With news out today that Burn Stewart, the owner of Bunnahabhain (Islay), Deanston (Highlands) and Tobermory (Mull) has been purchased by a South African company, it seemed appropriate to take the measure of one of their whiskies tonight. As I don’t currently have any Tobermory (or Ledaig, the peated variant,) and have never owned any Deanston, Bunnahabhain it is.
Bunnahabhain is one of two Islay distilleries that has not traditionally been known for peated whisky–Bruichladdich is the other. Of course, since reopening a decade ago, Bruichladdich has released all manner of peated whiskies and shows no sign of stopping now, even if the peated whisky will now be released only in their Port Charlotte and Octomore lines (at least that’s my understanding). And Bunnahabhain, whose occasional peated runs in the past tended to be available only from independent bottlers, is now also officially in the smoky whisky business with the release of the heavily peated Toiteach. I guess now that distilleries all over the mainland are getting on the peat wagon, you can’t get left behind, on Islay of all places.
Tonight, however, I am tasting the regular 12 year old, which was upgraded from 43% abv to 46.3% (and no chill-filtering or caramel colouring) a few years ago–an upgrade that went across the line at the other distilleries in the family. This is not noticeably peated, but seems to have more ex-sherry casks in the vatting (perhaps to keep the colour as dark as the older incarnation with the fake tan).
Bunnahabhain 12 (46.3%; from my own bottle)
Nose: Meaty, gunpowdery, a little astringent–a touch of Worcestershire sauce; balsamic vinegar? Gets brinier with time and then the brine turns vinegary for a bit before the salt returns to stay. No real sweetness on the nose.
Palate: Gunpowder and raisins, but not a whole lot of raisins; beef stock; a little tannic. A hint of sweetness around the edges.
Finish: Acidic and salty, getting saltier with time.
Comments: This is clearly sulphury, and while I’m not particularly sulphur-phobic this is pretty close to the line of being unacceptably sulphured for me. That said, it’s an improvement over when the bottle was opened six months ago when I thought it was over that line, and I do like it on the nose. I’m going to leave the bottle alone for a few months and see if it changes anymore. Still it’s a lot better than the old 43% Bunna 12 which I always found more than a little bland. (The old Bunna 12 is still out there in a lot of US stores, by the way; you don’t have to squint at the abv: the old one came in a squat tube, and the new one comes in a rectangular box. Or maybe it’s the other way around–hell, you’d better squint at the abv.) In other notes, this may be the only whisky blog in existence with a photograph of a bottle of whisky with a Jain Book Depot cloth bag in the background.
Rating: 82 points.