After a week of teenaged Caol Ilas bottled by Gordon & Macphail (here, here and here), I have a more heterogeneous set of reviews this week. Not all the same distillery (as far as I know—more on this later) and three different bottlers. What unites them is that each is from an island distillery. We’ll stay on Islay for this first one, a 15 yo Bunnahabhain bottled for K&L by Old Particular (one of the Laing outfits’ labels). Last week I cribbed about the fact that the two bourbon cask Caol Ilas were from first-fill bourbon barrels; this one is also from a bourbon barrel but it’s refill rather than first-fill. Now what exactly different bottlers mean by “refill” is not known: some do specify “second-fill”, implying that refill casks are those that have been previously filled with Scotch whisky at least twice but I don’t believe there is any mandated or enforced consistency on this point. At any rate, even a second-fill bourbon barrel will allow the oak less say than the distillate, which is always a good thing in my book. Since I can’t help but complain, however, I’ll note again that I wish this had been a refill hogshead (hogsheads being slightly larger than barrels and so affording even less oak contact). Anyway, let’s see what this is like.
Bunnahabhain 15, 2006 (53%; Old Particular for K&L; refill barrel; from a bottle split)
Nose: A mix of malt, sweet cereals and apples. There’s some lemon with crystallized sugar below that seems to be on the verge of popping out. As it sits the sweeter notes move in the direction of vanilla and pastry crust. With more time the lemon does emerge. With a drop or two of water a floral sweetness emerges and the lemon and pastry crust expand.
Palate: Comes in as indicated by the nose. Very little oak impact and very approachable at full strength with a rich texture. With more time there’s more evidence of the oak—that prickle from the finish expands—and there’s also a vaguely grainy note (slightly glassy/metallic, very slightly astringent). Okay, let’s see what water does. It pushes the grainy notes and the prickly oak back and emphasizes the acid and the sweeter notes here as well.
Finish: Medium-long. Some oaky prickle emerges with time but otherwise there’s nothing very new here. Saltier at the end. As on the palate with water but the salt still hangs around.
Comments: I really liked this on the nose from the get-go but on the palate it needed water, and still didn’t quite rise to the level of the nose. Give it even less oak influence in a hogshead and this would be even better, I think.
Rating: 86 points.