Earlier this month, Gordon and Macphail, the Elgin based independent bottlers launched a campaign named ‘The wood makes the whisky’. The campaign focuses on the cask’s contribution to whisky flavor. It’s worth repeating here what I wrote numerous times in the past, that the whisky industry estimates cask’s impact on whisky flavor at 55-80% of the final result, making it the single largest factor (Yeah, I know my math 😉 )
The campaign launches with a a dedicated book and few selected whiskies to demonstrate and showcase G&M experience in matching spirit and cask. The book, written by Neil Ridley & Joel Harrison of World’s Best Spirits, is excellent reading and covers all the aspects of wood and casks relevance to whisky production: from the basics on different oak types (American vs European) and the expected flavors derived from those kinds of oak, cask sizes, previous liquid impact and how is it being managed in the warehouse (although I wish that part would be longer!).
The second part of the book concentrates on matching the distillery character (spirit profile) with the correct casks and the implications of such matches – maturation period, what is supposed to happen during that time, how the distillery character and casks counterbalance one each other until the desired flavor is reached and the whisky is bottled.
Along with the book I received a few samples of some of the selected whiskies for the campaign and today I’ll start with the younger one: 8 year old peated Bunnahabhain in a refill sherry casks.
The book tell us that Bunnahabhain distillery character is neither delicate nor heavy. The refill sherry casks means moderate sherry impact of spices, dried fruit. Let’s check it out then.
Nose: Smoky, salty and fruity. One time cereals and then abundant of cured meat and fruit sweetness. There’s a great balance between the peat smoke and the sherry cask influence. The peat note is well rounded and is kept in check even over time when many young peated drams nose get overtaken by peat smoke. Getting fruitier over time: green melon and dried pears.
Palate: Cured meat in a sweet fruit sauce, peat and smoke, honeyed apricot and toward the end a touch of chocolate and pepper.
Finish: Medium length with lingering sweetness. Pepper, underlying smoke, gentle peat and a touch of dried fruit.
Thoughts: It did work for G&M here as the distillery character and the cask did balance one each other and the result is a polished and balanced whisky. It’s not a complex one but it works and it delivers a rock solid whisky experience without being ashamed of being only 8 year old.