Big things are happening at Bunnahabhain. The distillery, which pretty much once stood in bandit country on Islay, is getting a huge makeover. The £11m renovation, which will last about three years, seeks to basically turn the vaguely apocalyptic aesthetics into a gleaming white array of cottages, visitor facilities, warehouses, and places to enjoy a dram. The location of the distillery itself is probably the nicest situation of any distillery in Scotland, so the fact that they’re doing this is good news, though I must admit there’s a part of me that does like that apocalyptic chic. I can imagine it becoming a very popular place. And it’s nice to see this general investment in the overall brand – the whiskies have gotten noticeably better, so much so that some of the best whisky on Islay actually comes from here at the moment.
All of this was announced at about the same time as the brand new Bunnahabhain 46 Year Old, which if you are interested in purchasing a bottle will set you back a cool £5,000. Like a lot of things. An age statement not being enough, the whisky is also known as Eich Bhana Lìr, which means the “great waves of the god Lìr”, but I suspect the 46 part is more memorable.
The whisky (which the material tells me was distilled in 1969) spent its entire maturation in second-fill oloroso Sherry butts (which is the kind of cask maturation that very old Glenfarclas whiskies tend to follow – second-fill sherry) in Bunnahabhain’s warehouse number four. It’s bottled at 41.8% ABV, and there are just 198 bottles available worldwide.
Bunnahabhain 46 Year Old – Eich Bhana Lìr Review
On the nose: exquisite. You would not think this a Bunna. Turkish Delight and Tiramisu, with some heat from the old wood. Old cellars and pencil boxes, as one would imagine from a venerable dram, but lovely dark chocolate and blackcurrant, raspberry notes. Some deep cherry jam in there too. What’s quite interesting is the retention of these voluptuous, red wine style fruits. Rather perfumed for its age. Almond, marzipan on the high notes.
In the mouth: such a gorgeous, thick, cloying texture that delivers heady damson chocolate notes, with just a little violet. But honestly that texture is something else. Drifts into that mustiness note, with touches of chicory drink. Black tea and ginger, with orange chocolate coming to the fore. And, the dried fruits rather than black fruits: raisins, prunes. Plummy. Chewy. With time a little brighter, too – the old beast awakes. Heather honey. Those fresher fruits do return. And, staggeringly, such gentle warmth rather than any aggressive wood bitterness: a slight sourness, some Unami, sun-dried tomato savoury notes at the end.
Outstanding stuff. I’ve tasted quite a few whiskies around this age, and this is up there with the best of them. A lot of life and vitality for such an old whisky too, and without being overpowered by the wood at all. It very much reminds me of some old, more robust Glenfarclas whiskies, though there’s some interesting meatiness here, and a savoury edge, and just a bit more of interest.
Clearly, this beyond being a mere mood whisky: it’s selfish, not for sharing (sod your friends); it’s for hiding away in some dark place in winter and enjoying in Beckettian solitude.
If you are the kind of lady or gent for whom £5,000 is a monthly whisky purchase – for drinking, not investing – then you’ll find a heck of a lot of pleasure here. Don’t ask me about investments though: I’m a terrible financial adviser.