We aren’t going to Fèis Ìle this year but we did get to taste two whisky bottlings that transported us to from Islay. They are the Bunnahabhain Fèis Ìle bottlings 2023 and they have just arrived at Master of Malt.
What’s the next best thing to a trip to Islay for Fèis Ìle? Yes you guessed it, it’s a virtual tour of Bunnahabhain whisky distillery with Brendan McCarron and some quality drams. You can sign up on the Bunnahabhain site for a tasting kit complete with a virtual reality headset – just like in the ‘Gunmen of the Apocalypse’ episode of Red Dwarf – though with much better whisky.
Or if that sounds a bit futuristic you could just buy the special Bunnahabhain Fèis Ìle bottlings below:
First up, what on earth is a ‘Canasta cask’? Is it possible to age a whisky in a card game? Well actually Canasta is a type of cream sherry produced by Williams & Humbert. It’s a rich medium sweet wine made from a blend of dry oloroso and sweet PX sherries. In short, it’s just the kind of thing you want seasoning your cask. This is a NAS (no age statement) release that has not been coloured or chill-filtered, and bottled at a nice healthy 51.2% ABV. As with most releases from Bunna, it is unpeated.
At over 50% ABV, I was expecting something with a little more kick to it. Instead this is a lovely sweet, friendly sort of drop. But it is strong, so watch out!
Nose: Very sweet smelling, toffee, rum and raisin plus spices like cinnamon.
Palate: Sweet tasting as well, salted caramel, malt, vanilla and chocolate plus some orange peel bitterness and sprinkling of cinnamon and sweet chilli.
Finish: Gentle sweetness, quite short.
Next up it’s another sherry cask finish but this time the little-seen manzanilla, a salty dry wine from Sanlucar de Barrameda. This was distilled way back in 1998 meaning that it is 25 years old and it spent six years in the manzanilla cask before bottling at cask strength with an ABV of 52.3%.
We are not told how long this spent in a manzanilla cask, but the sherry influence is very strong. Take a sniff and it’s like smelling a particularly fine aged manzanilla with notes of salty toasted almonds. The palate is initially raspingly dry and salty, like an old amontillado sherry, and then gradually the sweeter notes come in. This is a very fine and rather sophisticated whisky.
Nose: Strong maritime smell, saline, toasted almonds, apples and toffee – really smells like sherry. Plus woody spices.
Palate: Peppery and spicy, very dry, salty and rasping, like an old amontillado. Then you get sweeter dried fruit and date notes.
Finish: Long, sweet and spicy with salted caramel.
So two delicious special bottlings which show how broad the concept of a ‘sherry cask’ can be. Brendan McCarron commented: “Our Canasta and Manzanilla expressions showcase the very best of our distillery home and our signature unpeated, sherried house style.
There’s also a 17-year-old Triple Cask Moine, the peated Bunnahabhain, but you have to visit the distillery itself during the festival to get your hands on a bottle – Bunnahabhain day will be 2 June this year. Whereas the two above, we can deliver right to your door bringing the magic of Fèis Ìle straight to you.