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Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old

Average score from 10 reviews and 45 ratings 86

Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old

Product details

  • Brand: Bunnahabhain
  • Bottler: Distillery Bottling
  • ABV: 43.0%
  • Age: 18 year old

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Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old

I don’t have a lot of formal experience with Bunnahabhain. I just reviewed another Bunnahabhain and so I thought this would be a good time to review something from the same distillery, so that I could get a better idea of the house style. This is my first review of an official bottling, and my third overall. I have @Fiddich1980 to thank for this sample, which he gave me a year and a half ago! Sorry to wait so long to try it.

This expression is reviewed in my usual manner, allowing it to settle after which I take my nosing and tasting notes, followed by the addition of a few drops of water, waiting, then nosing and tasting.

Nose: 22/25

Sweet, soft, sherried nose. There is a freshness to it. Dark fruits. Cherries. Baking spices. white grape juice. A little underpowered but flawless. Water seemed to mute the nose. Same smells but it’s as if the volume was simply turned down. (20/25)

Taste: 21/25

First sip is sweet and a bit spirity. There is an off, slightly solventy note. It is very fruity but it moves from the arrival through to the finish very quickly. There is a peppery note in the development. Overall a little thin in the mouthfeel. Water seems to tone down the bitterness in the development. (21.5/25)

Finish: 20.5/25

slightly bitter, pepper, long finish. Water brings out the pepper over the bitter. (21/25)

Balance: 21/25

The nose promises more than the palate delivers. The bitterness is a bit overpowering of the other flavours.

Score: Neat - 84.5/100 With Water: 83.5/100

Not a bad whisky. A little underpowered, and slightly on the bitter side, though that might be a good thing for some. I’m very glad, @fiddich1980, to have been given the chance to try it, and I look forward to revisiting the rest of the sample.

@BlueNote I thought I’d give it a chance too as many people told me a sample doesn’t do it justice, and that you need to “get to know it” via a whole bottle to understand it. And it’s entirely possible. I was unsure how I felt about my Springbank 15 at first. By the time I was halfway through the bottle, I reviewed it and rated it 89/100, and by the end of the bottle I probably would have rated it a bit higher, maybe 90/100 to 92/100. I’m glad I have another one of those.

An excellent review @Nozinan.

Though I don’t need to tell you that my overall score for this whisky is substantially higher than yours.... ; )

Once again, I’m not surprised at all by the loss in marks when water is added. This, and many other Bunnahabhain expressions, are not as overpowering initially as many other Islays and thus do not benefit from the addition of water IMO.


I'm gearing up for Sober September starting on Tuesday, September 3, ergo I'm trying to get through some samples this weekend. This review is of a 2012 bottling of Bunnahabhain's 18 Year Old. I'm assuming the abv is/was 46.3% though I may be wrong here. The sample was graciously provided by @fiddich1980

Tasting Notes

  • Nose (undiluted): raisins, oak, pipe tobacco, cherries, brown sugar
  • Palate (undiluted): rich arrival, somewhat oily, but oak tannins quickly overtake the oiliness, cloves, raisins, figs
  • Finish: short to medium length, drying and a bit tannic, more pipe tobacco, oak spices, hazelnuts

With water this whisky becomes far more lively. More dark fruits on the nose, with some nuttiness joining the party. More akin to walnuts than hazelnuts. There's a little bit of brine on the nose as well. On the palate, the brine continues alongside some baking spices and brown sugar. The figs and dates are still there but more subdued. The finish is a bit less tannic and pulling with a touch (about 1/4 teaspoon) of water added.

I think I prefer this one with a bit of water. I have no major complaints about it, but I didn't find any "wow" factor here either. There was a bit more oak and a little less sherry than I was expecting, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe I was expecting too much, given the age statement and the price of this bottle here in Ontario. It's certainly not a bottle I'd complain about receiving as a gift. I'd be happy to accept a glass or two if someone offered me a dram but I'm not rushing out to buy a bottle of it either. I think this whisky is ideal for bourbon drinkers who are new to scotch. The sherry isn't overpowering and there's plenty of oak presence. The proof wouldn't pose any kind of challenge to a serious bourbon drinker either.

Thanks again to @fiddich1980 for his generosity.

Wow, the reviews on this one run from 78 to93 with a lot of mid 80s in between. I had it some years ago in a miniature and thought it was pretty decent, not by any means a mind blower. I would probably rate it right around where you did; mid 80s.

@BlueNote My rating observations on the entire bottle:

Fresh open: 90+

1/2 full: 86

Less than 1/3: 84 or less

Also, pre-2012 Bunnahabhain were bottled at 40% then seemed to get better reviews at 46.3%. Also, some review (ATW), noted batch variation and a decline in quality from 2013 to current bottling.

@OdysseusUnbound very good objective tasting notes. Your note on "brown sugar and brine" similar to my subject and other's, "salted caramel".


My taste in single malts usually runs to the more powerful Islays - Laphroaig, Ardbeg, etc. I've had the 12 yr old 'Buna, and recently got the 18. Man, was I blown away!! The depth and complexity of flavors was amazing.

Color was incredibly rich and dark, like a deep chestnut or oak. Lots of sherry on the nose, with the sweetness coming through. A definite raisin scent as well, with just a hint of iodine and the salty sea in the background. On the palate, there's lots of fruit and sweetness with the first sip, with some vanilla and caramel, framed by a lightly smoky and "maritime" background. I found it to have a nice long finish, without the mineral or flint remaining in the mouth like most Islay malts. Almost like you had a piece of candy. This is one to be savored and nurtured, and would be a perfect dram on a cold evening. It's definitely not the "standard" Islay, but this is an absolute gem.

Sounds so tasty in this review!

This one should really be on my proverbial "buy list" someplace—or even just my "try list." I've never had it, and it feels like a significant gap in my malty experience.

I love this one. It's one I keep on my shelf on a regular basis. Personally haven't had a bad one yet, although some friends have reported having bottles from a fairly sulphured batch. Such is the risk with sherried whiskies.


I really love well made sherried malts. Unfortunately, they are becoming more and more a rare breed. The reason is pretty clear: there has been a drastic decline in the number of sherry drinkers - fewer drinkers means less production which in turn means less casks available for malt distilleries to use to age their spirits. I remember when I lived in Wales in the 1980s there were dozens of brands available in pubs and groceries and sherry was the drink offered at most social gatherings. I was back in London in November and was shocked to discover that the only sherry available at most pubs (if any were available at all) was Harvey's ("a drink for the ladies", I was told).

Which is the long way around to this review. I had read some good reviews of the Bunna 18 emphasizing its sherry influence, so when I had a chance to pick a bottle up I jumped at the chance. It is well worth the $110 price tag. This is one of those dark and brooding malts, the kind to drink before a fire on a winter's night. For someone living in the middle of nowhere northern Vermont, it doesn't get a whole lot better than this. Simply put, this is a beautiful dram. By the way, drink more sherry!!!

Color: An absolutely beautiful dark chestnut - "natural colour"

Nose: Sherry soaked fruitcake with burnt raisins, nuts and dark fruit. True to its provenance there is a subtle maritime character. This is a nose with which I can spend an hour.

Palate: Medium body with an olorosa center. The barley tries its best to keep up but the sherry wins out. Stewed fruit (prunes, rhubarb) fruitcake, and Vermont dark maple syrup. The oak makes an appearance and spices begin to buzz. A tad salty.

Finish: Very long with the sherry still holding court. The oak still hangs around but does not overdo things. Spices continue to buzz.

I must admit that this is quite an informative and entertaining discussion. Can't comment on the Amrut sherry, but I am a fan of the Amrut Fusion. It is a bit ironic that living in the middle of nowhere northern Vermont (30 miles south of the Quebec border) I have orders from Whisky Exchange in London and Royal Mile Whiskies in Edinburg safely delivered to my front door. These arcane liquor laws are ridiculous.

@plattvillepeat I have not had the Bunna 18 but the Amrut IS is a fantastic whisky. At $120 Canadian if I didn't have any I would buy one. Having two currently, the average price I paid being ~$100, I wouldn't buy another.


Three years ago I went on a whirlwind tour of Islay. Starting at Bowmore, they had a glamorous "clean" looking modern visitor's centre and reception greeting you straight from the street.

We finished at Bunnahabhain - their visitor's centre took a bit of finding. I recall having to wander around the distillery yards trying to work out exactly where it was. Eventually finding it round the back by climbing up a rickety metallic fire-escape type set of steps and wandering into the scruffiest room I saw that day. I make it sound bad but it actually added to the character. Especially when I immediately had a glass of their 12 year-old malt thrust into my hand, which made for a very pleasant welcome.

So onto the 18. Bunnahabhain came out from the dark side a few years ago by making the very respectable decision to remove all colouring and chill-filtering from their core range. The first thing I notice about this is just how dark it is. It must have sherry influence but the bottle does not explicitly say so.

Nose: Upon pouring I immediately get apples and spices. Sitting in the glass for a while it opens up to reveal raisins, red berries, (yep -typical sherry cask profile), along with sugared fruits. A bit like a stewed plum pudding. Sugared almonds are in there somewhere. Warm spiciness remains throughout.

Palate: Marzipan is quite prominent. A summer fruit cocktail - strawberries, blackcurrants, raspberries. Just a hint of aniseed with a peppering of spiciness. Fairly thick and smooth mouthfeel.

Finish: Medium-Long. Sweetness remains initially before drying out.

It's a nice mellow malt. It's not 'spectacular' but I don't think that is the intention here. The kind of malt that you can just chill-out with, (particularly in winter in front of a fire - so I might leave the rest of this bottle until December).

@Hunggar - I didn't notice whilst writing the review, but now that I think back you're absolutely right. Not that it's a bad thing - it was very nice immediately after pouring and just the same 45 minutes later.

@Nemesis101, great review. I'm curious, did you notice much evolution happen either in the bottle or in the glass? I found this one to be delicious, but slightly too 'sturdy' in the sense that very little changed or evolved over time.


I consider Bunnahabhain to be one of Islay’s hidden gems. Their products boast strong salt and soft smoke, which isn’t for everybody. But they have their own style, and consistently produce quality whiskies. I loved the 12, and was eager to try an older Bunna. But the 18 is not just an older version of the 12 yo. For me the 12 is the experimental and vibrant younger sibling. Oppositely the 18 is the calmer, more refined, but perhaps less bold or exciting older sibling.

Nose: As expected, this is briny and coastal, with soft smoke and rich caramel. Then we get some rather muffled dark sherry notes, mostly sultanas and dark fruits. There’s also ginger, blood oranges, cinnamon, wine tannins, molasses, dark chocolate, and damp leaves. A previous review mentioned bran, which is also a BIG part of this whisky.

Palate: Thick mouthfeel. That bran from the nose really characterizes the palate. There’s also big salt, cinnamon, malt, ginger, wood spice, some stewed fruit, and dark chocolate.

Finish: More bran, malt, and chocolate. The oak is powerful in a very controlled way. Big coffee, cherry wood, star anise, Irish Cream, molasses, and almonds.

This is very different from the 12. The coastal, gently smoky house style is ever-present, but this is much sturdier. I like it. The bran note here is really special, and I also enjoy the calm, but powerful wood notes. But when compared to the 12, there’s by far less dynamism here.

I absolutely loved this the first time I tried the 18, but after revisiting it several times, I haven’t noticed any interesting or new developments. I think this is almost TOO sturdy. There’s very little change that happens in the bottle or in the glass. This tastes the same now as it did when I first opened it. Once you’ve tasted it once, you’ve tasted it 100 times. The consistency of flavours and the controlled quality of this whisky do give the 18 a certain elegance, but I feel it’s sacrificed that vitality and dynamism that makes the 12 such a beautiful and interesting drink. But this is still a distinctive and absolutely delicious whisky. Recommended.

I bought a bottle of the 12 around a year ago and reviewed it. I loved it. I couldn't resist the urge, so I purchased a bottle today. Excellent whisky. Drinking the 12 today and reading your review makes me want to splurge and get me the 18 soon. You make the 18 sound very interesting.

I would love to find this Islay bottling to add to what I've had from my favorite region.


(First vapor: Leather fades right away.) Nose: A distinct smell of whole-grain wheat bread: Bran. A few minutes of breathing turns this sweeter, with vanilla and caramel. Cashews-- and then a faint ocean spray-- keep it serious and bring depth. Wisps of orange rind may tickle the nose. Overall impression is of salty caramel on bran.

Palate: First a surprise splash of sourness. It lasts long, like recovering from an accidental intake of seawater.... But lying behind this arrive some sweet over-toasted nuts. As in the nose, their sweetness (from vanilla/brown sugar) is tempered by some saltiness and bran.

Finish: Oaky pepper crescendos while nuts fade out. Liquorice arrives at the back of the tongue, and then an impression of cinnamon.... then gone.

The contrasts of sweet and savory make an intriguing nose, and the bread scent is unique. Unfortunately, the sour entrance doesn't dissipate fast enough, leaving too little time to appreciate these elements developing in the palate.

Seems that my response disappeared! OK... I ordered a sample just to answer your question. I think that I like that 46.3% better than what I tasted previously, but it could just be that my tastes have changed after nearly 4 years. By memory, I found the "new" one less sour and less bitter. Here are my notes from 1 sitting:

Nose: Green-grapey sherry, significant chalkiness. Some salt spray, hint of lemon pith and steamed wheat grain.

Palate: Salty oil and Juicy white wine, with dry yeasty wheat. Chalky again, and charred as well.

Finish: Chalky and rounded taste of aged oak, slightly biley lemon pith but not too bad, instead compensated by white wine tones that eventually dry.

I rate it 85, find it very similar but a step up from the 12yo. I think Laphroaig's An Cuan Mor is very similar.

I completely agree with indynoir's comments and I was surprised to see your mention of whole grain wheat bread - I took notes on this one last night and wrote down that very same descriptor, which I thought was unusual. I don't get the sourness, but I do get the drying aspects that probably come from the Spanish oak sherry casks - I love the sweet and dry combination. One of my very top whiskies that isn't a Glenfarclas!


Upon opening, there is a definite nose of vanilla, caramel, soft leather, and a certain "sweetness". For an Islay, there is very little of the smoke and peat one would usually expect. That is obviously what sets this whisky apart from it's well-smoked brothers. The palate is quite similar to the nose - sweetness, vanilla and caramel, with the barest hint of peat and brine. Definitely one of the sweetest whiskies, especially for an Islay, that i have ever experienced. It is also an oily whisky which keeps the mouth coated after swallowing. The aftertaste is a bit spicy, with cinnamon and licorice, but it is a very short aftertaste. Overall, a smooth dram and very straightforward, with very little complexity or depth.

Remember Bunna is pratically unpeated, it might have some brine in the background of the palate but besides that you are getting something much softer than the standard Islay.


Nose: Chocolate covered nuts, vanilla, brine, salted nuts, blackberries, sea breeze, seaweed. Water brings out some citrus. Seems older than 18.

Taste: The nuttiness continues with Nutter Butters, sawdust, charred wood, and buttered toast. Very creamy and mouth-coating.

Finish: A tiny dash of peat and a great vanilla ice cream note with a bit of cinnamon at the very end.

This is quite a unique whisky and it's unfortunate that it doesn't get enough attention. Granted, I wouldn't call this the most complex whisky I've ever encountered, but it is of very high quality and it's very mature for it's age. It's obvious to me that the new ABV has elevated this malt tremendously. Go ahead and try it.


Nose, Taste, Finish and Balance are graded out of 2.5 each:

Nose: A beautifully soft, almost bourbon quality to the nose. It seems like an illicit lovechild between Kentucky and Islay, with the best of both genes coming through. On one side we have the deep liquorice, melted brown sugar and sweet leather, and on the other we have delicate seaweed, banana and brine. These two spheres are then joined together by a layer of salty green apples and vanilla cream, all completing a truly exceptional nose. 2.5

Taste: If on the nose though we had the illicit lovechild, here we are very much in the hands of the Sherry patriarch, imparting hiss raisin and brown sugar characteristics on the household, while underneath we are supported by the Oak matriarch, with her offerings of toasted nuts and soft pepper-spice, all of which has been discreetly integrated into the family after its 18 years in the barrel. 2.5

Finish: Sugared guacamole and candied prunes coat the palate as the finish kicks off, before some herbal medicinal notes remind us (in case we had forgotten) that we are in fact drinking an islay dram. As the Bunnahabhain family flavours slowly mingle out, picking up the rear are the slightly frail and muted grandpa damp wood and grandma bitter peppermint. 1.5

Balance: An intruiging dram, a household very much different to its Islay neighbours. There's a bit more colourful dysfunction than the other slightly tougher Islay families, a dysfunction which has both its charms as well its rough edges, yet ultimately it is a household of many stories and characters, some of whom you'll like and some of which you won't. The Sherry patriarch is very much a character to be admired, and although his bourbon-like lovechild may have slightly compromised the family's traditional Islay name, there's nothing to say the household isn't a more interesting place for it. 2.0

Hi OJK Just wrote my review of this 18yo and I am completely with you. I liked the whisky before the finish. But this bitter-sour taste, like you described it very well 'herbal medicinal' downgraded this whisky maybe 10 points.

"grandpa damp wood" — ha! fantastic review.

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