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Bunnahabhain tie-in drives flavour focus

Islay whisky Bunnahabhain has teamed up with a Scottish Michelin-starred chef to create food matches that will help “bring to life” its whisky portfolio to customers worldwide.

Geoffrey Smeddle’s dish of toffee apple cheese cake, bramble compote and salted caramel ice cream to pair with the Bunnahabhain 25-year-old

Geoffrey Smeddle, chef-owner of The Peat Inn near St Andrews, has put together a series of “tasting props”, from canapé options to a full menu, which have been designed to accompany the Scotch whisky brand’s core expressions: 12, 18 and 25-year-old.

“It’s not a new thing to do,” admitted Michelle Lansdowne, senior global brand manager for Burn Stewart Distillers. However, she told the drinks business: “I think it’s a powerful message to give out to our customers that whisky is not just a standalone drink and to show its versatility and flavours.”

This message was echoed by Dr Kirstie McCallum, brand ambassador for Burn Stewart. “There’s always been a lot of preciousness about Scotch whisky, that you can only drink it with water, but it’s very important that whatever you do you enjoy it,” she insisted.

Explaining that the new programme would initially focus on Bunnahabhain’s key markets of the US, Canada, Russia and the Nordics, Lansdowne told db: “It will help bring to life the tasting events that Kirstie and the brand managers carry out.”

As for the decision to partner with Smeddle, she remarked: “We wanted someone with an international reputation – the Michelin star assured that – so that our international customers would understand. The purpose of this is really to show our markets how to get the most out of Bunnahabhain and bring out the flavours.”

Although noting that “consumers still feel strongly about age statements”, Lansdowne highlighted this food-focused initiative as a means of encouraging whisky drinkers to adopt a broader perspective.

“It’s about trying to show that it’s not just about age, but the flavours in the whisky,” she summed up, adding: “It will also help us to tap into different channels and consumers who are looking for more reassurance when tasting whisky.”

While the recipes offer a degree of flexibility for incorporating seasonal or regional alternatives, Smeddle picked out in particular the “faintly salty tang” of Bunnahabhain, which also bucks

Chef Geoffrey Smeddle explains the food and whisky matches

the traditional Islay style by using unpeated malt and water. In keeping with his own approach at The Peat Inn, he added: “I wanted to highlight Scottish ingredients.”

Customers tasting the range at events will be able to try the whiskies with nibbles such as pork cheek braised on onion stock served on malt bread or slow cooked duck pastilla with spiced fruit and cinnamon stewed in a mix of 18-year old Bunnahabhain and Pedro Ximenez Sherry.

Those attending VIP dinners will be taken through a menu of cured salmon and oyster panna cotta with the 12-year-old; maple-glazed smoked partridge, red cabbage, salsify and malt jus with the 18-year-old; and toffee apple cheese cake, bramble compote and salted caramel ice cream with the 25-year-old.

This latest initiative follows a period of significant growth for Bunnahabhain, which Lansdowne confirmed has seen 107% growth since 2008. “Demand exceeds supply,” she reported of the brand, whose parent company Burn Stewart Distillers was bought by South African group Distell earlier this year. “Albeit we’re a niche brand, we’re a serious competitor in the single malt market,” concluded Lansdowne.

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