By Richard Thomas
One aspect of the global craft distilling trend is that many countries that have never made whisky before are now doing it, and since most of them are most familiar with Scotch, that is the model they follow. Hence Italy’s Puni Distillery, which released it’s first batches of three year old whisky last year.
Since three years is the statutory minimum for Scotch whisky and Irish whiskey, and although most were pleased and curious about the notion of an Italian distillery, the minimal aging raised a degree of skepticism from some of the more observant world whisky fans in Europe.
Yet there are ways to make a pleasant sipper out of a young whisky. For example, when I caught up with Kavalan’s Taiwanese whiskies about a year after the initial buzz, what I discovered was that a big chunk of the people who wrote about them (including our own writer, alas) missed how to a large extent Kavalan made good use of a the tropical Taiwanese climate coupled to a heavy finish to offset the youngish whisky at the base.
Clever use of wood is part of the whisky-maker’s craft, and I don’t find anything wrong with that. Nor, in fact, do the legions of fans devoted to Laphroaig’s Quarter Cask. The results might not be subtle, but they can make for a very enjoyable whisky, and that is what Puni accomplished with their Alba single malt.
The Puni Alba I tried was from Batch 2, bottled at 43% abv. What the distillery did with this single malt was conduct their primary aging in Sicilian Marsala wine casks, then put a finish on the whisky using second-fill bourbon barrels already used to make whisky in Islay. Those Islay barrels held their single malt for between 10 and 24 years.
One the one end, the maturation is in wood soaked with a heavily spiced wine; on the other, wood endowed with the peat and sea spray of Islay. The result takes the juvenile malt whisky base I encountered in Puni Nova and layers it with a very enjoyable palette of flavors.
The appearance in the glass was a cloudy gold, the cloudy part no doubt due to the facts that Puni doesn’t chill filter it’s whisky and I keep my stores in an unheated room. The nose, equal parts fruity and grainy, wasn’t encouraging, but the whisky started looking up with my first sip.
The silky texture of the liquid glides over the palate, delivering a well-balanced blend of dark fruit and cookie spices on the one hand, with smoky creosote on the other. As I wrote above, not subtle, but definitely enjoyable. The finish winds down with a nice warm trail.
Puni Alba is listed at €74.