Whisky Odyssey
Old-fashioned with a twist of the modern 

The Whisky Odyssey Fèis Ìle 2024 Special
Bunnahabhain Day dedicated to John MacLellan

Today we land at the northernmost distillery on the Isle of Islay, which is Bunnahabhain. Anyone who has ever been there, knows that getting there is no small task. The road is so narrow, that a slight miscalculation will see you end up at the bottom of the Sound of Islay, the narrow sea street between the island and the opposite Isle of Jura. What do you find when you finally get to the distillery? I have to dig into my memory for that, because I only visited the distillery twice, in 2009 and 2014. On both occasions it felt a little like a downtrodden place, not without its charm, but in desperate need of some TLC (Tender Loving Care). On my last visit to Islay in 2016, we did not even bother going there.

Even so, the memories of Bunnahabhain are warm. Especially that first visit, that was planned a week after the festival ended. You could really notice all over the island that people were still breathing out from a week of Fèis Ìle madness, even though in 2009 the circumstances were still much more relaxed than the madhouse it has become. So, we did a simple tour of the distillery back then, but afterwards we were joined by none other than John MacLellan. He was the distillery manager at the time, and as soon as he noticed our group was Dutch, we spoke about legendary football from back in the day. He took a certain pride in the fact Celtic was the first even UK-team to win the Europacup I (current day Champions League) in 1967. Of course, we did not remind him of Celtic losing to Feyenoord Rotterdam in 1970, which would be the first ever Dutch win of the Cup with the Big Ears.

Memories make up for a lot of the fun when you are into whisky. I cannot imagine any other reason why this hobby persists for 20 years already. The friendliness of John MacLellan will be cherished forever, and today’s blog is dedicated to him! We kick off with two 1990 Bunna’s before we move on to a rocket fuel expression from 2004, allowing us to build up the abv while going along.

Bunnahabhain 1990, bottled at 46 % abv by Wemyss Malts

Makeup: Distilled in 1990 and bottled in 2015, making this a 25 years old Bunnahabhain with the title ‘Blowing on a Sea Breeze’. Maturation took place in hogshead and it produced 209 bottles.

General impressions: Very pure and crystalline Bunnahabhain here, with indeed a lot of room for maritime character to shine. A flowery barley note rises from the glass, which makes me think this hogshead was maybe already filled for a third time. Incredibly fresh and summerlike to nose. The taste is gentle, very sweet and syrupy, with a delicious bitter finish. The nose keeps on developing on beautiful fresh notes. Really breezing.

Conclusion: A perfect name for a modest whisky, delivering on what it promises. I expected maybe a bit more from it, seeing this is a 25 year old whisky and all, but it is gentle and satisfying nonetheless.

Score: 86 points

Bunnahabhain 1990, bottled at 51,8 % abv by A.D. Rattray

Makeup: Distilled in 1990 and bottled in the Individual Cask Series. Refill Sherry Hogshead # 970 was laid to rest for 19 years, before being bottled on 30 March 2009. Exactly 263 bottles were produced.

General impressions: Deep golden brown colour, so we are going to taste something very different. This was a very dominant cask, and really left its mark on this 1990 Bunnahabhain. It has the same fresh appearance of maritime qualities as the Wemyss expression, but here there is of course more red fruit, some cigar leaves and the obligated raisins on rum. The taste is all on fudge and cinnamon, while the finish displays the slightest sulphury note, still clinging to a chocolate soul. The cask made this spirit, which has a remarkably comparable imprint as the Wemyss expression, a lot more complex. I have complained about the standard Bunnahabhain a few weeks ago, but this is the other side. Comes close to the best the distillery has to offer.

Conclusion: An example of a perfect all-round Bunnahabhain ticking all the boxes. I would not mind owning a bottle of this one. Superb!

Score: 90 points

Disclaimer: 1990s samples acquired via sampleshare-king Henri van der Ree.

Bunnahabhain 2004, 18 years old, bottled at 61,1 % abv by Scotch Malt Whisky Society

Makeup: Distilled on 25 November 2004 and eventually finished in a First Fill Ex-Bodega Oloroso Butt Finish. It does not say in what cask the whisky initially matured. The SMWS donned this “10.254” with the name ‘A real boisterous dram’, which I can imagine at that strength! 504 bottles were filled.

General impressions: We have water nearby, but for the sake of science we will try to nose and taste this undiluted. That proves to be difficult, but I do get a hint of spiciness, some chili, red peppers, and the slightest hint of burned matches. It is more pleasant to taste, but it has this very caramelized quality that quickly slides toward sulphur. Not the worst example, and it is textbook Bunnahabhain, but it misses the frivolity of the 1990 expressions that we tasted before. 


So, we add a good splash of water, and that brings out more caramel fudge. Yes, the Bunnahabhain now settles in the glass, coming of more balanced and rewarding. It remains fudgy all the way to the end, but with water a redeeming quality emerges, making this a dram worth enjoying.

Conclusion: Fierce on full alcohol, but gives away all the treats very easily with a drop of water.

: 88 points

Disclaimer: all samples taken from samples shares with friends. With kind regards.

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