I’ve never been to Islay. Not yet anyway. However I know most of its produce pretty well and I’m led to believe that if you follow the road pretty much north from Port Askaig you’ll come to the distillery at the mouth of the river. Bunnahabhain. It is a distillery known for The Gentle Taste of Islay as it is more serene and genteel than it’s heavyweight neighbours to the south of the that island that shields the Kintyre peninsula from America. That is not to decry the quality of the whisky, rather to enhance its standing as an Islay malt in its own right, reflective of the land on which it sits, the water which it uses and the craft therein.
The water for Bunnahabhain is spring water drawn straight out of rocks and piped direct to the distillery, therefore less chance for the peat which defines so much of Islay to have an influence. The stills are the tallest on on the island and so produce a spirit with a light character, smelling of mash and nuts as it is drawn off. With ageing in bourbon and sherry casks following Bunnahabhain is both gentle and complex.
12 year old
Dried fruits, toffee, hazelnuts and vanilla spice on nose reflecting ageing in Oloroso and bourbon wood. The palate filled with raisins, vanilla spice and the ubiquitous hazelnuts. With water the vanilla opened up, delivering sweetness and light spicy smoke on finish.
18 year old
Dried fruit and spice from pure sherry wood on the nose. The palate was well-rounded, full and so smooth. The first flavour was spice and almonds but it is soft with dried orange and fruit cake, some salt, nutmeg and becoming toffee as the palate developed. Clove spiked oranges, dried fruit and salt on the finish. This was my favourite of the three aged statement bottles.
25 year old
The nose was big with smells of the sea, nuts, vanilla, dried fruit and an almost oily smell too. Quite dry black pepper tannin with oak and salt on the palate before a long finish of spicy black pepper and vanilla sweetness.
This is the spirit deliberately peat smoked. A very young pure spirit nose with sweetness, iodine, seaweed and peat smoke. Pure sweet smoke on the palate with some spice, almost a pure spirit malted flavour. The finish is short leaving smoke and spirit. Not really to my taste as I’m not sure it really works as I think the smoke flavour too overpowering of the spirit. But that’s just me.
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