Master of Malt 1990 Bunnahabhain 20 Year Old – Review

Thanks to the excellent people at Master of Malt for the sample.

At the recent SMWSA Extravaganza in Chicago, I overheard a guy telling his buddies that he preferred “Breech-laddick”, and then expressed his disappointment at not seeing that particular brand at the show. Now, I can only assume that he meant Bruichladdich, and while it’s tempting to poke fun at the poor fellow, I think all non-Scottish Scotch drinkers can admit to royally screwing up one or two distillery names at one embarrassing time or another, so I’ll cut him some slack. Hell, to this day, I tend to put the emphasis on the wrong syllable when pronouncing Ardbeg and pretty much butcher Dailuaine every chance I get. Bunnahabhain is another one of those names that gives people fits. I had to say it correctly five times in a row fast and write it three times correctly in under 15 seconds before I was even allowed to write a whisky blog. The name comes from the Scots Gaelic Bun na h-Abhainn meaning “foot of the river” and is pronounced Boona-Ha-Vin.

This particular expression from Bunnahabhain comes from Master of Malt’s excellent single cask series. It was distilled in 1990 and aged for 20 years in a sherry butt…

The Nose: First Off, beautiful chestnut/maple syrup brown color. Rich and complex with initial notes of fig paste, raisins, and dark honey with subtler notes of roasted almond butter, mulled wine, and green cedar wood. Far off in the background there are faint, but altogether pleasant notes of…well, I’ll just come right out and say it, honey-baked ham in the oven with a little burning bread in the toaster. A little water waters down the fruit and releases some light sulfur-y notes. Tho’ I tend not to mind/even notice sulfur at times, in this case, I definitely preferred the nose neat.

The Palate:  Vibrant yet a little brooding. Oily mouthfeel with early hits of jammy fruit, burnt toffee and more roasted, salted almonds. Very quickly, oaky, slightly savory wood-spice builds with tannic, strong clove, cinnamon stick, white pepper, star anise and cardamom. A touch of faintly smoky-sweet burnt meat pops up as we head into the finish. A little water really confused the issue for me. In one sense, it wonderfully rounded and drew out much of what I found neat, but at the same time, it also smoothed out some of the more unique spice and savory elements that made it so complex.

The Finish:  Longish, full of that slightly salty, nutty wood-spice, all with a wash of dark sherried sweetness.

Thoughts:  This was a completely enjoyable, oddly intricate and challenging dram. I very much liked the savory notes and thought that though the wood influence was quite strong, the character of the spirit held its own and worked well with it. Altogether a woody, complex delight at strength, I felt the addition of water did not necessarily work in this one’s favor. The sulphur note on the nose and the calming of the palate (delicious as it was), resulted in its losing some of its unique character. Still, a very good, very interesting whisky.

Master of Malt 1990 Bunnhabhain 20 Year Old, Islay

54.1% ABV

Score:  85

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