Exploring Bunnahabhain Islay Whisky

Drinks Digest Whisky Editor David Fuller was pleased to block out the relentless Sydney wet weather by attending a virtual tasting for Bunnahabhain Islay Whisky this week, organised by The Whisky List.

Bunnahabhain (pronounded Bona-Haven) is one of the hidden gems of Islay, an island located off the west coast of Scotland that is home to eight world-famous distilleries.

Islay creates some of the richest peated Scotches in the world, with the Bunnahabhain family including the Deanston and Ledaig/Tobermorie distilleries. 

Master Blender Julieann Fernandez hosted a virtual tasting for Australian Islay whisky fans. Fernandez studied forensics at University – before a chance industry placement started her career in whisky company. She said her background provides a great mix of science to help the blending process. 

“I worked in some of their malt distilleries to take on a combination of analytic chemistry and organoleptic work,” she said. “While building my knowledge on how whisky is actually made, I recognised that I really enjoyed it.”

The Bunnahabhain whisky process can be summarised as 1) Water, plus 2) Barley to provide the 3) Mash which is then 4) Fermented and 5) Distilled before being 6) Matured and finished.  

Our first whisky was the delicious “Deanston 1991 28 year old”, a 45% ABV drop initially distilled in October 1991 and then transferred into muscat finishing cask for four years. This sweetly perfumed whisky started with notes of fresh stone fruits, followed by a full bodied mouth feel and lingering long finish. Fernandez described it as a “true 3D experience”.

The Deanston distillery – just to the northwest of Stirling – has a lot of history being housed in a former cotton mill (from 1785) and then reinvented as Deanston Distillery producing its first whisky in 1966.   

We started with the Deanston 2008 12 year old Oloroso Cask – 52% ABV. This delicious whisky opened with notes of  cherries and chocolate reminiscent of a black forest gateaux, followed by sweet spice, nutmeg and sultanas. On the palate we tasted treacle, dark fruits and festive spice with hints of mocha and a touch of pine followed by a long spicy finish. 

We then moved onto the Deanston 19991 28 year old muscat finish at 45% ABV.  This copper-coloured whisky offered notes of peach and cereal, giving the impression of a fruit crumble. On the palate this was a full bodied, indulgent, mouth coating drop with hints of cocoa right at the end.

Our next three whiskies were from Bunnahabhain, which is the most northern of the Scottish Islay distilleries (one of the islands to the immediate west of Glasgow) and has a house style of being unpeated and sherried. Easier to describe than spell, we sampled three equally delicious drops starting with Bunnahabhain Abhainn Araig 50.8% ABV.  The name Abhainn Araig refers to the river supplying the distillery and tasted neat this had a velvety rich texture, with initial notes of creamy milk chocolate then sweet raisins and dried raspberries. As the PX develops balsamic vinegar and honeyed macadamias come through.  Full bodied and flavourful – our kind of whisky. 

Bunnahabhain 12 year old cask strength (2021 edition) – ABV 55.1% ABV – is a russet gold whisky with a great balance of spirit and wood.  Tasted neat this was a phenomenal spirit with notes of dark berries, chocolate, vanilla, then cloves and cinnamon spice finishing with a trace of sea spray too.

Bunnahabhain Aonadh 12 year old 2011 10 year old comes in at 56.2% ABV! The name is gaelic for “union” – in this case a mix of sherry and port matured whisky.  One the nose there were notes of creamy vanilla, brandy butter, caramel, berries and a subtle hint of oak.  Tasted neat, we enjoyed notes of sweet red and black fruits complimented by cinnamon spice, roasted nuts and a slight saltiness coming through at the back – and a long enjoyable finish.

We finished with the only peated whisky of the night from the Tobermory distillery on  island of Mull. The distillery, was formerly known as Ledaig.  However today its main product is the Tobermory single malt with a smaller amount of peated whisky produced under the  which remains Ledaig name.  The Ledaig 18 year old weighed in at 46.3% ABV and proved to be a very approachable peated whisky created by spending 16 years in ex-bourbon casks with a final two years in sherry casks. On the nose, we enjoyed rich, fruity sherried smokiness, seaweed and light creosote and spice with hints of sweet oakiness. On the palate this was a powerful rich combination of sherried, herbal smoky flavours, orange peel, coffee, a touch of sea salt, tobacco and white pepper with a very long smoky finish.

The Whisky List represents premium and limited edition expressions of major Scottish distilleries Bunnahabhain, Tobermory, Deanston, and Ledaig in Australia, all part of the Distell Group.

Sipping four Firkin good whiskies

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