Wednesday, October 07, 2009
Scotch Whisky Review: Bunnahabhain 12
About fifteen or sixteen years ago, I had a flight of scotch whiskies at Ashely's pub in Ann Arbor. It was one of my first experiences with single malts. I don't remember exactly which ones I tasted, but I'm pretty certain that there was a Scapa, an Aberlour, a Talisker, and a Bunnahabhain.
The Bunnahabhain, which I'm told is pronounced "Boona-hahvin," stood out from the rest because it was a milder whisky, with very little heat or harshness, and also because of its exceptionally smooth, oily mouth feel, almost like peanut oil, and nutty flavors. So I have a bottle, and now that I'm a few years older and, I hope, wiser, and I've tasted a few more whiskies, it's time to put this one in context.
Bunnahabhain is quite different from the other Islay malts we've just tasted. On the nose tonight my first impression was almond. There's a little tang of salt in the background, and no peat or smokiness to speak of. With a few more sniffs the flavor of green apples becomes evident, and that flavor stays in the finish -- not a cider, but more like a tart sparkling apple juice. There's a wonderful almond flavor, reminiscent of marzipan, and toasted coconut, and vanilla, but I don't pick up a lot of herbs or flowers. It's evocative of pumpkin pie spice. There's a nice warming heat, but it isn't overly drying. The sip fades out on a little bit of oak, but the tart apple flavor stays with you. There's just the slightest fresh pepperiness, like Nasturtium, or ground white peppercorns.
Adding a splash of water to this malt changes the character rather dramatically -- the apples recede into the background, but the sweetness is ramped up, reminding me of toffee, and suddenly it's a salty scotch. It's a bit like a Pearson's Salted Nut Roll! There's also a touch of peat that was almost absent before. Grace tells me that to her it gets some of that slightly unpleasant Islay assertiveness, what she calls "rubbing alcohol." The flavors don't collapse with a little water, but do become quite different, so try it both ways.
Grace rates this one a nine. I'll give it an 8.5. It's definitely "more-ish" -- it makes you want to taste it again. Despite having tasted many more whiskies since my first experiences with single malts, this remains one of my absolute favorites, and not merely for nostalgia value.
Update: tasting this again last night, with a clear head, it is evident that there is a little bit of peatiness to the Bunnahabhain 12. Also, The cork tore apart, and I had to remove it with a corkscrew, and replace it with a different one that doesn't fit quite so well. I'd better finish this bottle soon! It's a few years old; it would be useful to compare it to the latest Bunnahabhain 12 bottling, since despite the best efforts of the distilleries the bottlings do change over time, and sometimes even for the better.