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Hi, this is one of our (almost) daily tastings. Santé!

May 4, 2020



The Confined Sessions
Day 48
A Bunnahabhain verticale, part one

This little session in memory of John Maclellan. And first, a little benchmark/aperitif…

Bunnahabhain 12 yo (46.3%, OB, +/-2019)

Bunnahabhain 12 yo (46.3%, OB, +/-2019) Four stars
I’m afraid we haven’t formally tasted the 12 since… 2013. Colour: gold. Nose: typical coastal notes, I find it actually more coastal than it ever was in my book. So sea breeze, then something a tad metallic (old pocket knife) and leafy (peach leaf), then the expected cereals, chestnut honey, and even puréed chestnuts (crème de marron). Add to that some sherry, walnuts, raisins, more coastal fino-like notes (amontillado aged in Sanlucar). Globally, I find it tenser and less soft than the 12 was in the olden days. As far as I can remember… Mouth: I think they upped the oak influence and made use of more dry sherry. That made it more leathery than usual, with more maritime notes too, salt, oranges… It’s pretty firm, even a wee tad smoky, and certainly not ‘the gentle Islay’ anymore. Finish: long, on walnuts, salt, burnt cake… You cannot not think of amontillado. Nutty aftertaste. Comments: simply very good. Bunnahabhain 12 became a big boy!
SGP:462 - 85 points.

Bunnahabhain 2002/2018 (56.1%, Or Sileis, Taiwan, Fortune Cat, sherry hogshead, cask #2086, 300 bottles)

Bunnahabhain 2002/2018 (56.1%, Or Sileis, Taiwan, Fortune Cat, sherry hogshead, cask #2086, 300 bottles) Four stars
Colour: pale gold. Nose: same cluster as that of the official 12, with the same dry sherryness, iron, sea water, kelp, malt, walnuts, leaves, a little umami sauce, fino… With water: a little gunpowder, then malt extract, Marmite, walnut wine… Mouth (neat): isn’t it fascinating that this baby would almost be the OB at a higher strength? Creamy, with the sherry upfront, nuts, raisins, tobacco, salty touches, wee bits of leather, a tiny touch of horseradish… With water: really, the official 12! Walnuts, manzanilla, tobacco, touches of leather again, a touch of curry (mussels simmered in curry sauce, yummy!) In the background, a classic of Bunnahabhain, Ovaltine/Ovomaltine and a pinhead of peanut butter. Finish: rather long, with a smoky touch and just more malty things. Comments: yup.
SGP:462 - 86 points.

Good, old ones please… But let’s stay in Taiwan…

Bunnahabhain 30 yo 1987/2018 (61.5%, HNWS Taiwan, hogshead, cask #2476, 155 bottles)

Bunnahabhain 30 yo 1987/2018 (61.5%, HNWS Taiwan, hogshead, cask #2476, 155 bottles) Four stars and a half
These vintages can be a little uncertain, but after all, no pain no gain. Colour: full gold. Nose: it really pleases me that I’ve been wrong yet again. Even if the high strength (my, it lost 2% alcohol within thirty years!) may block or mask quite a few aromas, you do feel a lot of honey, tarte tatin, and just crème brulée. A good sign… With water: a few whiffs of sawdust here and there, otherwise some classic nutty and raisiny notes, as well as quite some beeswax if not straight honey. Mouth (neat): very strong, very good! Chocolate, honey, and touches of young super-fruity Comté cheese. Totally love this, hope it’ll stay once water’s been added. With water: I like the palate rather better than the nose, I have to say, not something that happens very often with old whiskies. But is 30 really old? Cakes, scones, muffins and shortbread, a little honey sauce, and actually some straight all-flower honey. And some malt. Finish: medium, really malty, chocolaty… I suppose you could pour this over pancakes! A wee meatiness in the aftertaste. Malt extract? Comments: rather Bunnahabhain as we knew it. A very excellent drop, not particularly ‘old’ on your palate.
SGP:551 - 88 points.

Bunnahabhain 34 yo 1980/2014 (46.2%, Eiling Lim)

Bunnahabhain 34 yo 1980/2014 (46.2%, Eiling Lim) Four stars
I’m glad I kept this little baby, looks like the 1980s are now extinct. Colour: deep gold. Nose: similar territories, with cakes everywhere and assorted beverages. Tea at the Balmoral (just much better and much less dusty). Brownies, walnut cake, chestnut honey (I’m always quoting chestnut because it’s one of the strongest, the most balsamic, and the best of honeys in my book). And toasts, naturally. Very lovely. Mouth: all in keeping with the nose, word for word, except that there would be many more oak spices. Big cinnamon and strong green tea, crunching some pine needle... Finish: long, a little tea-ish. Comments: I would say old age started to show a wee bit on the palate, but the nose was fantastic.
SGP:361 - 87 points.

Older yet? Be my guest…

Bunnahabhain 40 yo 1978/2018 (47.8%, Signatory Vintage, 30th Anniversary, refill sherry butt, cask #2587, 484 bottles)

Bunnahabhain 40 yo 1978/2018 (47.8%, Signatory Vintage, 30th Anniversary, refill sherry butt, cask #2587, 484 bottles) Five stars
This could be a little perilous…But this is a kind of back game, as our compadre Angus already tried this one in due time. Colour: dark amber. Nose: would you agree there are various kinds of gunpowder? Like, some that would be rather meaty (burnt steak-like), and some that would be closer to tar, fumes, truffles… Well it’s the latter style that’s to be encountered here, with leathers unfolding, bone dry old sweet wine (that digested its sugars), and some perfect broth. Malt extract, roasted chestnuts, burnt caramel, rancio… Was this a genuine ex-solera butt? Mouth: at ease! Chestnut purée, molasses, chestnut honey again (and again), dark beer (strong trappist) and loads of bitter chocolate and coffee. Approved. Finish: long, on marvellous notes of artisan chocolate. These guys are in big trouble with Covid, hope everyone will help them. Even worse, the best chocolates don’t keep as well as the mass-produced ‘stuff’ that you’ll find in supermarkets. Double punishment. Comments: pure liquid chocolate! Signatory, would you please celebrate your 30th Anniversary again?
SGP:461 - 90 points.

Older yet…

Bunnahabhain 50 yo 1968/2019 (41.8%, Signatory Vintage 30th Anniversary, refill sherry butt, cask #12397, 323 bottles)

Bunnahabhain 50 yo 1968/2019 (41.8%, Signatory Vintage 30th Anniversary, refill sherry butt, cask #12397, 323 bottles) Five stars
Nineteen sixty -eight! Hold on, wasn’t that the vintage of the famous ‘Auld Acquaintance’ that turned plenty of heads when it came out? Including this one? Colour: full gold (paler than the 40). Nose: you do feel it’s an old one. This nose reminds me of all those old casks that we could nose at Duncan Taylor’s when they had started their ‘Auld and Rare’ range. You do feel quite a lot of oak, but in the best cases, and this is one of them, that old oak kind of transmuted into some kind of od embrocation, or cough syrup, without any obvious dryness. Say pine resin, coconut wine, camphor, melted beeswax and just pollen. It’s very specific. Perhaps a hint of artichoke. As always, it’s on the palate that the war will be fought, but we have confidence in this case… Mouth: and we were right. Honeydew, mead, fir liqueur (from the neighbouring Vosges mountains), crystallised pineapple, papaya jam… In truth it is not ‘oaky’ at all on your palate! Rather a miracle, and probably a stunning refill cask that had decided, in the first place, to play it elegantly. Like an old British actress, my dear. Finish: pretty long, still fresh ,never oaky, with various honeyed notes and reminiscences of many an old chardonnay from the best terroirs. I know, terroir again… Like, Meursault? Comments: I suppose they have been monitoring this marvellous old cask for decades, wondering if it would have hold until their 30th. It did – mind you, the best casks are smart, they are almost persons! No, really!
SGP:561 - 91 points.

Older yet…
Indeed, but rather older as far as vintages are concerned, not ages.

Bunnahabhain 27 yo 1947/1975 (90.5°proof, Matthew Gloag & Son, 26 2/3 Fl. Ozs)

Bunnahabhain 27 yo 1947/1975 (90.5°proof, Matthew Gloag & Son, 26 2/3 Fl. Ozs) Five stars
Many old Matthew Gloag bottles in the second or third market are fakes, but this one isn’t. What’s more, let’s remember that in those days – I mean in 1947 – all whiskies of Islay were heavily peated, including Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain. No need to say that this an extremely rare bottle, and that consequently, this note will be totally useless. It’s only for sports and panache, in other words. Colour: pale gold. Nose: no, really? Look, we had a 1974 Longrow the other day – not sure if we’ll publish that one before this one at time of writing – and it was a little similar, that is to say different from all famous peaters, and just mega-medicinal, much more so than the most medicinal Laphroaigs. In truth this is a blend of camphor syrup, menthol, mercurochrome, tincture of iodine, almond oil, and fresh mango, pineapple and maracuja juice. You cannot not think of the old Laphroaig Tens, Bonfanti, Carlton, Filippi and stuff. Amazing. Mouth: holy mother of Jesus Christ! The power’s just amazing, the style as well (especially the stunning almondy side), and the phenolic richness would just impart some… hold on, I’ve lost my words, what was I trying to say? Ah yes, I’m finding some fat oysters, mangos, almond oil, beeswax, lemon, wakame, salmon belly… Oh better just call the Anti-Maltoporn Brigade a.s.a.p., unless they’re busy with Covid, naturally. Finish: incredibly long, fresh, sappy, on various essential oils and just buds. Ever heard of gemmology? Comments: glorious, even g-l-o-r-i-o-u-s as Patti Smith would have said. Imagine the shape of the malt world, had Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich kept making peaters! I know, Moine, Port Charlotte and stuff, but that’s not exactly the same thing, is it. Maybe it is, after all…
SGP:575 - 94 points.

No, after all there will be no part two. We couldn’t have gone further back in time and quality, mind you.

(Angus, heartfelt thanks again!)

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