Monday, March 5, 2012

Gordon & MacPhail, Bunnahabhain 8yr

stats: single malt scotch, Islands, 86 proof, $32

You may have noticed the boom and bust cycle of the whisk(e)y industry as a recurring theme on this blog, and with good reason - these recurring swings have had a great influence on the industry over the centuries, and they continue to be a driver of trends in current times. But these cycles do not always transpire concurrently on opposite sides of the Atlantic. World War II was bad for everyone, and growth followed that period all around. Bourbon fell on hard times again in the 70’s, in a big way. Scotch’s dark days, however, didn’t arrive until the 80’s. The American whiskey industry started to bounce back in the 80’s and has built a head of steam with slow, steady growth over three decades, to what many call the current “golden age” of modest prices, great product variety, and mostly balanced supply and demand. The business turned around in Scotland in the mid 90’s, but it did so in an explosive way, boosted by tremendous demand from emerging markets, such as China and India.

Scotch production ramped up rapidly in the late 90’s and early years of the 21st century. This has left many distilleries in the difficult situation of having healthy stocks of whiskies with 30+ years in barrel, an abundance aged 12 years or less, and very little in the middle. One solution has been to mix the young and the old, forgo an age statement, assign a proprietary name (preferably in Gaelic) and charge a premium price (some are worth the cost, others are not). Another answer has been to find a marketing pretense under which to sell young whisky – Ardbeg did this with a series of bottlings from spirit produced after a change of ownership in 1997. Very Young (6yr), Still Young (8yr), Almost There (9yr) and Renaissance (10yr) were all bottled at cask strength, but still went for much higher prices than they could have commanded if not for their rare and historical nature.

Nevertheless, as we all know, the last three years have been marked by recession and uncertain economic times, especially in the U.S., which is still a major market for scotch. Gordon & MacPhail has responded by releasing a series of value oriented 8 year old single malts. It seems that the independent bottler has reacted to the market (and taken advantage of the surplus of young whisky) much more quickly than the companies that actually produce the whisky.

The range started out with Tamdhu, Highland Park and Glenrothes. A Bunnahabhain bottling followed shortly after. They are all priced between $30 and $35. I’ve tasted three of the four and they are all good, but the Bunnahabhain really stands out for me, so that is what I’m sipping on tonight.

Light golden-yellow, appearing Chardonnay-like. The spirit in the bottle seems to have a green hue in certain light – perhaps there is a slight tint to the glass. The pleasant grassy-grainy nose has fruit undertones (pear?). The grass-floral-fruit flavors of the palate are followed by warming spice notes (reminiscent of cinnamon spice candies) on the finish, which is surprisingly long. The alcohol level and flavor intensity are in harmonious balance. Quite an enticing single malt – I keep coming back to this bottle for more. 

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