Bought: Highland Park online shop, 17th August 2017
84.89/100 – Whiskybase (average from 20 member votes)
The ‘Shiel’ is the second bottle in the Keystones Series, which started with the release of the ‘Hobbister’ in 2016. Both releases were limited to 1200 bottles and offered to the Highland Park ‘Inner Circle’ to gobble up as fast as possible. I missed out on the Hobbister in 2016 when I thought I’d joined the Inner Circle only to realise I hadn’t. Even when you manage to become a member you have to be careful to read emails from HP thoroughly and follow links and instructions to the letter.
The Shiel was released at a similar time to the Royal Mile Whisky Shop announcing their entrance into the auction market. They caused quite a stir by having an ‘ethics’ list on their new auction website which included, “Royal Mile Whisky Auctions will not accept for auction any limited edition whiskies within one year of release” and “whisky fans know that prices are not being artificially driven up, especially those new releases being ‘flipped’ immediately after release.” Will this stop Flippers from simply buying limited edition whiskies for a quick profit? No because they’ll just wait a year then sell. Not that I’ve seen any other auction house joining this crusade against flipping. It’s been over a year since the Hobbister was released and bottles are making £300 at auction having been flipped initially for around £350 before dipping to £200. Bottles of Shiel are making £250 so not as profitable for the Flippers as the Hobbister but still a good return for £81, even after auction costs.
For those of us who are actually interested in drinking the Shiel, which is what it was designed for, initial ratings are very good. Scoring nearly 85/100 on Whiskybase is an excellent score but lagging behind the Hobbister, which gets 88/100 from 12 member votes.
Tasting notes from Highland Park for the Shiel:
Nose: Unashamedly smoky, camphor, eucalyptus, violets and vanilla
Palate: Dry peatiness, pencil shavings with light vanilla
Finish: Dry and lingering peatiness
Bought: Whisky Broker, 4th February 2016
C – Whiskybase (from 1 member vote)
Why oh why have I taken so long to get another example of Bunnahabhain? When I finally opened the standard distillery 12yo bottle I fell in love. It’s one of my favourite whiskies of all time and a replacement bottle is on my shopping list. The next step up should be the standard 18yo, which Jim Murray scores 93.5/100 in his Whisky Bible 2016, some 8 points ahead of the 12yo (in his opinion). But, if truth be told, my reluctance to get older examples of Bunna was because I read on a forum to beware of certain vintage bottles where dodgy casks were used. That might be the case but you wouldn’t think so from marks given to 20yo+ bottles in the Whisky Bible where the majority score over 90/100. I like whisky forums but they do have a habit of perpetuating old information and I’m sure I’ve been guilty of that myself. I still think of Jura as being inferior whisky, much like I remember the days we all laughed at Skoda cars.
Unfortunately there is only one review of this Bunna 23yo by the Whisky Broker and it doesn’t sound amazing. The Whiskybase member says of the taste “a peppery/vibrant but controlled arrival of a creamy, oily, drying grain with a vibrant bitter-sour liquorice which then heads straight to a super-dry, salty, grassy/heathery barley cul-de-sac. There is however an unexpected and spritely reprise producing a line of [dried] fruity vanilla that carries into the finish. Becomes hard work after a while, the dry astringency becoming heavy work over time. 5cl is more than enough for me.” They summarise with “nose is best, followed by the arrival. The more it goes on, the more it acknowledges its sluggish cask predisposition. Its often more Speyside in style than Islay although that dry saltiness doesn’t betray its terroir.”
Perhaps this 5cl miniature isn’t a fair example of Bunnahabhain over 20-years-old but that’s not to say there aren’t some good examples out there. For now the 18yo is firmly in my sights but there are some tempting NAS offerings available at airports.
Bought – Highland Park Distillery, 14th August 2014
96/100 – Whisky Bible 2014
87/100 – Malt Maniacs (average from 18 reviews)
Now here’s a mystery. The ratings I mention above are for the original bottling of the HP 25yo at 48.1%, and miniatures of this are still available on the Highland Park website. But a full 70cl bottle on their website, and other online whisky shops, is 45.7%! Clearly it’s a different whisky. But the Highland Park website use exactly the same description for both versions of the HP 25yo. I don’t have my finger on the pulse of what’s happening at the distillery but it seems like there’s a new version of the 70cl on the market. The miniatures I have are the old version, which has been discontinued. The fantastic ratings are for the OLD version, so I can only hope the new version keeps the high standards. At £175 for 70cl, you’d have to hope so!
The miniatures of this discontinued 25yo are still available on the HP website for £12. At 5cl they are one 14th of 70cl, so 14 x £12 is £168 (if it’s even possible to still buy 14 miniatures). I don’t know how much the old 70cl was being sold for but I doubt it was much less than £175 (that’s the cheapest I found online. Highland Park are selling it on their website for £250). It’s rare to find a miniature that costs less than 1/14th of its 70cl counterpart. If you’re a collector of miniatures then this is definitely something to add to your collection. I spotted one selling at auction for £15.50, so £3,50 more than buying it directly from Highland Park. It goes to show, it’s already making money as an investment, even at 5cl in size!
Here’s Jo of Whisky Wednesday with his review on You Tube (March 2016):