The Malt Nuts have met once again to dine on tasty kosher food, provided by our fantastic host, and drink through a crazy line up of 11 peated Bunnahabhains. No that’s not a typo, we rounded up 11 different bottles of peated whisky from limited runs done by the famously un-peated Islay distillery.
Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich are the two Islay distilleries that have eschewed the heavily peated style used by their neighbors Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Bowmore, Caol Ila, Kilchoman and Ardbeg. Bruichladdich does put out a regular heavily peated release with their Port Charlotte line and further makes up for any lost peaty ground with their Octomores.
Founded in 1883 Bunnahabhain actually was once a peaty whisky, but they stopped habitually peating their malt sometime in the early 60’s (1962 or 1963… accounts vary) and since then they have only done 2 peated runs. One in 1997 and one in 2005; all of the whiskies we tasted that night were from one of of those two runs and all but 2 of which came from independent bottlers (NDPs). Like all Malt Nuts meetings we tasted them blind and looped them into similar groupings.
- Group 1: Young 2005 distilled
- Group 2: Official Bottlings
- Group 3: 1997 NDPs
- Group 4: 2005 Cask Strength
- Group 5: 1997 Cask Strength
Group 1: Young 2005 distilled Peated Bunnahabhain
1A – James McArthur 5 yr Peated Bunnahabhain 45% (2005)
- Nose: Smells like Tequila. New makey young and sweet. Spirity with notes of blueberries, sugar cookies and vanilla.
- Palate: Spirity new make with notes of vanilla, cookies and light smoke.
- Finish: Spirity new make, grainy vanilla and fresh smoke.
- Overall: C (73-76) So young and sweet, not completely unpleasant, but no depth. Many of us were convinced that this was new make and completely surprised when we found out it was 5 years old.
1B – The Macphail Collection 8 yr Peated Bunnahabhain 43% (2005)
- Nose: Peat, iodine, vanilla, citrus and spice with a light touch of salted caramel.
- Palate: Peat, smoked meat and vanilla with light notes of salt and spice.
- Finish: Peaty with hints of caramel, salt and a touch malty.
- Overall: B- (80-82) This was my contribution and didn’t show very well overall. Definitely something worth tasting, but it was so light it ended up coming across a little bland.
Group 2: Official Peated Bunnahabhain Bottlings
2A – Bunnahabhain Ceobeunach 46.3%
- Nose: Peaty, salty with big notes of darks tweets, dried berries, cherries and a touch of malt.
- Palate: Peat, red fruit, orchard fruit, smoked fish and a malty touch of spice.
- Finish: Smoky and charry with a bit of spice and sweetness.
- Overall: B (83-86) Quite similar to the 1B, but richer, rounder and deeper. A nice peated whisky.
2B – Bunnahabhain Toiteach 46.3%
- Nose: Caramel, smoke, salt water taffy, toasted nuts, malt and sweetness. Lovely all around.
- Palate: Smoky with a sherried paxarette-like grainy sweetness. Some light bits of fruit, char, ash and meat.
- Finish: Smoke, almonds, char and sherry sweetness on a long fade.
- Overall: B+ (87-89) This one ended up being one of my favorite of the night. It hit all of those nice peat n’ sweet notes that I love. Definitely interested in picking up a bottle.
Group 3: 1997 Peated Bunnahabhain NDP Bottlings
3A – Chieftain’s 14 yr Peated Bunnahabhain 46% (1997)
- Nose: Sharply peaty, tropical fruit and smarties. Notes of freeze-dried berries and cocoa butter.
- Palate: Peaty, astringent and fruity. Notes of honey, spice and subtle sweetness.
- Finish: Peaty and spicy coupled with light smoke.
- Overall: B (83-86) Some nice notes of sweet and spice mixed with smoke. Comes together fairly well.
3B – Signatory Vintage 9 yr Peated Bunnahabhain 46% (1997)
- Nose: Cedary smoke, spice, vanilla, fruit and leather with a bit of a floral character.
- Palate: Floral nature more present here – perfume like. Smoke, sweetness, smarties and vitamins.
- Finish: Peaty perfume and red licorice.
- Overall: C (73-76) Perfumy and harsh, like Grandma’s closet – overpowers the senses.
Group 4: 2005 NDP Cask Strength Peated Bunnahabhain Bottlings
4A – Gordon & Macphail Cask Strength 9 yr Peated Bunnahabhain 59.3% (2005)
- Nose: Peat, caramel, dark sweetness, malt, vanilla and some grain.
- Palate: Peat, sweetness, malt and more sweetness with a bit of spice and a touch of fruit.
- Finish: Peat, malt, caramel, and vanilla.
- Overall: B (83-86) The nose is light, especially when compared to the palate.
4B – Blackadder 6 yr Peated Bunnahabhain 60.1% (2005)
- Nose: Smoke, cocoa, malt, salted caramel and butterscotch.
- Palate: Peat, cocoa, brittle, fruit and mint – intriguing combo.
- Finish: Mint, smoke, dark sweets and an underlying sweetness.
- Overall: B (83-86) Not a lot of depth, but a nice mix of characteristics and comes together fairly well, but it’s so hot. The most amount of alcohol burn of any of the whiskies we tasted that night. Needed a lot of water to tame it.
4C – Berry’s 7 yr Peated Bunnahabhain 57% (2005)
- Nose: Peat, banana heavy fruit, vanilla, malt and citrus peel.
- Palate: Smoke, malt, spearmint, smoked meat and red licorice.
- Finish: Smoke, mint, malt and licorice.
- Overall: B- (80-82) Basic but good. Wouldn’t buy a bottle, but worth a taste.
Group 5: 1997 NDP Cask Strength Peated Bunnahabhain bottlings
5A – Signatory Vintage 13 yr Peated Bunnahabhain 53.9% (1997)
- Nose: Peat, sherry, almonds, dark fruit leather, cocoa & fruit.
- Palate: Peat, marshmallows, malt, green citrus & spearmint.
- Finish: Smoke, cherry cough syrup, char and a bit of sherry-like sweetness.
- Overall: B (83-86) Hot, smoky and sweet. A nice overall character and without the cloying cough syrup finish it would have landed a B+.
5B – Cheaiftain’s 16 yr Peated Bunnahabhain 56.1% (1997)
- Nose: Paxarette like dry vitamin sweet note, wood, malt, peat, nuttiness and an odd bit of fennel.
- Palate: Peat, cardamom, dark sweets, sherry, fennel and some tannic woodiness.
- Finish: Peat, dark sweetness, sherry, fennel and mint.
- Overall: B (83-86) This one started out rough, but a bit of water opened it up and tamed it a bit. The awkward, pervasive, fennel-like note kept it from a B+ for me.
So there you have it, a full selection of peated Bunnahabhains from both the 1997 and 2005 runs. Some were good, some were terrible, but none of them really blew me away. Though what surprised me is how well the OBs performed next to the NDPs. It seems like that’s rarely the case with the indies regularly picking casks that are better than the batched versions the distilleries put out. It was a great meeting and I hope you enjoyed following along!