One day, I’ll make it to Islay and when I do, I’m going to make a point to visit Bunnahabhain and the little village next door, established to give a home to the employees of the distillery when it was first opened in 1881. Located in the remote Northeast corner of Islay, Bunnahabhain overlooks the Sound of Islay which, based on the 50 or so shipwrecks in the area, isn’t the safest place for a little jaunt on the water. A good shipwreck makes me a little nuts, so I’ll be visiting the wreck of the Wyre Majestic just down the road from the distillery as well.
Bunnahabhain is unique in the Islay whisky world in that it makes a point to not use heavily peated barley, resulting in a house style that is a little more subtle than its neighbors.
The Nose: Light and delicate, sweet, brown sugar to start with a hint of sherry and some baking spices. A little red delicious apple and mixed nuts as well. There’s just faint peat here, just a touch of that band-aid-esque, slightly vegetal Islay tang and a little salty with just a wisp of green wood smoke to go along with a few nice oak notes.
The Palate: A bit more smoke than is present on the nose, smooth and still delicate, peat and apple notes are still there and it becomes even saltier, not just the briny ocean air, but salt, like licking Morton’s off your hand…or the salt from the bottom of a can of peanuts. The oak really comes through at the end, giving a nice, matured drying lead-in to the finish.
The Finish: Medium-long, the salty tang carries on as does the oakiness. The smoke hangs in for a little bit but fades a bit early.
Thoughts: A really enjoyable, delicate Islay whisky. In some ways it reminds me more of a Highland malt but with more brine and less floral notes. It’s very elegant with the flavors well-balanced and well-behaved, unlike some of it’s rowdier Islay brethren. It has an almost old-fashioned, traditional feel to it, though maybe that’s just the power of suggestion from the label.
Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old, Islay