Bunnahabhain (Pronounced: boona-HAAven)
Islay (East Shore)
55°50'52.998 N, 6°6'21.1284 W
Caol Ila, Bowmore, Bruichladdich
2 Wash, 2 Spirit
2,500,000 litres of pure alcohol per year
Distell > Burn Stewart Distillers (since 2013)
Port Askaig, Islay, Argyll, PA46 7RR, Scotland
+441496 840 646
Below, on WhiskyFun and on the Malt Maniacs Monitor
Scores & tasting notes:
2003 - Four years after the Edrington Group mothballed the Bunnahabhain malt whisky distillery in 1999, it was purchased by Burn Stewart, together with the 'Black Bottle' brand of peated blended whisky.
2008 - Two brand new 'standard' expressions of Bunnahabhain are released; "Darach Ur" and "Toiteach".
2010 - Bunnahabhain increases the proof of their official bottlings from 40% or 43% to 46.3%.
2013 - Burn Stewart Distillers (the owners of the Bunnahabhain, Deanston and Tobermory distilleries) was sold by CL Financial to Distell from South Africa for £160 million.
It's hard to believe if you visit the remote, quiet
island of Islay (population +/- 3,000), but it was
once the centre of a large empire. The centre of
that empire was Loch Finlaggan. In the loch are
three islands, two of which lie close to the north
shore; Eilean Mor (meaning 'large island') and
Eilean na Comhairle (council isle) which contain
the remains of ancient buildings. The chief of
Clan Donald ruled as the 'Lord of the Isles'
over the West coast and islands of Scotland.
In 2005 Bunnahabhain distillery employed
some 11 people. That may not seem like a lot,
but on a small island like Islay every job counts.
If the workforce of the other Islay distilleries is
of a comparable size, that would mean that all
Islay whisky is produced by +/- 100 people...
For a while, I had my doubts about Bunnahabhain's future...
The new slogan they came up with at Burn Stewart is 'Bunnahabhain - The Spiritual Home of Black Bottle'.
Well, if that's the only 'core value' they want to express (the fact that Bunnahabhain is used in a blend, albeit a tasty one) they may not be in the best position to take full advantage of the current single malt whisky boom...
Based on experiences with single malts from the other distilleries that are owned by Burn Stewart (Deanston and Tobermory) I was sceptical at first. There, the focus seemed to be on quantity rather than quality. It is actually possible to find magnificent bottlings from these distilleries, but they are usually selected casks from independent bottlers. I'm happy to report that Bunnahabhain seems to be doing very well - IMPROVED quality if anything!
In 1999 Highland Distillers, the owners of Bunnahabhain, were acquired by the Edrington
Group (themselves the result of a merger in 1996). They only held on to Bunnahabhain for a
few years; in 2003 Bunnahabhain (both distillery & brand) were sold to Burn Stewart Distillers,
together with the 'Black Bottle' brand. In the words of Ian Good, chairman and chief executive
of Edrington: "The disposals are in line with the group's strategy of concentrating our investment
resource behind developing our core brands." The Glasgow-based Edrington group said that its
strategic aim is to concentrate investment behind developing its flagship brands; the Famous
Grouse & Cutty Sark blends and the Macallan and Highland Park single malt whiskies.
Perhaps it's just as well that Bunnahabhain was released from their grasp, because
both Macallan and Highland Park dropped from my Top 10 of favourite distilleries after the
Edrington Group were finished 'developing' them. In both cases it meant that the quality
of the regular, 12yo expressions that had been affordable favourites of mine during the
1990's started to drop to 'average' levels while the prices were cranked up a notch.
Even though Bunnahabhain was sold to Burn
Stewart, the Edrington group is still its biggest
customer. Bunnahabhain may not have the
biggest 'profile' of the distilleries on Islay, but
it has the largest production potential of all
distilleries on the island. They don't run at full
capacity, though, making Caol Ila (located
just a little to the south) the distillery with the
biggest actual annual output on Islay in 2007.
The fact that Bunnahabhain is (at least potentially) the biggest distillery on
the island may come as a surprise to some, but when some of the malt
maniacs visited Bunnahabhain in June 2005 we could verify for ourselves
that the stills were absolutely massive. The trip to the distillery is worth it,
even if you don't fancy basking in the glow of the massiveness of the stills.
Most whisky activity is on the southern part of the island and around Loch
Indaal, but a trip north will take you along Loch Finlaggan - worth a detour.
The Bunnahabhain distillery on Islay is located on the north
of the island, with Caol Ila as its only neighbour. Situated
on the coast of the Sound of Islay, it's protected from the
fierce winds blowing in from the Atlantic ocean. Maybe this
is reflected in the upeated style of the 'Bunny'. It's the only
unpeated Islay malt whisky; Bruichladdich is lightly peated.
Bunnahabhain distillery was constructed in 1880/1881 by
the Greenlees brothers and first opened its doors in 1983.
The number of stills was increased from two to four in 1963,
at a time that many other distilleries did the same. At the
moment, Bunnahabhain has the largest capacity on Islay.
1) The name Bunnahabhain is Gaelic for 'Mouth of the River' and refers to the Margadale River.
2) Bunnahabhain's location was chosen mainly because it's easily accessible from the mainland by boat.
3) The warehouses of Bunnahabhain also contain casks of Tobermory and Ledaig malt whisky because there is insufficient storage capacity on the island of Mull itself. Illogistically enough, the freshly distilled whisky is first shipped from the Tobermory distillery to the Deanston distillery for filling, and then onwards to Bunnahabhain.
4) Together with Glenmorangie and Isle of Jura, Bunnahabhain used to have the tallest pot stills in the industry.
However, different sources quote different sizes - and quite a few stills were replaced in recent years at those distilleries. So, I'll stay away from mentioning exact numbers at this point.
5) Bunnahabhain is one of almost two dozen malt whisky distilleries that were founded over a century ago during the 'whisky boom'
of the late 19th century and which have managed to survive until this day. The other survivors include Aberfeldy, Ardmore, Aultmore, Balvenie, Benriach, Benromach, Bruichladdich, Craigellachie, Dalwhinnie, Dufftown, Glendullan, Glenfiddich, Glenrothes, Glentauchers, Knockandu, Knockdhu, Longmorn, Tamdhu and Tomatin.
Bunnahabhain 25yo (46.3%, OB, Bottled +/- 2011)
Nose: Wham! Starts off with a heavily sherried punch with a fair amount of sulphur. Overpowering.
Over time subtler elements get a chance. Mint? Faint hints of leather? And now Jaegermeister. An odd one.
Taste: Surprisingly sweet and smooth start - and then the smoky, tarry centre and finish are another surprise.
A 'narrow' profile; the smoke pushes aside the other elements. Somehow, this malt feels 'doctored'.
Score: 82 points - this shows a very different (smoky) side of Bunnahabhain, but not a lot of it, actually...
Given the steep street price, you might as well invest in a bottle of the 12yo OB AND a real peat monster.
Bunnahabhain NAS 'Toiteach' (46%, OB, Peated, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Light and peaty. Chloride with flowery and farmy notes in the background. Organics - a little sweaty.
Taste: Sweet and smoky start. Memories of tar, diesel oil (and other "industrial" oils) and liquorice.
Score: 81 points - recommendable, although the light colour suggests that this whisky is fairly young.
Bunnahabhain 2005/2010 (58.5%, Exclusive Malts for Whisky Live Taipei 2010, C#29, 268 Bts.)
Nose: Oh, that's odd... And quite pungent. Smoke and shoe polish. Perhaps some herbs in the background?
Machine shop smells after a minute. This is a very unique whisky. Not VERY much change after I added water.
Taste: Heavy smoke and tar, followed by sweetness. A big but smooth & short. Strong tannins in the dry finish.
Score: 86 points - it has some rough edges, but it's hugely enjoyable. A lovely liquorice sweetness taste...
Keeping in mind that this whisky is only five years old and crossed half the globe twice, that's impressive.
Bunnahabhain 8yo 2001/2010 (54%, The Whisky Agency's Liquid Library, Oloroso Sherry, 180 Bts.)
Nose: Dark tea. Dry raisins. Complex woody notes. A hint of tobacco? Incredible complexity, just brilliant.
Spices, clove, cinnamon, bonfire, passion fruit, ... My fingers simply can't keep up with my nose and brain.
Taste: Chewy, smoky, woody, fruity, smooth, glowing, sweet, figs, prunes, tannins, chocolate, PURE HEAVEN!!!
Score: 92 points - it's shocking and amazing that a whisky can be THIS brilliant after just eight years.
There must be some serious magic happening at Bunnahabhain if they can produce casks like this one.
Bunnahabhain 12yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Coffee. Very sheavily sherried with smoky notes in the background. My kind of style, but it lacks complexity.
Taste: Very sherried with decent amounts of wood and smoke. Enjoyable tannins - but the mouth feel is rough.
A tad dry in the finish. My type of whisky, but it also has quite some rough edges that keep it in the lower 80's.
Score: 82 points - wow, they have really changed the profile of the Bunny - it is now a sherry monster.
Bunnahabhain 12yo 1997/2010 'Moine' (54%, Riverstown, C#5415, 259 Bts.)
Nose: Light and farmy. A touch of peat as well it seems. It feels quite young. Not as powerful as the palate.
Taste: Oy! Definitely peaty. Quite salty, but sweetness slowly blossoms as well. Smoky, medium dry finish.
I like the palate better than the nose, but it doesn't really respond at all to water. It loses a few points there.
Score: 82 points - so, what's that nonsense about Bunnahabhain being unpeated? When did that change?
Bunnahabhain 41yo 1968/2008 (41.2%, Adelphi, C#12401/3, 719 Bts.) - MISPRINT! ACTUALLY BTLD. 2010!
Nose: Enormously big, sweet and fruity. Cassis, Black berries. Spices, Organge zest. Christmas cake.
Some smoke and a whiff of strong Earl Grey tea. Wood too. Fantastic development, worthy of a gold medal.
Taste: Extremely woody, but not very much else happening until some tannins pop up at the end of the finish.
Score: 89 points - but based on the nose alone it would have made it well into the 90's.
Bunnahabhain NAS 'Darach Ur' (46.3%, OB, for duty free, 1 litre, Bottled 2009)
Nose: Strong fruits. Pleasant but not very well defined. The faintest hint of smoke in the background.
The fruity elements feel slightly 'pressure cooked', but there's plenty of character. Almost like a fruit distillate.
Taste: Substantial, but fairly rough and hot. Woody. Unsweet. Not integrated enough to reach the 80's for me.
Score: 79 points - potent and scoring above average, but IMHO it's not quite worth the RRP of 48 Euro's.
This bottling has been matured in new oak casks; 'Darach Ur' is actually Gaelic for 'new oak'.
Bunnahabhain NAS 'Toiteach' (46%, OB, Peated, Bottled 2009)
Nose: Feisty. Chloride. Farmy. Dry. Sweetens out a bit over time. A whiff of peat, growing stronger.
Not terribly complex, but it's the sort of profile that I enjoy quite a bit. Clean and dry, a bit like a Caol Ila.
Taste: Sweet for a few seconds, growing peatier and smokier after a second. The sweetness hangs around.
Diesel, anthracite - 'industrial' phenols rather than organic ones. So, a bit like 'bicycle repair shop'.
Score: 80 points - recommendable, although the light colour suggests it's fairly young.
Bunnahabhain 18yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2009)
Nose: Woody with evolved fruits; a classic profile. Subtle whiff of citrus in the background. Lovely!
A hint of bicycle repair shop. This one loses some steam after a few minutes, but it remains enjoyable.
Taste: Fruity, smooth start; evolving into a solid woody centre. Some tannins in the (initially) smooth finish.
Quite solid. There's a whiff of smoke at the end. The smoothness disappears at the very end, growing dry.
Score: 83 points - surprisingly potent. Clearly a few points 'better' than the 12yo of a few years ago.
So, I guess that makes it worth the higher price compared to the 12yo, Toiteach and Darach Ur.
Bunnahabhain 35yo 1974/2009 (56.6%, Adelphi, 200 Bts.)
Nose: Powerful fruits, polished wood and smoke. Cassis? Wonderful complexity and development. Rubber?
This profile is right up my alley, but I can see how the wood would be too dominant for some people.
Taste: Smoke and fruits with traces of antiquity. And loads of wood of course - chestnut and European oak?
A brilliant mouth feel; a combination of menthol freshness and warm tannins in the finish. A woody drought.
Score: 91 points - this is not for everybody, but if you can stand some wood the peppery twist is unique.
This one also made me realise that 'rubber' could be a marker in older versions of Bunnahabhain.
Bunnahabhain 35yo 1974/2009 (47.3%, The Whisky Fair, Bourbon Hogshead, 250 Bts.)
Nose: It starts expressive; fruity and sweetish. However, it settles down and there's not much development.
Taste: Soft and smooth. A little malty, a little fruity. Perhaps it leans towards the perfumy side? Tannic finish.
Score: 86 points - a highly recommendable whisky that seems especially suitable for blend drinkers.
Bunnahabhain 10yo 1997/2008 (46%, Signatory Unchillfiltered Collection, Refill Butt, C#5355, 852 Bts.)
Nose: Very farmy. Green peat slowly creeps to the surface. That's weird - I thought Bunnies were peatless?
Well, this is most definitely phenolic stuff. Anthracite. Appears saltier after a few minutes of breathing.
Taste: Surprisingly sweet. Peaty and smoky with loads of liquorice in the tail. Young but polished.
Score: 78 points - up from an initial score of 76 points. A surprisingly peaty Bunnahabhain.
Bunnahabhain 34yo 1974/2008 (59.3%, The Perfect Dram, oloroso, 300 bottles)
Nose: Oooh! La! La! That's more like it... Wood and smoke. Chocolate. Freshly burnt coffee beans.
Mocca. Roasted nuts. Prune, lychee and loads of other fruits. What an excellent nose...
A lot of development over time, but chocolate remains the dominant factor - chocolate soufflé...
Taste: Extremely concentrated fruits. Excellent mouth feel. Liquorice. Smokier and woodier over time.
Brilliant mouth feel. Big, road and smoky with a fair amount of tannins in the finish. Great work...
Score: 93 points - wow, but once again not everybody might agree. I didn't dare to add water.
A really spectacular whisky that stays with you for a long time...
Bunnahabhain 31yo 1976/2008 (46%, Single & Single, 560 Bts.)
Nose: Light, round & a little fruity. Solidifies after a few seconds with some more woody notes.
Faintest hint of smoke? Well-balanced, although it closes up after a few minutes instead of opening up.
Floral. Some very subtle peanuts and organics far in the distance. A 'blink and you'll miss it' malt.
Taste: Round and sweet and very smooth. Excellent fruity centre with loads of passion fruits.
The finish is hot, long and very dry. The wood is just a tad too dominant here; making it fairly bitter.
Pretty good tannins, though - and a menthol freshness emerges after some breathing in the glass.
After some more breathing I got some faint floral notes as well amongst the fruit in the finish. Liquorice?
Score: 87 points - without the perfume & with more 'staying power' it would have approached the 90's.
Bunnahabhain 31yo 1976 (47.9%, A. D. Rattray for Single & Single, Sherry Cask)
Nose: Light with a whiff of paint thinner. Passion fruits. Whiff of rubber? Sorrel? Hint of roses? Marzipan?
Appears very refined. Slowly climbs into the upper 80's based on growing complexity & development over time.
Taste: Soft start with passion fruits. Fits the nose like a glove. Hints of rubber and smoke in the woody finish.
Hints of honey and lemon with frequent perfomy notes popping up. This has an extremely smooth mouth feel.
Score: 86 points - although it ventures dangerously close to my appreciation threshold for perfumy at times.
Bunnahabhain 27yo 1978/2006 (55,6%, Signatory, Sherry C#2542, 509 Bts.)
Nose: Whoomps… A fruity attack with organics in the background. Needs some water?
Taste: Sweet fruits and loads of wood on the palate as well, but the proof isn't overpowering.
Chocolate? Some bitter hoppy notes like beer? Lovely tannins on the palate in the finish.
Score: 87 points - but it might be a bit too extreme for some people... Almost like the Aberlour A'bunadh?
Bunnahabhain 1974/2005 (46%, Berry Bros & Rudd, Casks #11534-11536)
Nose: Peculiar. Clay? Maybe a hint of lemon? After a while pine, camphor and eucalyptus.
A second dram showed clay again. Maybe glue as well. Hints of pine and oil. Milk powder. Quite complex.
Taste: Oily and herbal in the start. Pine. Fortunatly, it grows bigger, sweeter and fruitier in the centre.
Over time a fruity dimension appears as well, although the pine remains. Not really my cup of tea.
Score: 78 points - but that's because I'm not a big fan of piney, herbal notes in my malts. It's personal...
Bunnahabhain 12yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2005)
Nose: Oil, quickly followed by organics. Very peculiar. A wine finished whisky? Fine white pepper. Malty.
Sweeter 'sake' notes after a few minutes. Bubblegum. Soap? Very freaky, but I have to admit I'm intrigued.
Taste: Fairly unpleasant start. Bitter. Eucalyptus. Cheap perfume. It loses quite some points on the palate!
Well, over time this became quite pleasant, actually. Weird organics. Almost better than average...
Score: 79 points - it falls from grace after a unique bouquet; based on the nose it could have been 83/84.
Bunnahabhain 24yo 1979/2003 (45.7% Cadenhead's Authentic, Bottled July 2003, Bourbon)
Nose: Salmiak, liquorice and aniseed. What a pleasant surprise! Lemon and a hint of oil as well.
Nothing too extreme in the profile, but it's very nicely composed with some unique traits.
Taste: The palate was fruity and a little bit dusty. It felt weaker than its 45.7%.
Score: 87 points - very pleasant indeed; highly recommendable.
Bunnahabhain 34yo 1968/2002 'Auld Acquaintance' (43.8%, OB, 70cl)
Nose: Fruit and sherry. Organics. Spices. Sweaty socks - but in a nice way...
Carnival candy. Black berries. Smoke. Eucalyptus? Amazing complexity.
Taste: Woody start. Fruity centre. Dry finish, still woody.
Nice, but nothing very spectacular. Quite bitter. It seems a tad watery.
Score: 90 points - this malt has matured more gracefully than I have...
Bunnahabhain 12yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2001, 70cl)
Nose: Soft. Obvious sherry in the start - almost fruity. Alcoholic; a bit like rum.
Pinch of salt. Hint of oil after a while. Peat & sweet toffee notes. Not terribly expressive.
Taste: Very sherried. Salty, but not much power. Sour notes. Quite a mouth full...
Malty and a little sweet in the centre. Dry finish with some smoke. No peat.
Score: 80 points - almost a decade after my first dram I still love it.
Bunnahabhain 12yo 1989/2001 Sherry Finish (43%, Chieftain's, C#9039, Sherry Finish, 70cl)
Nose: Wow! A sherried punch. Fruity and sweet. Marzipan. Banana? Dried apples.
Whiffs of smoke and soap. Oriental spices. Very faint peat.
Taste: No sweetness. Oh, wait - there it is... Gingerbread. Marzipan again.
Needs a few minutes to find the right balance. Slightly dry in the finish.
Score: 81 points - which puts it roughly in the same league as the 12yo OB.
Bunnahabhain 20yo 1980 (54.8%, Prestonfield, Cask #9063)
Nose: Wood. Smoke. Extremely sour like raw rhubarb. Vinegar? Organics.
Old sherry and dust in the background. Unique, but no real Islay power.
Taste: Soft start, growing fruity towards the centre. Tannin dryness.
It has a great candy fruitiness that slowly fizzles out into a dry, beer-like finish.
Score: 83 points - one of the early 'Prestonfield' bottlings from Andrew Symington.
Bunnahab(h)ain 20yo 1979/1999 (56.7%, Signatory Vintage, Cask #3184)
Nose: Quite sweet. Toffee. Organics. Some sherry. Tobacco? Some fruits too.
Taste: Sweet, smooth start. Malty, bitter centre. Feels softer than the high proof suggests.
After a few minutes the palate turns nasty and bitter. Can't hold a candle to the 12yo OB.
Score: 68 points - hardly worthy of a single cask treatment, methinks.
Bunnahabhain 12yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 1993, 50cl) - one of my first tasting notes in the early 1990's.
Nose: Smooth and a little bit sherried. Quite gentle for an islay malt.
It's not peaty and smoky like Lagavulin - more like Bowmore, but even softer.
Taste: Smooth and sweet. Can I taste some peat here? No, I don't think so
But it's not as powerful as Lagavulin or Laphroaig. More like Longmorn or Glen Ord.
Score: 81 points - I only learned later that Bunnahabhain is the unpeated exception on Islay.
Bunnahabhain 25yo 1964/1990 (46%, Signatory Vintage, Distilled 30/11/1964, Bottled 2/90)
Nose: Not unlike the sour mash and washbacks we sniffed during some distillery visits.
Yoghurt and passion fruit. Wonderful organics. Delicious. This is a malt to get lost in.
Taste: Bloody great - a world apart from Signatory's 20yo 1980 bottling
Score: 87 points - I personally felt this malt whisky was highly recommendable.
These were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Bunnahabhain Scotch whisky I've tried over the years.
Besides, these tasting notes only reflect my own, personal opinion; your tastes might be different from mine.
Fortunately, you can find the scores and tasting notes from up to two dozen other whisky lovers in the 'Malt Maniacs Monitor' - an independent whisky database with details on more than 15,000 different whiskies from Scotland and the rest of the world. Visit the Bunnahabhain page on the MMMonitor and select 'scorecard view' if you want to know how other whisky lovers felt about the hundreds of Bunnahabhain expressions that have been released in recent years. However, if you'd like to learn more about whisky in general (and single malt Scotch whisky in particular), you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky (10 chapters filled with everything you need to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky) or the mAlmanac (sort of a rudimentary whisky shopping guide.)
Is the distillery or