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I like to end each year with a rather special dram. After all, there’s no better time to enjoy a fine whisky than Hogmanay. I’ve been fortunate enough to sample some great stuff again this year but there was one bottle sent to me that meant a little more than all the others.
Back in July I received a package from Berry Bros & Rudd. Inside was a bottle of Bunnahabhain. Not only was it a whopping 25 years old but it also had my name written right there on the label. To say I was chuffed would be an understatement.
Berry Bros & Rudd are one of the oldest wine and spirits retailers in the British isles. Founded in London in 1698, they can count Lord Byron and William Pitt the Younger, not to mention various members of the Royal family, as former customers.
To fill in the backstory a little, I was first introduced to BBR in early 2013. I had been drinking whisky for a few years by then but my buying choices were limited to whatever was on offer in the local supermarket. That all changed when I was invited along to a whisky tasting at the Good Spirits Co.
On offer that evening was a lineup of six drams from Berry Bros & Rudd. Not only had I never heard of them, I wasn’t even sure exactly what an independent bottler was. The amount of information I soaked up that night, coupled with the quality of whisky on offer, had a profound effect on me. I’ve often said it was the moment that lit the blue touch paper. It turned my casual interest in whisky into a burning passion.
I’ve retained a soft spot for Berry’s ever since and I’ve spoken about it on more than occasion. Apparently my words were noticed and when the company launched their new look bottles earlier this year, they included me in the group of supporters to receive one of said bottles.
It was a highlight of an unusual year. 2021 hasn’t been without its tough moments. It certainly didn’t start well with all of Scotland in lockdown and rising cases once more threaten to have us end the year on a low note but in between, I’ve made some wonderful memories. The old zoom tasting is still a thing and I’ve enjoyed them but I’ve actually made it out to some in-person tastings again which has been lovely.
I’ve even made it to a few distilleries. Back in July I spent a week in Arran and visited both Lochranza and Lagg. In September I toured Glenturret in all its new Lalique splendor and in October I joined the students of the Islay Whisky Academy for a whirlwind three days. That adventure included trips to Ardnahoe, Lussa Gin, Deer Island Rum, Jura Distillery and Ardbeg not to mention talks with Ned Gahan of Waterford, Liam Hughes of Glasgow Distillery and a special tasting hosted by John McCheyne of the SMWS. It was the best time and I’d recommend anyone with an interest in deepening their knowledge to consider taking part. Not only will you learn a lot, you’ll find experiences and make connections that will last you a lifetime.
Obviously, the only downside about reviewing a whisky such as this, is that not everyone can get to try it. On that note, I’d love to hear what your New Year Dram will be this year? Have you got something special lined up? Let me know. You can either post in the comments section or tell me on social media.
*Full disclosure: I was sent the whisky featured in this article free of charge.
The single malt Scotch whisky was distilled at Bunnahabhain all the way back in 1989. 115 bottles were filled in 2015 at 43.4%. It’s bottled un-chill-filtered and natural colour. Oh and did I mention? It has my name on the bottle!
Smell: An interesting mix of tropical fruits and dusty old oak. There’s pineapple, apricot, mango, lemon and orange. Honey and vanilla. Caramel. Scottish tablet. Old, subtle smoke. Like a two day old bonfire. There’s a delicate side to it that isn’t what you’d expect from Islay.
Taste: Bigger on the palate than I expected. Fruity again. Lemon curd and apple juice. Light, prickly wood spice followed by peppery smoke. The smoke builds in intensity and finishes much more prominently than I would have expected based on the nose. Lots of complexity develops between that initial sip and the finish. Notes of honey, caramel and citrus. Brown sugar. Nutty malt. Dry oak.
Thoughts: I’ve been fortunate enough to encounter a few older Bunnahabhains in my time and this isn’t the first time I’ve found all those tropical fruit notes. It seems to be a feature of this malt when it matures and the abv drops. I can’t remember tasting a peated version with quite so much fruit before, however.
That smoke has become somewhat subdued in its old age and the whisky lacks the fiery edge of some of this distillery’s Mòine releases. Instead you get a sophisticated sort of smoke. It’s a more refined side of Islay and it’s absolutely enchanting.
I’m hugely grateful to Berry’s for sending me this drop. I’ve been holding onto it since July, waiting for the right moment to pop it open. That moment finally came on Christmas Day when I shared a dram with my Dad and toasted my Sister and her partner, who couldn’t be there with us thanks to a positive Covid test. We’ll do the same again, as soon as their isolation ends.
Moments like that are what make whisky special. Sure the liquid is great but it’s the act of drinking it that gives it life. The act of popping the cork and passing a glass to another. Of raising the glass to your lips and feeling the glow inside whilst watching the same feeling of satisfaction cross the face of your colleague. Nothing in the world can compare to that. No hoarded whisky collection, gathering dust on a shelf whilst it accumulates something as vulgar as money can possibly match the feeling of joy that comes from sharing a special dram with someone. Those are the moments I wish you in 2022. I hope you encounter some wonderful drams but more than that I hope you get to share some great whisky moments with those around you. Who knows, maybe we’ll even share some together.
Thanks for reading.
Bliadhna mhath ùr.
For more on Berry Bros & Rudd visit here
For more on Bunnahabhain visit here