Every time there's an online discussion about Bunnahabhain, I'm hesitant to comment. It's a whisky that generally leaves me a bit confused. None of the Bunnahabhain offerings I've tried have been bad but their whiskies carry a hefty premium here in Ontario. A premium price tag for what are, to me, ordinary whiskies? I don't get it. Please don't get me wrong: I'm not saying Bunnahabhain 12, 18, or Stiuireadair are bad whiskies. I'm saying Bunnahabhain 12 sells for about $20-$30 more than most other 10-12 year old single malts and judging strictly based on quality I'm not sure why that is. According to the internet, it's probably because I'm an idiot who doesn't know what good whisky is. I suppose that's one plausible explanation. Luckily John MacPherson, a brand ambassador for Bunnahabhain (and other Distell brands), made it his personal mission to provide me with a Bunnahabhain expression that would wow me. Challenge accepted; let's see what this one is all about.
Tasting notes: from a Highland whisky glass
- Nose: raisins and fresh grapes (not often you get both aromas, but there it is), brine, thick caramel, dates, something slightly herbal in the background (fresh thyme?), a faint aroma of fresh raspberries and other red fruits (strawberries?) develops with time.
- Palate: rich, oily and thick texture, dates, sultanas, walnuts, oak spices (cinnamon, cloves), brine, a touch of smoke, some caramel and vanilla, and just a hint of those red fruits
- Finish: long and lingering, vanilla, pear, a little bit of peat and smoke, brine lingering alongside a faint green herbal note and some minerality that's slightly reminiscent of Talisker or Kilkerran. Fantastic.
- With water: the aromas are less fruity and the sweetness of salted caramel comes out, water also brings the faint smokiness to the nose with that herbal note hanging around without overtaking anything. It also gets a bit smokier on the palate with water and the finish still lingers but it gets more drying and a little tannic. I think I prefer it without water. Even at 54.9% abv, it's easy to sip.
- Thoughts: This is not your typical Islay peat bomb but there is a little peat and smoke there. The thick, chewy texture is the real star here. This is a pleasure to sip. I'm glad I found at least one Bunnahabhain that made me react à la Owen Wilson (Oh wow !), but if you find one of these beauties it ain't going to be cheap. A quick Google search shows the average price for this bottle is $520 or so in the U.S.A. That said, if you're trying to impress someone with a very discerning palate, this one should do the trick. Well done, Bunnahabhain.