Monday, February 14, 2011

Have just tried > Hankey Bannister 40 years old

Hankey Bannister is an award winning range of blended whiskies that are marketed and released by Inver House Distillers. The slightly strange name comes from a partnership of two business men (whose surnames were Hankey and Bannister) who set up a wine and spirits business in the West End of London in 1757. They were one of the first companies to take whisky from Scotland and blend it elsewhere. The popularity of their whiskies grew with time, especially amongst royalty and the wealthy. Previous fans have included King George V, King Edward VII and Sir Winston Churchill.

The Hankey Bannister brand is exported to over 40 countries, with the main markets being the UK, South America, South Africa and Australia. The core range consists of the Original, which is the most popular and widely available, plus a 12 years old, a 21 and this 40 years old (note that the age stated on a blended whisky is the youngest whisky that is present, with some older whiskies also included). We thank Cathy James of Inver House Distillers for allowing us to sample this rare whisky.

This 40 years old was produced to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Hankey Bannister & Co in 2007 and it went on to win the prestigious award of Best Blended Whisky at The World Whisky Awards 2009. The range of whiskies are loosely based on Hankey and Bannister's original recipe and contains around 30% of single malt whisky (mostly from Balblair distillery, but also from two of Inver House's other distilleries at Balmenach and Knockdhu). The remaining 70% is grain whisky, mostly coming from the North British and Port Dundas distilleries.

However, this 40 years old is different - the story goes that a selection of casks were found nestling in the back of a warehouse by an Inver House employee. Upon the research of old paperwork, it was discovered that the whisky within these casks had been blended together in 1966 and the casks had been maturing ever since! It was also found that it contained whisky from the distilleries of Garnheath, Glen Flagler and Killyloch, all of which have long since stopped producing whisky and are therefore very rare. It is limited to just 1917 bottles, has an alcoholic strength of 43.3% ABV and costs around £385 each from specialist whisky retailers.

Our tasting notes
The colour is a rich, dark golden amber and the nose is full of delicious aromas. It is rich, dense and complex with a heady mix of sweet fruity notes (think of dried fruits especially, like raisins, sultanas, candied orange peel and dates) and lovely wood spices (imagine sandal wood, cinnamon and nutmeg). There are also aromas of toasted almond and some waxy furniture polish (this is a classic sign of very old ex-sherry cask matured whiskies). The combination of aromas is fantastic and one of the people we were tasting it with likened it to a good Marsala wine. Interestingly, with further time in the glass the fruitiness takes on a distinct tropical note, reminiscent of mango especially. On the palate this whisky coats your mouth, digging in and gripping your tastebuds hard. It is rich, intense and displays a great balance between the sweeter and drier elements. Numerous characteristics are detected and these are layered upon each other - burnt caramel, dried fruits (candied orange, raisins and dates, with the tropical notes again returning later), hints of dark chocolate and coffee, plenty of cereals and wood spices (think of cinnamon and nutmeg), honey and a clove-like edge. Two things especially spring to mind - cloved/spiced oranges and rum soaked raisins. The finish is long and enjoyable. It goes from initial sweetness through dryness and back to some final tangy sweetness. There are plenty of soft wood spices here, complimented by notes of caramel and orange oil.

What's the verdict?
This is an exceptionally good whisky that has a fantastic balance between all of the characteristics, be it sweet, woody or spicy. The complex flavours hang around on the palate for ages. The softness and integration of all of these characteristics clearly shows the benefit of that 40 year extended period of the original blend sympathetically maturing and marrying in the cask. It is also a bargain price for something of this quality and age compared to other similarly aged whiskies, whether it is a blend or single malt. If you ever get the chance to try this whisky then don't hesitate. It's a cracker!

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