We whisky drinkers can be a funny bunch. While we are fully aware that the whiskies from Islay are predominantly peaty and smoky, we tend to fixate on these two characteristics and sometimes it is to the detriment of the distilleries which do not display these two characteristics as overtly as their counterparts.
Bunnahabhain would definitely fall into this category as it is a distillery which is equally celebrated and ignored due to its location on the isle of Islay. By predominantly producing whiskies which are unpeated in nature, it (along with Bruichladdich, until 2001 that is) was seen as an anomaly in terms of the style of whiskies which it traditionally produced.
Not that it bothered the distillery much, that is. They have gone about their merry way and their core range is made up of some rather impressive unpeated whiskies which have ensnared the senses of whisky drinkers who were either looking for a different interpretation of the Islay style or were looking for a way to get acquainted with the whiskies from the fabled isle before taking on the peat monsters from Port Ellen.
However, the distillery realised that having peated offerings within the core and limited ranges would provide a certain benefit as it would allow for them to showcase the versatility of their spirit in both unpeated and peated states. This led to the creation of peated expressions such as Toiteach and Ceobanach by the distillery.
This week’s review is basically a battle between the unpeated and peated forces from Bunnahabhain and while the 12 Years Old expression forms the bedrock on which the core range is built, the Ceobanach is a small batch peated offering which is produced in limited quantities.
As I have previously delved extensively into the history of the distillery, I will refrain from doing so again and more information can be found at the following link: Bunnahabhain
The first whisky in this double header is the Bunnahabhain 12 Years Old, which is made from a combination of 25% ex-sherry and 75% ex-bourbon matured whiskies and bottled at a standard abv of 46.3% by the distillery. I have previously reviewed this expression and the initial review can be found here: Bunnahabhain 12 Years Old
The second whisky is the Bunnahabhain Ceobanach, which represents the distillery’s early days when the spirit was heavily peated. It is matured in ex-bourbon casks and bottled at a standard abv of 46.3% by the distillery. While it is a non-age statement offering, most of the whiskies within it have been aged for at least 10 years.
So, let’s jump right into the review!
Bunnahabhain 12 Years Old (46.3% abv)
Nose: Sweet, mellow and rounded on initial entry, with sherry, oak, vanilla and sea salt on the nose. A faint prickle of alcohol follows but it is not intrusive. Slight camphor and hints of bourbon make an appearance along with a touch of cinnamon. (21/25)
Palate: The sweetness carries through from the nose to the palate and is augmented by the sherry and bourbon hints which are more pronounced now. The cinnamon also makes an appearance along with the sea salt and there is a whiff of smoke along with a slightly vegetal and earthy note. Gentle, rounded and slightly savoury, with just a hint of black pepper on the tip of the tongue. (22/25)
Finish: Medium to long on the finish, with sherry, vanilla and oak dominating along with a nice warmth brought on by the cinnamon. Distant hints of camphor and some sea salt appear at the end to bring things to a close. (21/25)
Balance: Quite a well-balanced and rather enjoyable dram, with the mouthfeel exhibiting oily traits along with the tiniest hint of dryness which is brought on by the oak. (22/25)
Bunnahabhain Ceobanach (46.3% abv)
Colour: Deep gold
Nose: Brine, barley sugar and a noticeable amount of peat on initial entry, with a slight unripe green fruit note coupled with some hints of camphor. The alcohol strength is also apparent, but once again it is not intrusive. There is a mild citrusy note which underpins the sweetness of the barley sugar and gives it a bit of heft. (20/25)
Palate: The peat is far more apparent on the palate than on the nose, but it is rather dignified instead of being brash and exhibits a definite maritime briny note. More of the unripe green fruit note (which seems to be leaning towards guava) and there are hints of seaweed, sea salt and black pepper.
Chewy malt and camphor also figure on the palate, which adds to the complexity of the mouthfeel. (21/25)
Finish: Medium on the finish, with the malt and citrus elements becoming rather austere. Oak, black pepper and peat take over the proceedings along with the distant hints of camphor. (18/25)
Balance: A fairly well-balanced dram which exhibits the typical maritime notes of a Bunnahabhain while augmenting it with elements of briny peat. It’s a good dram, but the austerity of the finish is a sudden shift from the citrus and malt-filled nose and palate and that causes it to fall short. (18/25)
While I found the Ceobanach to be an interesting dram as well as a good representation of a peated Bunnahabhain, I feel that the Toiteach would be a better candidate as it tends to showcase the balance between the peat and the malt rather well in comparison.
The 12 Years Old is as good as I remember it from the time I tasted it at the distillery and it is a solid unpeated offering which should be on everybody’s whisky shelf. If anything, it is a great way to introduce an Islay whisky to someone who isn’t familiar about the island and would prefer to start with something rather gentle before progressing to the heavier styles.
The Bunnahabhain 12 Years Old can be purchased from The Whisky Exchange (£34.96 ex VAT) and Master of Malt (£30.79 ex VAT), while the Bunnahabhain Ceobanach can also be purchased from The Whisky Exchange (£44.13 ex VAT) and Master of Malt (£44.13 ex VAT).
Until the next review, have a great week ahead.
More reviews: https://www.thesinglecask.sg/blogs/news