Friday, July 16, 2021

nip nip moray

A couple of whisky items in the cupboard to catch up on - I had a gratifying number of bottles for Christmas and my birthday, as I often do, and what then generally follows is me trying (usually unsuccessfully) to eke out the (relatively) lavish late-February whisky situation for the rest of the year. I think you would have to say that last year's selection probably included some more interesting stuff, or at least more stuff that I hadn't tried before, but there were a couple of new ones here, and I present them here for your perusal and edification.

Firstly, here's a Glen Moray. We've had one of these before but that one was a special edition finished in Chardonnay casks (but actually a good deal better than that makes it sound). This one, though labelled Elgin Classic, seems to be just the bog-standard edition and as such is very cheap in most supermarkets (typically around £20). The distillery is situated just outside the town of Elgin, smack dab in the middle of the Speyside region, on the banks of the River Lossie. A couple of things to note about that, firstly that Glenlossie might have been a more obvious name but by the time the Glen Moray distillery was founded in 1897 that name had already been taken. Secondly, while most Speyside whiskies take their water from rivers and streams that flow into the River Spey, it's not a condition of being a Speyside whisky (as I lazily implied it was here) - the Lossie flows directly into the sea at Lossiemouth.

Secondly, here's a bottle of Bunnahabhain StiĆ¹ireadair, which despite its fancy name (which means something like "helmsman" in Scots Gaelic) is the no-age-statement entry-level Bunnahabhain, enabling them, one might cynically say, to bump up the price of the 12-year-old version. Bunnahabhain hasn't featured on this blog before as you don't see it in supermarkets all that often, but it did get a mention here alongside the Allt-a-bhainne with which it shares some etymological roots. Coincidentally, while the Allt-a-bhainne makes much mileage out of its being unusual among Speyside whiskies in being lightly peated, Bunnahabhain's USP has always been that it's an Islay malt but (special editions aside) unpeated.

As with many coastal whiskies including Old Pulteney and Aerstone the claim is made here for a "brackish" or "briny" or "salty" tang to the whisky, a claim I expressed some mild scepticism about here, and the reviewer here expresses a similar slightly eye-rolling scepticism about as well. I think what he's basically saying is: if this is salty, I'm a Dutchman.

Anyway, let's get in there. The Glen Moray has the classic no-age-statement whisky thing of a big heady solvent-y whack of pear drops and magic markers when you have a sniff, and it's hard to penetrate to any actual whisky smells under that. That stuff all falls away when you have a taste, leaving only a bit of "hotness" that presumably derives from the young age of the whisky, and a general unthreatening Speysidiness that we've seen before in everything from the Tormore to the Tomatin. It's perfectly nice but relatively unmemorable and there are probably several things in a similar price bracket that would give you more bang for your buck. I mean, I know it's a single malt and all, but if you were to ask me if it compares to something like Johnnie Walker Black Label at a very similar price, I would say: no, not at all. 

The Bunnahabhain is pretty similar when you stick your nose in the glass: if anything at a robustly artisanal 46.3% (the Glen Moray is a bog-standard 40%) it's even more forbiddingly reminiscent of nail polish remover, though there is perhaps just a hint of something sweet and woody underneath. A different story when you have a taste, though, as there is a bit more depth here, with something a little bit earthy and vegetable-y underneath. As with a lot of whiskies at around the 46% mark this is one that might benefit from a splosh of water to open it up a bit.

Anyway, it's interesting from a purely academic standpoint as an unpeated Islay malt - unique as a standard offering though Caol Ila for one do occasionally knock out an unpeated malt as a special edition - and if you want a winner from this particular head-to-head match-up the Bunnahabhain would definitely be it. Both featurees here are a little polite for my taste, though. 

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