Tasting Notes: Bunnahabhain – 18 Years Old

Boo-nah-ha-vun [that’s how I’ve been told to pronounce it anyway] is one of the longest inhabitants of Islay, and certainly stands proud by its Gaelic history. Recent expressions have capitalised on its heritage and tongue-twisting names as part of the branding. Despite that however, its recent rebranding across the last decade or so has kept at its heart the traditional use of age statements for their core range, with their 1970s flagship 12yo being joined by the more senior 18yo and 25yo in 2006. These now sit amongst a broadening core range, but at the heart of that, we look at the middle child here. The 18yo has been solely matured in ex-sherry casks, which have been stored within the distillery’s sea-facing warehouses. The 18yo is captured at the house-style of 46.3% ABV, non-chill filtered and without colouring and can be found for ca £100.

Bunnahabhain – 18yo

Nose

Big old Islay sea mist funk. That’s the first impression that I get, at least. If you have ever been to Islay’s northernmost distillery, then you’ll know what I’m talking about. Whilst that is not a super approachable tasting note for everyone, once you know it, then you really know it. If you’ve not been, then how else could I describe it? Mossy. Grassy. Malty. Leathery. Sea spray-y. There’s a really saturated oak scent to it too – like the smell of barrels on the inside of a distillery’s warehouse – with a final little spice from the casks to add punctuation to the whole profile.

Taste

More of that sea-soaked oak coats the tongue at first but a bright malt and grain set of flavours bursts through the fusty profile. There’s maybe even some red fruits and berry-style sweetness lying underneath it all. More poetically, I’d describe its as: Salt and sherry. Malt and cherry.

Finish

Oak spices tingle and dominate the finish. The Christmas combo of nutmeg, cinnamon and clove linger with the sodden oak and a little orange flavour seems to poke through at the end.

Verdict

There are fans of the “Bunna” worldwide but, truth be told, it’s not really a nut that I’ve been able to crack. I know, shocking right? And that’s despite having visited the distillery – an experience that usually makes you bond more with a whisky over others [ed: though maybe it’s also related to the rather ghostly site of abandoned houses near the distillery?!] The younger sibling 12yo, for example, has a certain brightness and youth on its side to make it a punchier whisky but still has a distinctive ‘funk’. The extra time and sherry-led maturation in the 18yo here seems to have imported more of the oak, sea salt and that distinctive distillery funk, rather than the fruitier notes that I would personally be looking for in an older malt – but that’s just my preference. It feels like it has more of an old school, classic whisky taste to it. As I was finishing the dram, it reminded me of the Glen Scotia Victoriana with that dense, rich, earthy, dunnage set of flavours with the added sea spray presence from those poor old battered casks. You can certainly taste and appreciate the time that has gone into making this one. To conclude: I’ll repeat: salt and sherry, malt and cherry, big old Islay sea mist funk.

M

Sample disclosure: received as part of The Dram Team subscription

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