With the Christmas season almost upon us, I’m looking back this week to last year when I was lucky enough to receive something interesting from my sister and family. There will be more Christmas themed posts in the coming weeks, so keep coming back for those.
I’d been hoping to receive a Caol Ila 12 or (in all fairness) anything for Christmas 2014, but was still pleasantly surprised to receive this, having wanted to try the standard Bunnahabhain for a while anyway – it being one of the two distilleries we didn’t get to visit during our Distilgrimage adventure on Islay back in 2013.
I’d had a single glass previously, thanks to David, and had even received a 32 year oldmerchant bottling as a present the previous year. That one made it into my 3 spirits of the year in 2014, but a proper appraisal of Bunnahabhain’s flagship bottling was long past due.
Of particular interest with regard to this 12 year old Islay is that Bunnahabhain have very much bucked the recent trend and actually increased the alcohol content from 40 to 46.3 and added the benefit of non-chill filtration – these developments coming as recently as 2010, and it’s still available at around the £40 mark. I won’t be able to comment on what it was like before, but these developments can really only be positive, so we’ll just take it for what it is.
Online user reviews are plentiful and the vast majority are extremely positive. Sure, there are one or two detractors as there always will be, but in the main the Bunnahabhain is very much a peoples favourite – revered alongside one of my favourites, the HighlandPark 12.
The pre-teen Bunnahabain is presented in a stubby, dark and sturdy bottle plastered with seaman – I mean, featuring an image of a seaman on the label. I don’t find it all that appealing in terms of presentation, but that’s ok.
For an Islay, it’s fairly unusual (though not unique) in that it is unpeated – though some people still claim to find tastes of peat in there – and the distiller uses an underground water source that apparently ensures the influence of Islay’s peat bogs is kept out. Ageing takes place in ex-sherry casks, and that influence can be seen in the nice dark red colour of the spirit.
I’m sorry to have to admit that my olfactory senses have failed me somewhat, and I wasn’t able to detect anything on the nose – it seemed almost entirely odourless to me. On the palate though, it is gentle and delicate with a good alcohol burn. There’s a sherry sweetness, then vanilla, then a nice woody finish. As it is unpeated, you can potentially drink it earlier in the evening without worrying about whether it will dominate anything you decide to follow it with.
I had a couple of different experiences over the life of the bottle. Initially I would drink the first half of my glass straight – there is an initial sweetness that you don’t want to interfere with, then add a drop of water when the burn started to take over. This seemed to rejuvenate the glass and take me back to the start, also bringing out an orangey tone. That became almost an automatic practice for a while. Later though, when it was one of my first drinks after being on alert for driving to the hospital, I tried it without water entirely and enjoyed it more than ever. I started to wonder why I’d ever thought adding water was going to be a good idea, and proceeded to finish the bottle neat. It was quite frustrating in the end then, as I had to start questioning how many glasses I’d wasted. That has very much been a recurring theme over the last couple of years, and influenced now by the Bunnahabhain 12, I’ve stopped adding water to anything, and that’s serving me well for the timebeing.
Conclusions then. The Bunnahabhain 12 makes a fine addition to Islay’s renowned output, and is a good introduction to the distillery style. As a standard, entry-level expression it is classy and tasty – not as impressive as the geriatric merchant bottling of previous experience, but not as expensive either. It doesn’t have to be peaty to be impressive and, while I do favour smoky whiskies in the main, it’s nice to mellow out with something different once in a while. And this makes a good value purchase.
Now, I think I’ll be returning to Islay on the blog next week, as I reappraise an old favourite, the Caol Ila 12. See you then, hopefully.