Google Old Islays From Signatory

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Hi, this is one of our (almost) daily tastings. Santé!

July 20, 2019





Angus's Corner
From our casual Scottish correspondent
and guest taster Angus MacRaild
Old Islays From Signatory
It was often said that Islay malts didn’t age as gracefully as many mainland counterparts. There might be some evidence for that, although how much of it was due to the lopsided influence of Gordon & MacPhail’s cask choices and the ubiquity of their older Speyside malts is up for debate. (Not to mention the comparatively numerous other older mainland malts compared to the relatively thin number of Islay examples.)


Indeed, G&M themselves launched a totally spellbinding 1968 50yo Caol Ila only last year. What’s certain is that in recent years there’s been more than enough aged examples of Port Ellen, Bowmore, Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila to justify looking afresh at these distillates in their dotage. Now, I’ll admit, the jury remains out on the likes of Laphroaig, Lagavulin and in particular Ardbeg, which always seemed to start limping past the 30+ year mark. And of course this is all a little academic as the vast majority of these whiskies have now been irreversibly priced into the lonesome murk of deep pockets. Anyway, two pair of Bunna and Bowmore today, from the warehouses of Signatory.



Bunnahabhain 40 yo 1978/2018 (47.8%, Signatory Vintage 30th Anniversary, cask #2578, refill sherry butt, 484 bottles)

Bunnahabhain 40 yo 1978/2018 (47.8%, Signatory Vintage 30th Anniversary, cask #2578, refill sherry butt, 484 bottles)
Signatory have littered this series with absolute gems, it’s getting a little embarrassing to be honest. Colour: brownish amber. Nose: a wealth of fresh breads, damp earth and various tobaccos, unlit cigars, sultanas and black coffee. Goes on with some crushed walnuts, banana bread, black olives and figs in syrup. The sherry leans elegantly to the dry side and on the whole feels nicely nervous and taut. Mouth: great delivery, richly bready, lots of fresh brown bread, fruit scones, strawberry jam, black pepper, beef stock, dark soy sauce, walnut oil, herbal extracts and spiced plum chutney. Very punchy and surprisingly fresh. There’s a big, earthy, resinous sherry but no overtly drying tannins or sense of over-ageing. Gets increasingly salty, towards tobacco, black olives, salted liquorice and rancio. Finish: long and earthy. Full of lightly smoked meats, metal polish, mineral oil, hessian and more walnuts and soot in the aftertaste. Comments: A lovely, well-sherried Bunna. Still very much alive and kicking at 40 years old. I loved the salinity and freshness of it, and the fact that it never felt tired.
SGP: 471 - 90 points.



Bunnahabhain 50 yo 1968/2019 (41.8%, Signatory Vintage 30th Anniversary, #12397, refill sherry butt, 323 bottles)

Bunnahabhain 50 yo 1968/2019 (41.8%, Signatory Vintage 30th Anniversary, #12397, refill sherry butt, 323 bottles)
Colour: gold/copper. Nose: there’s a fleeting nibble of wood and furniture polish but the dominant initial impression is one of expensive honeys, beeswax, pollens and nectar. Notes of lychee in syrup, kumquat, orange cocktail bitters and hessian. Parts of this really recall older Bunna bottlings such as the immense Auld Acquaintance, just without the same heft of sherry. Develops some notes of plum wine, treacle and old leather. The nose is really harmonious and beautiful, but, as with so many older malts: the proof will be on the palate. Mouth: lots of crystallised fruits, hessian, sandalwood, salty notes of marmite and toasted walnuts. The texture is surprisingly full for the low abv. Notes of quince, various dark fruit jams, sultana, some salted caramel. Pretty superb and surprisingly fresh really. Some lemon cordial, mint tea and herbal bitters. Finish: long, wonderfully resinous, salty, herbal and full of light tobaccos, menthol and stewed fruits. Comments: I had wondered if this one might be a tad tired. Sadly, I have to report that it is actually rather irritatingly brilliant. The finish in particular is superb. Even after 50 years you still feel the Bunnahabhain DNA. I suspect one of the keywords here was ‘refill’.
SGP: 661 - 91 points.



Bowmore, over to you...  


Bowmore 40 yo 1970/2010 (43.2%, Signatory Vintage ‘Cask Strength Collection’, cask #4467, 1st fill oloroso sherry butt, 489 bottles)

Bowmore 40 yo 1970/2010 (43.2%, Signatory Vintage ‘Cask Strength Collection’, cask #4467, 1st fill oloroso sherry butt, 489 bottles)
We should be, theoretically, on very pretty ground here... Colour: reddish amber. Nose: the sherry strikes first but it’s simultaneously and unmistakably Bowmore as well. Leather, boot polish and very salty liquorice mixed with sandalwood, dried tropical fruits, pot pourri and a rather fragrant and gentle bonfire smoke. There’s elements that almost lean towards a more floral, 80s style of Bowmore, but they’re well within the parameters of acceptability and sit rather beautifully with the sherry and the trademark ‘house’ fruitiness. Over time it keeps developing and becoming more complex. Some notes of espresso, cured meats, umami paste and dried seaweed. I also find some blood orange and citrus fruit cordial notes which give the whole thing a rather syrupy impression. Mouth: wonderfully resinous and saline at first. The delivery is all soy sauce, walnut wine, liquorice, cherry throat sweets, cola cubes, miso and some very old balsamic. The texture is indeed rather syrupy and fat. Lots of medical notes, hardwood resins, putty, herbal ointments and earthy phenolics. Very good! Finish: long, extremely peppery, salty, earthy, full of bitter dark chocolate, espresso, tar extract, orange peel, mulling spices and sarsaparilla. Medical and gently peaty in the aftertaste. Comments: Not up there with the greatest Bowmores from this era but still very much alive and full of distillery character despite a pretty active sherry cask. The kind of extremely pleasurable old thing you could get lost in for a couple of hours (no, not like an Aston Martin Serge!)
SGP: 664 - 91 points.



Bowmore 41 yo 1974/2016 (50.4%, Signatory ‘Cask Strength Collection’, cask #9007, hogshead, 108 bottles)

Bowmore 41 yo 1974/2016 (50.4%, Signatory Vintage ‘Cask Strength Collection’, cask #9007, hogshead, 108 bottles)
Colour: gold. Nose: jellied fruits at first. Lots of pineapple, guava, green apple, ripe banana  - all in rather confectionary form. There’s also some apple crumble and custard. Behind that comes a big coastal inflection - lots of sandalwood, beach pebbles, crushed seashells and seaweed in miso broth. A fun mix of sweet and savoury but it works well and maintains balance. I also get ink, some waxed canvas, hessian and a dry earthiness. A tiny farmy note enters the proceedings as well. Very good so far, we’re straddling two different Bowmore universes here. With water: the salty and smoky aspects gain more dominance. Notes of hot wash, sourdough, bonfire embers, cooking oils and some lemon barley water. Mouth: again sweet and salty. Lots of glazed pastries, salted peanuts, sooty qualities, smoked cereals, lemon jelly, wee hints of iodine and delicate medical embrocations and things like herbal toothpaste and carbon paper. Some plasticine and touches of brake fluid as well. Unusual old Bowmore. With water: more herbal, cough medicines, olive oil, mint leaf, very lightly tarry and things like camphor and salted butter. Finish: rather long, lemony, medical, sooty and returning to this coastal aspect with hints of seawater, black olive and coal smoke. Comments: A slightly puzzling old Bowmore. Very entertaining stuff, but it feels a tad unsure of itself at times. Certainly a more transitionary style of Bowmore, one that was stumbling home late from the fruit counter and got lost on a farm on its roundabout trip to the perfumery.
SGP: 464 - 87 points.



Four very excellent drams. It seems that these distillates do indeed handle longer maturation well, given the cask isn’t too overbearing. Admittedly they aren’t on the same level as the very best examples of these makes at younger ages, but they’re fun and highly pleasurable drams to taste.



PS: a mix of the two Bunnas is totally superb - the best of both worlds! And a mix of the two Bowmores evolves into something of a fruit bomb with a ‘tolerably cheeky 80s vibe’.



PSS: a vatting of all four is excellent but understandably a tad schizophrenic. That is all.










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