The biggest impression left after the launch of the Bunnahabhain Evolution series was not the striking label, designed by Tay Bak Chiang, and nor was it the whisky, a sherried Bunnahabhain.
The idea and motivation behind the series were what got us intrigued, and before long, we were preoccupied with the ‘why’ rather than the ‘what’.
Here’s why: The Bunnahabhain Evolution series will be released annually over three years, and as the name suggests, it is an experiential exercise to observe (and taste) how the whisky changes over time in a cask. In this case, each bottling in the series will be released a year apart.
For independent bottlers and owners of casks, casks are typically not bottled until its owners feel that the spirit has reached its peak or is at a level that is deemed acceptable to be released. In practice, it’s often the case of constantly monitoring and sampling the spirit until you’re satisfied with its current state. Because these are wooden casks and not the Japan Railways network, they don’t normally work to a schedule.
As far as we know, the whisky is encased in an active cask, which means that we’re likely to discern noticeable changes over time, but again, it’s wood, so there’s always that lingering fear of uncertainty that we often can’t shake off; fears of bottling it before its peak or waiting too long and it starts to get a little oaky. Then again, therein lies part of the charm of single cask whisky and sets it apart from the tried and tested blended scotch – a whisky strong enough to stand on its own two feet, without the safety net that blending offers.
In an age where options abound in mind-boggling numbers and whisky review scores and resale value weigh heavily on your mind, turning every buying decision a matter of life and death, you have to be a bit of a brave soul to commit to a concept that has little wriggle room for ‘error’.
Jeremiah Kee, one of the founders of Singapore independent bottler INTERCO-MLE, explained that the idea of Evolution was simply an opportunity for whisky fans to experience whisky as it evolves over a period of three years. For most of us who are not inclined to purchase a cask of our own, this is perhaps as close as it gets to be able to take samples from a cask and observe how it behaves over time.
To spice it up, there’s also the added extravagance of having a renowned artist whose work is already known in the whisky community to apply the finishing touch. To the uninitiated, you’ve probably seen his work on many La Maison du Whisky releases.
For those who truly enjoy surprises, the Bunnahabhain Evolution series represents a safe bet (ironic, but yes); Bunnahabhain is one of the safer blind purchases in whisky if there ever was such a category. And given the whisky-drinking world’s obsession with anything sherry, the resale potential is more than decent.
As whiskies go, this Bunnahabhain is a simple, straightforward dram – the sherry profile is quite dominant, as with most modern equivalents, but it is ‘clean’ with no off notes. Hints of the familiar maritime house style linger in the background, though you need time and water for the whisky to open up; a mild twist on the usual plethora of sherried, smoky Islay whiskies or heavily sherried speysiders.
Some whiskies leave you to revel at the moment, some whiskies leave you thinking about what’s to come. Mark this one in the latter category.