichladdich fanboy, I challenge any seasoned peat-head not to enjoy this dram. All I can say is, it’s a big shame that these bottlings are so rare and that I hope the distillery put some more young Port Charlotte out in future.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a cracking dram at ten and twelve years old, but these younger releases have brilliant and unusual characteristics that seem to fade as the spirit matures.

Here’s to the power and beauty of youth!