Years ago someone did a group of reviews on Bunnahabhain. In it, the person reviewing mentioned that the 1960s were a golden era for the distillery, pumping out the top of the whiskies from the distillery, bar none.
Now this isn’t a crazy idea: I can attest to the amazing whiskies that people speak of when they talk about 1970s Ardbeg and 1996 Ben Nevis, for example. I have friends who can attest to other years that live up to legendary status.
However, when I asked around about the 1960s Bunnahabhain, there were only crickets. I didn’t really read anywhere beyond this quick burst of reviews. Most people would drop it. But they are what we call “happy” and not “obsessive”.
We’re now 60 years since the 1960s. That’s poetic somehow, right? It’s getting hard to find any 60s whiskies worth drinking, let alone a group from an industrial distillery that supposedly went through a golden age for the period. There’s a reason that 1970s Ardbeg casks are held by those who own them: They want to retire somewhere nice.
Enter Bunnahabhain Port Askaig 45 1968 or as I originally read it (because it’s the normal name) Port Askaig 45. That doesn’t completely tell the story.
You see, Port Askaig releases whiskies under it’s name versus the distillery name. Typically you have to hunt around to find out what people agree the whisky to be. Sometimes it gets confirmed. This is 5 refill sherry butts, all at least 45 years old, and said to be Bunnahabhain. But not all old whiskies are great. And just because some guy wrote a few 1960s Bunnahabhain reviews and said it was a golden age doesn’t make it so.
So let’s see what’s going on, shall we?
Price: $3,000 CAD
Cask types: 5 Refill Sherry Butts
Number of bottles: 1,200
Colour: 7.5Y 8/8
Nose: Cherry blossoms, plums, spice cake, brine, oak/pear, farmy
Not going to lie: I went into this particular release with a feeling of “ho hum”. A quick glance at the majority of my reviews shows my bias: I like Signatory and I like Single Malts of Scotland (yes I know they are part of Elixir, I’m still on the fence about other lines they own). Port Askaig? Barely know her.
Instead I get a floral, nice fruit, spice, and yet it’s not feeling like Balvenie this time given the brine and farminess notes. It’s quintessential Bunnahabhain with sherry influence yet still salty and dirty like an industrial whisky should be. Also the nose comes off as so much stronger, probably due to the extreme ages of the casks used.
Taste: Black licorice, having a picnic by the sea (strong notes of strawberry jam on rye bread, cinnamon buns, sea air, sand all at once), dark honey
I originally wrote out all of the notes, then with time they started melding together and became their own tableau, of sorts. What I’m trying to say is the flavours are so complex, interesting, intermingled, and strong that they evoke a sense memory when you drink it. Or at least it did for me.
Interestingly enough, we still have aspects that remind me of Balvenie but different enough to be their own thing. Like you still get that bitter honey note, but you also get this amazing spice note, iodine/sea air, and earth. In other words: More, I want more.
Finish: Raspberry, buckwheat honey (more bitter, stronger, somewhat cereal, molasses), moss, black licorice, waiting for your food at a candlelight dinner (lingering yeast note, umami from a dip, wax in the air [holy shit I noticed a wax note]), leather
Fruity, bitter, vegetal, waxy at times (and must be very strong wax as I typically am wax blind), umami, and leather.
So basically it’s the best finish I’ve had this year (so far). Long too, well balanced, and fun. More sense memories too, so the flavours are quite strong.
Conclusion: Alright, finally found an epic Bunnahabhain, I get it now. Yes, the last ones could be viewed as great, but this is epic. Dare I say worth the cost and then some, for fear of people buying it up and flipping it, and then I remind myself these reviews are for fun and I’m not Serge (who already stated his love for it).
Do you like ocean air? Spice? Leather? Good sherry casks? Light floral elements? Yeast? Sugar? More spice? Bitter and sweet balance? Etcetera? Don’t you love ETCETERA in your whisky?
It’s amazing, and that’s nice, because I’ve had older whiskies that are not.
Now to find more 60s to see if this was a fluke or not. Oh well, it shouldn’t take another 7 years again, right?
Scotch review #1597, Islay review #419, Whisky Network review #2323