When was the last time you heard someone say “Oh, I stay away from peated whisky as I’m not a fan”. I hear it in a regular basis as guests at Dramatic Whisky events come to grips with the various styles of drams on offer. But more often than not that statement is followed by “especially Islay“. Now, it’s this last part that sends me into a mini meltdown and it is truly the fault of the whisky industry from the past. Regions were to a point, a quick way of introducing people to various styles of whisky, but this lingering categorisation only serves to restrict the consumers choices rather than aid them. I wrote a bit about them here which goes into a bit more detail but basically, if you choose your whisky only by region, you’ll miss out on some gems in the whisky world which brings me neatly onto Bunnahabhain.
Bunnahabain, pronounced “Boona-haa-ven” and meaning ‘stream foot” or ‘mouth of the river’ with its location at the end of the Margadale river from where the distillery draws its water from, is located on the north-east part of the island rather isolated in comparison to the other distilleries on Islay. Since 1881 the distillery has been producing whisky and whilst it was true that at that point the whisky would have been peated, today it is one of only two distilleries on Isaly that does not have peated whisky as its “core release” the other being Bruichladdich. With its own floor maltings ceasing in 1963 its safe to say the change probably came some time around then.
So what of the whisky today? The most easily accessible are the 12, 18 and 25 year old whiskies with Toiteach as the limited edition “peated” style all at the higher abv of 46.3% and non chill-filtered, a move in recent times across the board from current owners Burn Stewart Distillers and welcomed by Bunnahabhain fans. I also had the good fortune to review the recent 40 year old release which was a stunning dram indeed. Bunnahabhain has always been a whisky I would opt for if I saw it on a back bar somewhere as its coastal style and soft character is just what I look for in my malts.
Bunnahabhain 12 year old Single Malt Whisky
Appearance: Pale white gold
Nose: If ever a whisky had an aroma of its origins, this is it. Fresh sea air on a Scottish pebble beach. Samphire over driftwood and lifts of fresh ginger.
Palate: Chewy and rich with fresh ginger creams, malty mid palate and salted caramel. Warming yet still fresh notes of the sea.
Finish: Ginger and vanilla spice linger with a hint of earthy mocha.
Bunnahabhain 18 year old Single Malt Whisky
Appearance: Polished bronze
Nose:The DNA of the seaside emerges first, salty air, tarry ropes wrapped in leather with bold sherry character. Date and fig loaf sprinkled with nutmeg and an espresso on the side.
Palate: Big on the sherry influence, spiced with mace, leather and hints of pipe tobacco and roasted brazil nut. There is still the core message of salted sweetness blended through this bold palate.
Finish: Waves of salty almonds washed down with sherry and a bundle of earthy spices behind.
Bunnahabhain 25 year old Single Malt Whisky
Appearance: Deep bronze
Nose: Sweet leather and cherry wood polished with linseed oil. Rich spices, old velvet, driftwood and tarry rope - the nose twists and turns around the central elements.
Palate: Bursting with rich deep sherry soaked dark fruits, mixed spice and Demerara sugar. It seems spiky at first, but is instantly calmed by a creamy vanilla element, smooths out and relaxes leaving behind a trail of deliciousness.
Finish: Incredibly long, old leather, slight tannin grip and a hint of over roasted chestnut almost charred.
Bunnahabhain Toiteach Single Malt Whisky
Appearance: Pale straw
Nose: Immediate peat smoke but with an unmistakable coastal character. Sweet salty air and drifts of dry citrus peel (tangerine) in the background. Old fish and chips wrapper with a bit of honey, vanilla and samphire all in there.
Palate: A sweet smoke, rich and playful on the palate, parma ham and smoked figs with a slightly medicinal citrus edge somewhere between menthol and lime.
Finish: unsurprisingley it’s the sweeter side of the peat smoke that lingers, turning slightly salty at the end.
Summary: A fine line-up indeed with just about everythign you could ask for. The style is eveident throughout the range despite the change of cask, that coastal element shines and helps maintain the Bunnahabhain message.