Class: Islay Single Malt Scotch (unpeated)
Reviewer: Andrew Owen
The Bunnahabhain distillery (pronounced Boon-uh-hah-ven) was built in the late 1800's, and lies on the northeast shore of Islay near Port Askaig. In defiance of mainstream Islay distilling, it mainly produces unpeated single malt whiskies. Due to its style and its somewhat remote location far away from the peated powerhouses on the south side of Islay, it seems like Bunnahabhian is often one of the forgotten children of the great whisky producing island. This is typically good news for non-mainstream enthusiasts searching for well aged stock and independently bottled offerings of Bunnahabhain, but is nonetheless a shame that more people don't have this distillery on their radar.
Bunnahabhain is currently owned by Distel, who despite being a relatively small player in the scotch whisky game, owns several dozens of spirits and wine labels throughout the world. Bunnahabhain sources all of its barley from the Port Ellen malting floors, and has 4 operating pot stills (2 wash, 2 spirit). Bunnahabhain also ages all of its casks on site in low brick dunnage warehouses nestled right against the sea.
In a move to appeal to the modern trends of whisky enthusiasts (that's us!), Bunnahabhain underwent a small rebranding several years ago, raising the proof of all of their core range whiskies to 46.3% ABV, and eliminating all chill filtering and coloring to their whiskies. If only more distilleries would take note! Onto the 12 year now, which is the youngest age stated whisky in their core range, which includes 18, 25, and 40 year old bottlings as well as a few more heavily peated NAS releases.
- Unpeated (although there are traces of peat in the water the distillery uses)
- Aged primarily in ex-sherry casks
- Bottled at 46.3% ABV
- Non-chill filtered, no color added.
Nose: Sweet and earthy up front with a unique aroma of vanilla pudding, candied plum, and root beer. Under these, the nose further develops with fruitier notes of raisins and soft tropical fruits (pineapple, mango). It is rounded out by a slight hint of brine. Fresh and inviting, with great interplay between fruit and malt.
Palate: An initial peppery bite gives way to rather complex notes of apple cider vinegar, tangerine, lemon, and red fruits, which are contrasted by paprika and an earthy dry chocolate note. Pervading throughout is a malty sweet cream.
Finish: Tannic fruit skins, barrel char, sweet malt. Not that short but not overly long.
Buying Recommendation: Buy it now! I have not had any other single malt quite like this. It has a totally unique flavor profile that is complex, cohesive, and quite delicious. Bunnahabhain's unpeated malt combined with Islay and maritime influences plus some sherry influence from the casks creates a highly successful individuality. At under $60, there's no reason not to own this.
The Rating Scale
At WBSE we use a true 100 point scale for scoring to allow whiskeys to further differentiate themselves (as opposed to a letter grade scale where 90% of whiskeys fall between 78-92). This allows you to more easily compare scores between different whiskeys. Here is how the scale breaks down:
1-49: Varying degrees of bad
60-69: Better than average
90+: truly exceptional
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