There seems to be a great deal of love out there nowadays for Bunnahabhain. Personally, I believe this is down to a combination of factors. An improvement in the distillate, overall presentation and much-needed investment at the distillery by the current and previous owners. Solid distribution and an affordable range – although prices are creeping up like everywhere else.
The ability to offer that gentle peat before hitting you with the more traditional heavily peated variants seen elsewhere on Islay. Compared to the other island distilleries, Bunnahabhain is more approachable and accommodating on several levels. An array of cask types and finishes that plays more into the mindset of the modern drinker. An individual who wants to explore whisky and a distillery without taking out a second mortgage, or installing a whisky bullshit detector to cut through all the marketing and legends.
I suppose what I’m saying looking above is that Bunnahabhain keeps things simple. A warm welcome always awaits at the distillery and perhaps even more so nowadays with all the renovations taking place. I do want to see these for myself before commenting on any site destruction. Prior to the works as such, Bunnahabhain felt like a time capsule. What an Islay distillery was truly like many years ago. If we’ve lost that sense then that is indeed a crying shame, but the views from the pier or a new modern outlook will always be truly remarkable.
Now, these samples have been acquired over considerable time and stashed away. Life is always about balance. The temptation to have a dram every night, or two, is one that must be reined in and sanitised. In doing so, I’ve forgotten some of the sources for these whiskies. However, I can at least shed some light on some of their origins. Thankfully, I know that @fromwhereidram provided the Bunnahabhain cask samples following her distillery tour in March 2019. Otherwise, I’d be in serious trouble for forgetting that. The Moine sample is the unknown and possibly comes from Justine, who no doubt will tell me otherwise. The SMWS release was a kind gift from a neighbour and I returned the gesture with a SMWS 93.94 Glen Scotia sample. I think he got the better deal, however, he’s never asked since about whisky: maybe the Scotia was a bit too far out there?
That’s one criticism I can level at the Bunnahabhain, is a sense of restraint. Even some of the bold casks perform as you’d expect on paper and don’t thrill me. Yeah, some out there seem to lose their – you know what – when faced with a big sherry or in a wine cask. Occasionally there is an oasis of intrigue often underlined by the presence of a good ex-bourbon cask. I still fondly recall a Bunnahabhain we tasted from the cask in the warehouse during the Feis festival. It wasn’t old enough to be called whisky yet, but it sang passionately to our group. Releases such as the Thompson Bros. 1989 Bunnahabhain back this theory up.
Bunnahabbhain Moine 8yo – review
Bottled at 60.9% strength, from a 2nd fill sherry cask #3660.
Colour: Rum and raisin fudge.
On the nose: Leathery with walnuts, resin and honeycomb. The cutting influence of raspberries, then varnish and a slight medicinal note. Salted peanuts and a peated toffee? A mellow earthiness that is enhanced with the addition of water. This also reveals rose petals, cranberries, more peat and a bit of the spirit strength.
In the mouth: Not as strong as I anticipated, instead a certain balance between the cask and spirit. More nuttiness and leathery aspects. Digestives and some dark chocolate, but not much progression beyond these core flavours – reflective of the age perhaps? Water reveals a soggy cardboard note, some peat becoming almost swampy, Brazil nuts and treacle.
SMWS 10.154 Jam Packed – review
Bottled at 59.9%, distilled on 25th May 2005 and bottled at 12 years of age resulting in an outurn of 186 bottles.
Colour: Lemon oil.
On the nose: Salty lemon, pastry dough and vanilla essence. A slight costal hint. Apples, caramel and overall a sense of a simple whisky. Water brings out more of the wood element – balsa wood – pineapple cubes and honeycomb.
In the mouth: Salty again, more vanilla cream and a little uncouth alcohol on the fringes with a citrus zing. Water improves things slightly with less salt, more rounded and oily. A better texture.
Bunnahabhain Muscat finish – review
This 11 year old AR1690 is bottled at 54.7% strength.
Colour: weathered orange.
On the nose: peaches, tinned apricots, warmed marmalade and almonds. There’s brown bread, heather honey, star anise and a touch of cherry influence. Vanilla, nutmeg, a little salt and pepper alongside well worn-wood. Strawberry jelly sweeties and a dough aspect. A splash of water revealed tobacco and bananas.
In the mouth: not as sweet as expected. Some cherries, tobacco and walnuts. A gentle waft of smoke, clammy, withered tangerines, grapefruit and lacking real detail. Water was beneficial revealing more oils, a thick vanilla caramel and improved texture. A little dry with some rubber on the finish.
Bunnahabhain 10 year old Manzanilla – review
Bottled at 55.1% strength and from cask 3201.
On the nose: shy initially, core aromas of crusty leather, peanut butter and newly laid floor planks. Honey, walnuts and still a sense of it being closed. Time reveals some raspberry and a touch of peat. Adding water here unlocked tobacco, chocolate raisins and vanilla.
In the mouth: very dry as expected! A mouthful of new shammy and rubber. Varnish, acidic, black pepper, clay, stale brown bread and a flat brown ale. Water brings out cranberries, pinewood and cherry.
Bunnahabhain Moine Port Pipe finish – review
Bottled at 55.6% strength and is their heavily peated spirit.
Colour: more copper.
On the nose: salted peanuts, driftwood, seashells and freshly laid tar. Sand, rubbed brass, orange peel, a last gust from a tired BBQ, fatty bacon crisps and walnuts. Water showcases more orange, wood chips, toffee and putty.
In the mouth: salty, driftwood, peat and peat, black pepper followed by cardboard. More bacon crisps and burnt toast. Water erodes much of the shape leaving a muggy wet cardboard dram with more salt.
Bunnahabhain 12 year old PX – review
Bottled at a eye watering 60.4% strength from cask 1635.
On the nose: very sherried with those traditional PX fruits at the rear. Cinnamon, a smoky residue, red apples, liquorice and rubber. Tobacco, orange, forest nettles and mint leaf. This can take a fair bit of water, revealing a citrus zest, figs, cauliflower and salt.
In the mouth: of course there’s sherry, but beyond this window dressing is dried fruit, star ainise, liquorice, cinnamon and red kola. Rubber, smoke on the finish, more shammy notes and leather. Water brings out a pleasing oiliness, a solid mouthfeel, lots of sherry oak, tar and an earthiness.
The SMWS Jam Packed seems poorly named. More Jammed Flat would have been appropriate in hindsight. A little youthful, lacking direction and not a very active cask, makes it difficult to recommend. The 8 year Moine is solid but like most of today’s television schedule, fills a gap and nothing more, nothing less.
The Muscat is decidedly average and the palate didn’t really burst into life. Perhaps the finish needs a little longer to work its magic? The Moine Port Pipe is very one dimensional, which is bitterly disappointing because I had high hopes on paper. Is there a stick it in the cask and hope for the best ethic at play here? This certainly applies to the Manzanilla, which just doesn’t work this time around. The PX is arguably the pick of the bunch here, but not something I’d rush out to purchase either.
Overall, I feel underwhelmed. Is this a true reflection of Bunnahabhain today? I’m all for exploring further.