Bunnahabhain 14, 2003, PX Finish

I have not reviewed an official Bunnahabhain in a while—not since the 25 yo, almost two years ago—and this recent special release seems like as good a choice as any for a return. It was released late last year and has been very well received online. It goes without saying in our era of hype, that it all disappeared very quickly.

As per the distillery, this was matured for 11 years in ex-bourbon casks and then transferred to first-fill Pedro Ximinez sherry casks for another three years—which I would say would put it in “double maturation” rather than “finish” territory. I can’t remember if I’ve had, let alone reviewed, any other Bunnahabhains that involved PX casks but I’m intrigued. Bunnahabhain’s spirit plays well with sherry casks, and in theory, at least, the richer, sweeter PX character should be a good match as well. Let’s see if that indeed proves to be the case.  Continue reading

Bunnahabhain 31, 1980 (Whisky Doris)

It was not so long ago that older Bunnahabhains of a high quality were easily found at reasonable prices from reputable bottlers. For example, at release this bottle did not cost very much more than the OB 18 yo costs now. Back then it was possible for middle-class buyers like me to purchase older whiskies and get some understanding of how maturation affects the character of whisky from a particular distillery or how the profiles of whiskies made at the same distillery in different eras vary. If I was at the point in this whisky obsession now that I was at in 2012, I would not be able to afford that experience—if I could even find it. For more in this tedious vein you might want to (re)read my post on older whisky and value in the current era and the many excellent comments on it (here). For now, however, here’s a review of a 31 yo Bunnahabhain from 1980. This was released by Whisky-Doris. I opened and finished the bottle last year and took my notes then too. I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to post them. Continue reading

Bunnahabhain, Briefly (Summer 2017)

Of all the distilleries I visited in Scotland, whether in depth or on a hit and run basis, none were more of a pain to get to than Bunnahabhain, few had as idyllic a location when I got there, and none presented as depressing a prospect in such a lovely setting. This does not immediately appear to be the case as you approach the distillery—see the photograph alongside for the promise of charm. It’s a lovely glimpse after a not-very fun four mile drive on a single track road on which you meet far more oncoming traffic than you would like (more than 0 vehicles was far too many for me at some of the spots where we encountered trucks etc.) but the promise is not kept. At least not right now. It’s been reported recently that the owners are going to spend a lot of money to refurbish the distillery and I think you’ll understand why below.  Continue reading

Bunnahabhain 1988-2004 (Scott’s Selection)

Bunnahabhain 1988-2004, Scott's Selection
This is the second of three Scott’s Selection releases from 2004 that I split with friends when Binny’s put them on a clearance sale a couple of months ago. I’ve already reviewed the Auchentoshan 1983-2004. The oldest of the three, the Glenlivet 1977-2004 is yet to come—though I’m constantly being warned against it.

I *think* that I might actually have tried this Bunnahabhain before. I have a vague memory of it being the malt, a small pour of which led off one of the tastings my friend Rich put together a couple of years ago. If so, I have an even vaguer memory of liking it then. As with all Scott’s Selection releases, there’s very little information out there on this one—no detail on cask type and very few reviews (though it does have a very good rating on Whiskybase). Anyway, let’s see what it’s like.  Continue reading

Bunnahabhain 25, 46.3%

Bunnahabhain 25
Well, on the box they have it as the Bunnahabhain XXV. On the label they put the age in Arabic numerals as well, just to be safe—say this for Bunnahabhain: others may be taking ages off their malts but they put theirs on in two different notations. By either notation this is the oldest official Bunnahabhain I have yet had. I got this from a bottle split—the bottle it came from is at 46.3%, which means it’s post-reboot Bunnahabhain (the reboot happened circa 2011, I believe, but don’t trust me). As to what the actual year of release of this bottle was I’m not sure. This is supposed to have a fair bit of ex-sherry cask whisky in the vatting. This is true of the rebooted 12 yo and 18 yo too, of course, and those are both quite different—I found the sherry in the 12 yo I reviewed to be overbearing and indeed sulphurous, whereas in the 18 yo I reviewed I found the sherry touch to be light and the resultant malt to be balanced with the briny and fruity character of the spirit coming through. Let’s see where on the spectrum this one falls.  Continue reading

Bunnahabhain 23, 1989 (Abbey Whisky)

Bunnahabhain 23, 1989, Abbey Whisky
Abbey Whisky are a Scottish retailer who from time to time release their own cask selections. While their Glendronach casks, like those of other stores, have been released in the official distillery livery, most of their other bottlings seem to be under their own name in a series called “The Rare Casks”. There only seem to have been four releases in this series (as per Whiskybase anyway)—there are also a number of undisclosed distillery releases in their “The Secret Cask” series. All I’ve had from them so far is a very nice Glendronach (which I’ve reviewed) and a sample of their “Rare Casks” Glencadam that did not really impress me (the sample was too small for a review). This Bunnahabhain, which I opened for my local group’s tasting last month, fell somewhere in between at the first outing—I’m interested to see what a month or so of air and time may have done for it.

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Bunnahabhain 21 (Faultline)

Bunna 21, Faultline
This is one of K&L’s cask selections for 2013, though it arrived in early 2014. They bottled a number of casks for their Faultline label, many of them at very good prices relative to age and so laden with temptation I could not resist. Alas, my random sampling of these bottles—based on what I ordered and tasted via swaps—suggested the prices may have been good for a reason. A few were pretty decent, most were mediocre, and a couple were less than mediocre. In the last category I’d place the Bowmore 16 and this Bunnahabhain (though, as you’ll see, I liked it a bit more than the Bowmore).

I’d purchased it (and some of the others) for the tastings I do for our local group—this allows me to spread the risk of unknown quantities at attractive prices around a bit (which I’m sure the few members of my group who read the blog will be very happy to know). I first opened it for our October tasting and most present were not very enthusiastic though nobody actively disliked it. I tasted it a couple of times after that and it seemed like it might be improving. Accordingly, I poured it again at our most recent tasting. Our scores and comments suggest that while we thought the nose had improved the palate and finish had degraded. This review is an amalgam of notes taken at our tasting and at a more focused session at home before emptying the bottle. Continue reading

Bunnahabhain 23, 1990 (Archives)

Bunnahabhain 1990, ArchivesArchives is Whiskybase’s line of proprietary releases—they’re only available at their store and are always excellent value for money. That said, not everything they’ve released has garnered rave reviews; and this Bunnahabhain, released this year as part of their “Fishes of Samoa” series, is one that not everyone seems to have loved. References have been made, I think, to the dread beast “sulphur”, and you know how it is with us whisky geeks when references to things like sulphur and chill-filtration and E-150 get tossed around. As a result perhaps this bottle is still hanging around—not usually a fate that befalls intensely sherried Bunnahabhains, as this one’s colour advertises it to be.

I don’t have a very high sulphur sensitivity myself so I’m approaching it with optimism (as I do everything, really—that’s the kind of guy I am). I have a few older Bunnahabhains on my shelf but have a bit of a gap in the low 20s, age-wise, and it would be nice to find something affordable to plug it for a mega-Bunnahabhain vertical tasting I have in mind. Continue reading

Quick Hits: Three Bunnahabhains

Bunnahabhain Trio
My notes under the “Quick Hits” rubric are of whiskies of which I do not have large enough samples for anything other than a strong impression at best. As such they do not carry ratings and should be seen as even more contingent and unreliable than my usual reviews. Tonight I am tasting three Bunnahabhains–one very old one from 1968, one old one from 1986, and one very young one from 2006. All samples purchased from Whiskybase (I think–see below). There’s only a tiny bit of the 1968 left (I tasted it as soon as I got it some months ago). I wouldn’t normally record notes even for “Quick Hits” for something I am tasting so little of but as the other two are Bunnahabhains far apart in age I couldn’t resist throwing in one even older than the 1986 as well.

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Bunnahabhain 12, 1997 (Duncan Taylor)

bunna12nc2Been a while since my last Bunnahabhain review. Here’s another peated expression from an independent, this time Duncan Taylor in their NC2 range (the name refers to the fact that the whiskies are neither artificially coloured nor chill-filtered) which replaced their old Whisky Galore range of affordable malts. Let’s get right to it:

Bunnahabhain 12, 1997 (46%; Duncan Taylor NC2, peated; from a sample received in a swap)

Nose: Brine and farmy peat (something organic rotting in wet undergrowth). Dry smoke, not phenolic at all. With more time some darker sweetness emerges (some kind of fruit–having trouble figuring out what). With more time it gets more citrussy–lime peel (not a whole lot though); and the smoke is leafier now. With a few drops of water the dry/leafy smoke recedes a bit and there’s more citrussy sweetness. A minute later there are some toffee-like notes.
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Bunnahabhain 12, 1997 (Signatory)

Bunnahabhain 12 SIgnatoryYet another peated Bunnahabhain from 1997, this one from a bourbon hogshead. The bottler is Signatory, who are quite ubiquitous in the US, and this is from their “Unchillfiltered” line, which is usually at 46% (I think there are some store exclusives in this line which may be at higher strengths), and which usually comprises very good value. I’ve had some ordinary bottlings in this series but most have ranged from good to very good.

Along with the official 12 yo and 18 yo, and the peated-sherried from Svenska Eldvatten that was the subject of my last review, this Signatory bottle was part of a four-bottle Bunnahabhain tasting some friends and I did this past weekend, and while it ranked fourth in aggregate everyone quite liked it. As we nosed each whisky (blind), I asked everyone to write down three words each to describe their first impressions (without any discussion) and recorded those to see what general clusters of aromas we got. In my notes below, I reproduce these for the nose, and add my impressions from tonight; the notes for the palate and finish, and my overall comments and rating are from my pour tonight.
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Bunnahabhain 14, 1997 (Svenska Eldvatten)

Bunnahabhain 14, SEBunnahabhain have themselves recently gotten into the peated whisky game with the Toiteach (well, 2008, but it has only just arrived in the US). But a lot of peated Bunnahabhain has been and is available from independent bottlers. Presumably, peated runs were/are made for the group’s blending needs (Bunnahabhain’s production capacity is far higher than that of Tobermory, which is the other distillery in the group that produces peated whisky, under the Ledaig brand name). Indeed, a lot of Bunnahabhain, in general, is available from independent bottlers, and older indie Bunnahabhain, in particular, along with Caol Ila, represents a very good value among the Islay distilleries. That’s neither here nor there, however, as tonight, I am tasting a middle-aged Bunnahabhain from a new Swedish bottler, Svenska Eldvatten, about whom I know nothing other than that they make elegant labels for their bottles*. This is from a peated run and was matured in a first-fill sherry butt.

*But wait, they have a website from which I learn that “Eldvatten” is Swedish for “firewater”. Okay, so they make nice labels and don’t take themselves too seriously. How good are they at cask selection? Let’s take a look:
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Bunnahabhain 18, 46.3%

Bunnahabhain 18

I didn’t like my bottle of the new(er) Bunnahabhain 12 so very much. Let’s see if this new version of the 18 yo is more to my liking. (I have not had the previous incarnation of the Bunnahabhain 18 at the lower strength and so cannot compare the two.) I think I may have read that this is entirely sherry matured, but I am not sure about that.

(Please admire at left the crappy cork that broke off as I opened the bottle for the first time last night. Luckily, I was able to get the rest out cleanly with a corkscrew, and substitute one of the hundred old corks I have lying around.)

Bunnahabhain 18 (46.3%; from my own bottle).

Nose: Honeyed sweetness, almost cloying at first. A very clean coastal aroma–sea air, but not intensely salty, and no rotting seaweed. Toffee and cream and a touch of vanilla. A very appetizing nose–I mean that literally: smelling this whisky is almost making me hungry. A malty note emerges later along with some rich fruit (baked apples? some citrus too) and a touch of woody spice. Very nice indeed. Doesn’t call out for water, but let’s see what a drop or three does for it: brings the wood out a little more and de-emphasizes the honey and toffee. Continue reading

Bunnahabhain 12, 46.3%

bunna12With 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.

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