Bunnahabhain is one of those distilleries that many people would not have heard much of, let alone tried. But to say that it is a hidden gem would probably be a huge understatement.
This picturesque Islay distillery which counts Caol Ila as its closest neighbour has been around since 1881 (the same year of establishment as Bruichladdich) and has been quietly producing some rather stellar whisky over the years.
Historically, Bunnahabhain hasn’t sold much whisky as a single malt due to it being an important part of blends such as Cutty Sark and Black Bottle. In fact, almost all of the production used to be allocated towards these blended whiskies, leaving little room for the single malt to shine.
The distillery also produces its own blend, Black Bottle, which used to contain whiskies from all the Islay distilleries (except for Kilchoman). However, with some of the distilleries being less forthcoming with the sale of casks for Black Bottle, the owners were forced to tweak the recipe in order to address the issue.
This has allowed Bunnahabhain to play a bigger role in the new recipe, which is something the owners would definitely want as it is in their best interests.
Getting back to the single malts though, the distillery has a core range of whiskies which it produces for sale:
- Bunnahabhain 12 Years Old
- Bunnahabhain 18 Years Old
- Bunnahabhain 25 Years Old
- Bunnahabhain Toiteach
- Bunnahabhain Ceobanach
- Bunnahabhain Eirigh Na Greine
- Bunnahabhain Cruach Mhona
More information on these whiskies and the distillery itself can be found in my earlier article: The Islay Series – Distillery #4: Bunnahabhain.
The focus of today’s article would be to revisit what is very much my favourite release from the distillery: Bunnahabhain 18 Years Old. It is a whisky that seems to encapsulate everything that is great about the distillery and its house style.
As with pretty much all of its whiskies, Bunnahabhain utilises a mix of both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks to create their expressions and the proportions of each type of whisky is carefully maintained in order to preserve the desired flavour profile.
In the case of the 18 Years Old expression, the proportion would be 40% ex-sherry casks and 60% ex-bourbon casks. Such a combination allows for both types of whiskies to be married together properly in order to create a deliciously balanced and drinkable dram.
And with that, let’s get right in!
Bunnahabhain 18 Years Old (46.3% abv)
Colour: Burnished copper
Nose: Salted caramel, roasted cashews, honey and some sherried sweetness on initial entry. With time, the peat creeps in but is wonderfully understated and elegant.
Citrus fruits and sultanas make an appearance after a while, with cloves and nutmeg also present. The nose takes on a spicy edge with time, but the sweetness is ever-present. (21/25)
Palate: Sherried sweetness coupled with a coastal saltiness and just a touch of peat in there. The spiciness is also evident on the palate, intermingling beautifully with the other aspects of this dram.
With time, the dram takes on an almost Christmas cake-like feel and the sweet/spicy/smoky/salty combination is brilliantly balanced. Very more-ish! (22/25)
Finish: Long, sweet, spicy, salty and smoky finish. Delicious sherried sweetness intermingling with the coastal saltiness and peat with just a hint of mulled wine and nutmeg in the background. Quite a chewy malt and the mouthfeel is wonderfully oily. (22/25)
Balance: As mentioned above, the balance of this dram is superb and something that really makes it stand out from the rest. The abv of 46.3% is also satisfying as it allows for the nuances to shine through. (24/25)
This is an unbelievably good whisky and the balance is the real star of the show. I would highly recommend this whisky to experienced drinkers as it would provide them with a good level of enjoyment.
This is not a whisky that is meant to be guzzled, but rather sipped and savoured for its relative complexity, balance and character. Bottles can be purchased online at Master of Malt for a very reasonable £61.34 plus shipping and taxes.