Bunnahabhain (pronounced something like “Bunna-har-vin”, in case you were wondering) is an Islay distillery, but its produce lacks the overt maritime qualities of some of its neighbours. A recent revamp of the line has seen its expressions beefed up to a satisfying 46% ABV and bottled au naturel – that is, without being artificially coloured or chill-filtered (something worth a blogpost all its own someday soon) – pleasing many whisky drinkers. The liquid within the slightly stern packaging certainly doesn’t appear to need any caramel colouring, as it has an impressively burnished hue.
On the nose there’s a strong nutty quality, accompanied by a similar palm oil scent. It’s a characteristic that pervades the whisky, and could be quite off-putting if you take an immediate aversion to it. Press on and there’s a sultana note, along with a faintly disconcerting parmesan. There’s a rubbery texture to the whole aroma, which sounds like complete nonsense but somehow encapsulates the overall sensation.
The taste is not radically different from the nose. The nutty, palm oil quality persists, though now complementing a maltiness at which the nose could only hint. Taken together, it makes more sense of the nuttiness and renders it more palatable. There’s also the suggestion of well-done toast (just how I like it), and whispers of fine smoke lurk in the background. The finish brings this out, and it’s at that point that you feel inclined to snap your fingers and exclaim (preferably while alone, or you’ll look barking mad) Aha! Islay! as the smokiness unfurls over the suggestion of crisp peat. The profile of the finish is pleasingly uniform as it ebbs away. You’ll likely notice that it’s tinged with a sweetness reminiscent of sharp citrus, or the tartness of underripe blueberries.
You’ll almost certainly want to add a little water, something which improves it for the general palate. As the water runs in, begetting the silken swirls and pleasing pearlescence that tell you it’s not been aggressively filtered, it enhances the whisky’s profile and brings the nuttiness into line. The nose now seems a little herbaceous and spicy (perhaps cinnamon), with a gentle vanilla. On the tongue it seems saltier, but more gently warming. This is a dram that takes a little getting used to, but has some interesting things to say if you’re willing to listen.
Nose 18 Taste 20 Finish 21 Balance 18
P.S. A lot of people, including the well-respected Ralfy, think very highly indeed of the Bunna 12. As ever, shop around for your opinions – we’re not by any means the last word on whisky (for that matter, no one is)!