...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, September 29, 2023

Concluding 2023's Bunnahabhain Cluster

(Bunnahabhain cluster 2023 homepage)

If one just scrolls down to the see the rating for these 13 Bunnahabhains, that person may go, "Meh. Another set of 81-90 point whiskies."

And a defense of that could be, "Yeah, Bunnahabhain can be boringly great. Is that a crime?" But really, I struggle using one number to summarize a whisky's experience. Many of these Bunnas were a wild ride as I searched to find their honey spot. Did they need water or time, or neither? So perhaps a better way to demonstrate my three weeks is by using a letter-grade range, taking into consideration each one's peaks and valleys:

So this cluster really swung between C grade and A- grade experiences. This is why I've been qualifying my grades more frequently recently, to help pinpoint strengths.

Some of these whiskies were oak dominant, like the 28yo 1988 and the 10yo 2009 (quite the age range), while others, like the 23yo 1991 were nearly nude. There was a monster and a pipsqueak. And then there were the Goldilocks whiskies, the current 12yo and the 33yo 1980, that were juuuuuuust right.

Perhaps that's the tale of many single malts, but these Bunnahabhains had no peat to hide behind. Yes, when Laphroaig and Lagavulin get it right, they are divine. But Bunnahabhain can shine as bright or brighter when all the chemistry works. And that's sort of the point of our whisky quests isn't it? To discover works for our palates and what doesn't?

So is a 81-90 point single malt "boring"? Or is it "reliable"? I'll go with the latter, knowing I came out of this cluster a bigger Bunnahabhain fan than before.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Things I Really Drink: Bunnahabhain 33 year old 1980 Whisky Doris, cask 92

(Bunnahabhain cluster 2023 homepage)

If you're thinking, "Didn't he already review this whisky?" The answer is, yes! I had the pleasure of opening a bottle for a whisky event, EIGHT years ago, and promptly fell in love with it. In my review, this site's 450th, I concluded with, "...it just became my birthday gift to myself." And eight years later, I opened it for a birthday, my 45th.

I can count on one hand the amount of times I've been able to try a 30+ year old whisky, then turn around buy it, and this was one of the last times (yes, eight years ago). In 2015, this bottle went for ⅕ - ⅒ the price of a 33yo single sherry cask single malt today. Let that soak in a little bit.

This monochrome old-style label, tho:

One-third of the bottle's contents have now been processed by human livers, and I'm wrapping up a Bunnahabhain cluster, so it's the best time to review bottle #211 from this 33.5 year old sherry butt.


The highlight of this entire cluster, this whisky's nose elicits an audible reaction every time. Walnuts and orange peels. Fresh apricots and yellow plums (mirabelles if we're being fancy). Balsamic vinegar, pears, and mizunara-like sandalwood. Dunnage and honey. Hints of cinnamon, almond extract, and roses in the background.

The palate starts with a surprising herbal bite of fresh sage, oregano, and wormwood, followed by black walnuts, grapefruit, and honey. Clementines and tinned peaches bob up to the surface after 45 minutes. There is a woodiness, but it arrives delicately, giving way to the herbs and fruit.

It finishes with more complex citrus notes (tangy, tart, and sweet) that last the longest. Some of the herbs, especially sage, remain, along with the honey and a bright fresh ginger zing.


I'm plucking out the cork again, and a bolder dunnage note jumps out first from the bottled Bunna. An almost existential feeling swells in my chest. Yes, that sounds very dramatic. But I'm reminded that I'm past the midpoint of fully functional senses in this life. So I should enjoy the hedonism while I can, and OPEN ALL THE WHISKIES RIGHT NOW. Or maybe just enjoy the moment. I'll figure this out someday. Or not.

While the palate doesn't leave me contemplating the life outstanding, it still makes me go, "Yeah, that's really nice." The finish: "More, please." Were it not so damned late, I'd pour another glass. So, as always, I encourage you to make time for what you've got, share your good stuff, and go hunt down some old Bunnahabhain.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - it was a buck-fitty in 2015
Rating - 90

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Bunnahabhain 30 year old 1987 Wemyss, cask 2675 for Taiwan

(Bunnahabhain cluster 2023 homepage)

Indie bottler, Wemyss, had a wacky set of 1987 Bunnahabhain casks in their warehouses. At least four of them were below 45%abv when dumped, while three were over 62%abv at age 30. I got my greasy mitts on a sample of the brute of the bunch, a single cask that did not have one of Wemyss's perky names, but rather one that was given a pretty label and sent to Taiwan. It's also the darkest whisky I've tried in a very long time.

Over the three decades the cask lost ~35% of its content, but almost no alcohol. (Even the angels need to stay hydrated.) What does this mean though? Will this one batter my face with tannins like yesterday's '88???

Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Distilled by: Highland Distilleries Company Ltd.
Region: Islay
Independent Bottler: Wemyss
Age: allllllmost 31 years (30 Nov 1987 - 15 Nov 2018)
Maturation: "Fresh Sherry Butt"
Cask #: 2675
Outturn: 466 bottles
Exclusive to: Taiwan
Alcohol by Volume: 62.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(from a bottle split)


INTENSE. Bold notes of ocean water and moss survive in the nose, combining well with dark chocolate, eucalyptus, salted roasted almonds, and dried currants. It even has subtle notes of lychee and boot polish in the background. The palate, easily drinkable at this strength, leads with figs, Palo Cortado, and sea salt. Bits of umami and leather here and there. Some peaches and dried blueberries too. This finish lasts for nearly an hour: umami, charred peppers, salt, peaches, and a splash of PX sweetness.

Just a little bit of water...

DILUTED to ~57%abv, or ½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky

Very pretty nose. Fresh basil, fresh apricots, anise, and roses in the foreground, dark chocolate and dates in the background. It's a blunter weapon on the palate, hotter. more peppery, and sweeter. Feels like a PX cask here. It finishes similar to the palate with an extra does of fresh ginger.


Keep this gorgeous beast neat! Yum. It has my dried fruits, fresh fruits, flowers, chocolates, savoriness, saltiness, and mossiness. And may I remind you, figs and dates. Meanwhile, the Bunnahabhain character survived all that time and evaporation.

Yes, I tried it alongside yesterday's 28yo, and this monster won in a first round KO. And I thought this 30yo was going to be the unmanageable one. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I'm happy to be wrong.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 90 (NEAT)

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Bunnahabhain 28 year old 1988 Alexander Murray & Co.

Alexander Murray & Co.'s whiskies first appeared as 40%abv tragedies in Trader Joe's and Costco stores. Gradually they started materializing in specialty liquor retailers (Hi-Time, K&L, etc.). Then, almost as soon as I moved to Ohio, Murray & Co started plopping cask strength (CS) bottlings onto shelves. Since the pair of CS so-so whiskies I tried the two months before I moved in 2016, I've reviewed just one of their full-power items, a very good 20yo Ledaig.

Today I'm excited to try their 28yo Bunna, bottled a year after I departed CA. The bottler's website does provide a little bit of cask info this time (huzzah!), so I'm actually able to provide a little bit of data below.

Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Distilled by: Highland Distilleries Company Ltd.
Region: Islay
Independent Bottler: Alexander Murray & Company
Age: minimum 28 years (distilled 1988)
Maturation: multiple first-fill sherry Butts and one first-fill hogshead
Alcohol by Volume: 53.2%
Chillfiltered? ???
Colorant added? ???
(from a bottle split)


It noses more like American whiskey than Scotch whisky, like a mix of bourbon and rye. Wave after wave of barrel char and caramel and bananas ride up top, mint and pickle brine underneath. Milder notes of dried leaves, milk chocolate, dried apricots, orange oil, and florals appear occasionally. Astringent tannin levels block out the rest of the palate in early sips. Then vanilla, banana, and milk chocolate arrive. Tart cherries, tart raspberries, and tangy limes show up after 45 minutes. The finish arrives as follows: salted licorice, black pepper, vanilla, caramel, and tart cherries.

I'm adding water to this one.

DILUTED to ~46%abv, or < 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky

The nose keeps the leaves, vanilla, mint, and caramel, jettisoning the rest, while gaining applesauce, cinnamon, and peanuts. Lower tannin levels and sweeter berries help out the palate, while notes of ginger, green bell pepper, marshmallows, and flowers mingle in the midground. It finishes sweeter and pepperier, with the caramel note remaining.


Alexander Murray & Company were wise to send this release to the US, as it caters to the bourbon-preferring palate. Alas, it doesn't work for my palate, so my opinion of this whisky will be in the Internet minority. While I do enjoy bourbon (and rye more-so!), I don't thrill to tongue-stripping tannic blasts, as dished out by 15+ year old American whiskies. And while vanilla and caramel are delicious in actual desserts, getting those notes out of a cask is neither particularly difficult (I did it with all of my own hideous cask experiments) nor interesting. Dilution does improve this Bunna, dialing down the extreme American oak aggression, and offering a quirkier result.

I'm sure this was priced reasonably back in the day, so some of you may have an unopened bottle of it in The Stash. If so, please see the very positive reviews on Whiskybase and Reddit, and just ignore this one. And also add water.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 81 (diluted only)

Friday, September 22, 2023

Bunnahabhain 25 year old, 2015 bottling

Random note to start with: When trying this whisky, I had thought it was a 2011 bottling, as per a link that was sent to me, but when looking at the following bottle code pic...

...I discovered it was in fact the 2015 bottling. This may sound petty, but I was going into this thinking I was trying one of the first updated batches of the XXV, when in fact, I was trying one of the last XXVs.

Bunnahabhain 25 year old (known as XXV from 2005-2016) was chillfiltered and reduced to 43%abv until late 2010 when it was rebooted along with the rest of the range, receiving the 46.3%/nc/ncf presentation. I had never tried any version of the official 25 before last night, so this was a new thing!

Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Distilled by: Highland Distilleries Company Ltd.
Bottled by: Distell International Limited (via Burn Stewart Distillers)
Region: Islay

Age: minimum 25 years
Maturation: mostly sherry casks?
Bottled: 2015
Alcohol by Volume: 46.3%
Chillfiltered? No
e150a? No
(from a bottle split)


It's an old spirit indeed on the nose. Coffee, old newspapers, old calvados, and a hint of shisha. Peach skins, cherry juice, maple, and nocino. The tobacco note expands with time as the whisky also picks up a watermelon Jolly Rancher note.

The palate begins with something like old armagnac + black walnuts. Or maybe a 25 year old nocino? Orange candy, grapefruit, and raw almonds fill the midground. It takes on notes of bitter coffee, PX, and touch of bitter oak after 45 minutes.

The oak hits harder in the finish, bitter and sweet. Jammy PX, black coffee, and a touch of tangy citrus give it some angles.


Though the whisky spent plenty of years in casks — a portion of which may have been older than 25 — time in the glass doesn't do it any favors. It's quite lovely at the 20 minute mark, but after 45 minutes it starts turning into an oak gremlin. The nose remains excellent throughout, but old oak stuff usually smells great. The combination of old armagnac, black walnuts, and grapefruit made this drinker's palate very happy while it lasted. It's actually very good whisky at times, and I'm being hyper-critical here, but the average price of Bunnahabhain 25yo is now $750 in the US, so I don't feel too bad about my commentary.

Availability - Current versions are widely available
Pricing - Current editions are $600-$1000 in the USA, $300-$550 in Europe (ex-VAT)
Rating - 87 (but drops into the 70s after 45 minutes)

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Bunnahabhain 23 year old 1991 Whisky-Fässle

Now that I'm done with the younglings, the Bunnahabhain cluster will time travel back to the '90s and '80s, which is probably the best scenario because if I'm going to deliver irrelevant reviews, I'd better make the whiskies inconsequential and old.

Today's Bunnahahbain was bottled by the reliable Whisky-Fässle, a German indie that likes to put duck heinies on their labels. For instance, from today's bottling:

Hey, no judgement here. Everyone's got a kink.

Almost as important as the duck's tushie is the fact that this Bunnahabhain was unbothered by sherry casks. It's a single hogshead, and the whisky's color is quite light. And I am quite looking forward to this.

Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Ownership: Distell International Limited (via Burn Stewart Distillers)
Region: Islay
Independent Bottler: Whisky-Fässle
Range: Ducks?
Age: 23 years (1991 - 2015)
Maturation: hogshead
Alcohol by Volume: 47.5%
Chillfiltered? No
e150a? No
(Thank you, My Annoying Opinions for the sample!)


Ooooh, guavas and roses and apple cider start the nose off. It has a beer-like cereal note in the middle, with hints of kiwi juice, mint leaf, smoke, and dunnage mustiness floating through the background. The palate goes BIG on the bitter herbs, salt, and dried leaves. A zippy tartness arrives next, followed by soil and smoky spent synthetic oil. It finishes with tart pineapples, dried leaves, and a bit of that good bitterness.

The ABV is already low, so I'll go easy on the water.

DILUTED to ~43%abv, or >½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky

The nose tilts towards apples, pears, and green grapes. More on dandelions than roses. A brisk mix of dried herbs and ultra tart citrus fill the palate, with lighter notes of oat bran and toffee following. The finish still has that lively bitterness with subtler tart and sweet notes offering some balance.


Duck butts > Sherry butts?

This whisky's palate is of a style that's almost outlawed today. Maybe five distilleries can still nail this industrial-yet-fruity character on their best days. That this hogshead seemed to do little, aside from hold the whisky, only improves matters. I'd be happy to consume this Bunna with or without water, but I'm leaning towards the neat delivery right now. Because the ABV was already quite low, I don't know if this cask would have been better at 18 years or 28 years, but I think it was dumped at the right time.

Availability - Secondary market?
Pricing - ???
Rating - 88 (same score given by Mr. Opinions and Mr. Fun)

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Bunnahabhain 15 year old 2003 Amontillado Finish

Okay, okay, here's something older than 12 years. This 15yo (a mere three weeks from 16!) was sold exclusively at the distillery back in 2019. The "finish" was actually two years, so the whisky's time in Amontillado hogsheads could be considered a secondary maturation depending on how the parts converged. Hoggies offer much more surface-to-liquid contact than butts, but Amontillado is drier than oloroso, so I'm staying hopeful here!

Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Ownership: Distell International Limited (via Burn Stewart Distillers)
Region: Islay

Age: 15 years (20 Feb 2003 - 28 Jan 2019)
Maturation: First maturation: 13 years in ??? casks. Second maturation: 2 years in (7 or 8) Amontillado hogsheads.
Outturn: 1,710 bottles
Exclusive to: Bunnahabhain distillery
Alcohol by Volume: 57.4%
Chillfiltered? No
e150a? No
(from a bottle split)


A direct connection with yesterday's 10yo on the nose, with lots of nuts, especially almond extract and almond butter, but without all the chocolate and vanilla. Instead, toffee joins the mix. There are also some nice quiet notes of plum skin and ocean water. And, okay, maybe a Twix bar. Unlike yesterday's 10, the palate doesn't cook one's face. It's sweet (dried cherries), tangy (lime juice), toasty (oak), and salty (er, salt). Salted almonds and pistachios fill the middle. Very dark chocolate lurks in the background. Dried and fresh cherries, salty pistachios, and a sip of coffee highlight the finish.

DILUTED to 46%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky

Very dry sherry (more fino than amontillado) meets citrus peels (orange and yuzu) on the nose. Vanilla and almond extracts arrive a little later. Balsamic vinegar brings up the rear. The palate starts turning earthy and coastal here. Bitter citrus peels and a sprinkle of brown sugar show up later. It finishes sweeter, with almond cookies and cinnamon. Maybe a little bit of that earthiness in the background.


While not going overboard in praise (unlike Whiskybase), I will say this is a full step better than its sparring partner, the 10yo Adelphi. I'd even argue that the sherry casks in the 15yo are better integrated than the 10yo, which isn't saying much, but the 10 did spend its entire life in one sherry cask. Perhaps the larger batch and drier sherry helped matters. But as you can see via all these sentences, it's cask-this and cask-that. The vessels are sooooo close to squelching the spirit. So though it's the closest cluster member to approach the quality of the current standard 12 year old, it still doesn't pass it.

Availability - Secondary market?
Pricing - ???
Rating - 86

Monday, September 18, 2023

Bunnahabhain 10 year old 2009 Adelphi, cask 900022

Yes, I teased some ≥13yo Bunnahabhain over a week ago, and yet here's a 10yo. Give it two more days, people! Just think, this 10 year old is about the age of the previous two reviewed Bunnas combined. Probably.

Today's Bun is one of those coffee-hued single sherry casks from Adelphi. When I see 10 year old scotch looking darker than maple syrup, I anticipate lots of oak extraction. BUT oak + malt is tasty (almost as tasty as malt + oak), and maybe some fun science happened within this cask.


Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Ownership: Distell International Limited (via Burn Stewart Distillers)
Region: Islay
Independent Bottler: Adelphi
Age: 10 years (2009 - 2019)
Maturation: 1st fill sherry butt
Cask number900022
Outturn: 702 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 58.9%
(Sample from friends. Thank you, Doctors Springbank!)


Chocolate and hazelnuts (nuttier than Nutella) start the nose off, followed by almond butter and sea water. Quieter notes of Brazil nuts, vanilla, and corn flakes appear later, with black raisins showing up after 30 minutes. The palate is mouth-numbingly hot. It takes 20+ minutes for my mouth to adjust. Ah, there's some grape jam, barrel char (or taste bud char?), and toasty oak spices. The oak becomes more aggressive with time, until it turns astringent. It finishes hot, sweet, and slightly bitter. More oak spice and pencil graphite.

DILUTED to ~46%abv, or 1¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky

Quite a shift here. The nose has figs, cinnamon, cocoa, and cloves up front, saline and molasses in the back. The cooled-off palate shows a mix of tobacco, cinnamon, cayenne, confectioner's sugar, and bitter cocoa. It still finishes with a wall of oak. Behind the wall awaits cinnamon, brown sugar, and cocoa.


Well, it's me versus the Whiskybase community on this one. As of 9/17/23, 87 voters give it a 88.20 average score, with only one person giving it a score below 85.

This isn't an 80-point whisky when neat. While the nose is a lot of fun, the palate is all raw heat and (yes) oak extract, signs of an incomplete, below average whisky. Dilution saves it, offering a more complex nose, and a palate full of character. The finish still struggles to push through the wood's assault.

Were I to provide any recommendations to bottle owners, I'd say play with dilution to find the honey spot. And good luck. My actual palate is still numb more than two hours after the tasting, something I've rarely experienced with a scotch whisky. For me, that's not a plus.

Availability - Probably sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 84 (diluted, 5-10 points lower when neat)

Friday, September 15, 2023

Bunnahabhain Feis Ile 2023, Canasta Cask Matured

Bunnahabhain abandoned Gaelic naming for this year's Fèis Ìle release, centering the festival and the whisky's cask on the bottle's label. While the 2022 release, reviewed on Wednesday, was a mildly interesting but very young combo of oloroso casks, bourbon casks, and PX octaves, this 2023 whisky was fully matured in Canasta sherry casks. "Canasta" sounds extra fancy, but it's really just an oloroso (75%) sweetened with Pedro Ximenez (25%), and the bestselling sherry of its kind in Spain (per Ruben). I do appreciate that the whisky is not a quick secondary maturation, but a full maturation in a single cask type. How long that maturation is, we may never know. My bet is a single-digit age.

Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Ownership: Distell International Limited (via Burn Stewart Distillers)
Region: Islay

Age: ???
Maturation: Canasta cream sherry casks
Bottled: 2023
Alcohol by Volume: 51.2%
Chillfiltered? No
e150a? No
(from a paid event)


The nose starts out simply with lots of florals and a hint of walnuts. But it get plummier with time, also taking on apple cider, raw almonds, and cotton candy. It hits the palate sort of fizzy, like a fig soda (which needs to be a thing). A zippy pepperiness keeps the sweetness in check, as do some tart blueberries. Maybe it's just the whisky's youth talking, but it reads a little peaty. It finishes with the figs and peppercorns, and just a touch of dates.

DILUTED to 46.3%abv, or 3.2mL of water per 30mL whisky

Different nose now. Yeast, brown sugar, and maple float up front, dates and plums in the background. The palate grows much woodier (tree bark and sharp tannins) and develops a honeyed sweetness. Just a little bit of lemon brightens up the background. It finishes sweet and tannic too, with ash lingering.


While the 2022 was much better when diluted, the Bunnahabhain Feis Ile 2023 shone brighter when served neatly. (Sort of reminiscent of the 2021 12yo CS versus the 2022 12yo CS.) It has figs and dates, so who am I to complain? Diving for Pearls, that's who! The palate is limited, the finish short, and diluted version collapses much too quickly. But I still liked it more than the 2022 because of the figs and dates and the pretty nose. Again it doesn't match the standard 12 year old, but the ex-VAT price was under $90 when Columbus Scotch Night grabbed a bottle, which is now a reasonable figure during this whisky era.

Availability - Still available in Europe
Pricing - less than $100
Rating - 84 (neat only)

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Bunnahabhain Abhainn Araig, for Feis Ile 2022

Bunnahabhain's Feis Ile bottlings aren't as lusted after as, well, everyone else's. In fact, today's 2022 limited release was easy to find a couple months ago, more than a year after its release. But that's potentially the whisky world's gain, if the whisky's good.

Columbus Scotch Night had a great Bunnahabhain event three months ago. Three of the bottlings will be part of this cluster. The 2022 version of the 12yo Cask Strength was the first. Abhainn Araig is the second. 

To keep things simple: Abhainn = River, or Huzzah for the Islay waters! To make things less simple, Bunna's blenders combined oloroso casks and bourbon casks with PX octaves (teeny casks) when fashioning this whisky. (They also released a 23yo Calvados finished single cask and a 32yo single sherry cask for Feis '22, but those certainly aren't available.) Time to find out how this specific bundle of casks turned out.

Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Ownership: Distell International Limited (via Burn Stewart Distillers)
Region: Islay

Age: ???
Maturation: oloroso casks + bourbon casks + PX octaves
Bottled: 2022
Alcohol by Volume: 50.8%
Chillfiltered? No
e150a? No
(from a paid event)


The nose reads......contemporary. Feels like it's only 3-4 years old at times, with eau de vie, rubber, and floral notes. Fortified wine cask notes encase the youth with milk chocolate, blackberry jam, raspberry jam, and Kool Aid(!). It gets more floral with time, and also picks up a charred marshmallow note. The simpler palate starts with salt, tart berries, ginger, and caramel. Some grape jam slips into the mix, as does the rubbery and peppery youth notes. It finishes tangy, tart, and tingly, with salty caramel, mixed berry jam, and a hint of ash.

DILUTED to 46.3%abv, or 2.9mL of water per 30mL whisky

Better at this strength, the nose takes on more ocean notes, less rubber. Fewer berries, more almonds. Fewer flowers, more red plums. Maybe a little bit of peat too. The palate matches the nose, with sea salt and toasted nuts leading the way. Sweet berries and cherry soda do sneak up after a while. It finishes simply with salt, ginger, and a hint of umami.


With its youth and its inoffensive casketry, Bunnahabhain Abhainn Araig reads more like a Travel Retail NAS release than a celebratory limited bottling. It seems to gel better at the now-Burn-Stewart-classic 46.3%abv level, or at least it's more focused there. Of course, it had the disadvantage of having the standard 12 year old as its sparring partner. I'm beginning to see a theme here.

Availability - Might still be out there
Pricing - ??
Rating - 83 (diluted only)

Monday, September 11, 2023

Bunnahabhain 12 year old Cask Strength, 2021 Edition vs 2022 Edition

This post wasn't going to appear until Tuesday because I needed time to process and edit my thoughts on a quirky Taste Off. But I foresee no free time on Monday, so here it is, perhaps a bit unpolished:

Rarely thrilled about new releases, I was excited when Bunnahabhain's official cask strength bottling was announced back in 2021. It had an age statement, and it was not bottled at, like, 68.9%abv. As mentioned on Friday, the standard 12yo is very good, and now the whisky world would get the chance to try it uncut (and possibly more sherried)! A couple ounces of the 2021 edition arrived here by way of bottle split, then the 2022 edition appeared at Columbus Scotch Night three months ago. So I'm ready to go.

Taste Off Rules: a portion of each edition was reduced to 46.3%abv to match the standard's strength, and those were tasted first. Then full strength pours of each were compared...

DILUTED TO 46.3%abv

Bunnahabhain 12 year old Cask Strength, 2021 edition, originally 55.1%abv
Bunnahabhain 12 year old Cask Strength, 2022 edition, originally 56.6%abv

2021 Edition - It's oloroso and ocean water: walnuts, dried cherries, marzipan, brine, and wet sand. Quieter notes of coffee grounds and fresh tortilla chips stay behind.
2022 Edition - Has that "ooooh" effect. First, there's seaweed, dark chocolate, and hazelnut. Then flowers, cantaloupe, halvah, and almond. And in the waaaay back, cigarette smoke?
WINNER - 2022

2021 Edition - The word "intense" is written thrice in my notes. It starts with a dense wave of dark chocolate, black coffee, and salty caramel. More bitterness than sweetness. Almost like a smoked cocoa, if that's a thing. It gains some dried currants after 20 minutes.
2022 Edition - Thick mouthfeel, but......it starts with a peppery, spirity bite, and that's about it for 15 minutes. Then some very dry sherry (Manzanilla?), salt, and vanilla appears. It does get sweeter and more vanilla-ed with time.
WINNER - 2021 by a lot

2021 Edition - It finishes with a milkier chocolate and smokier caramel. Very salty with a hint of those dried currants.
2022 Edition - Pepper, salt, sugar, vanilla.
WINNER - 2021 by a lot

The 2022's nose showed so much promise, never lagging for 40+ minutes, but the palate fell very flat. Meanwhile the 2021 was mostly sherry cask, but good sherry cask. I enjoyed the chocolate and coffee notes, and appreciated that it never got that sweet. 2021 was the better of the two, but, neither could top the standard 12.


Bunnahabhain 12 year old Cask Strength, 2021 edition, 55.1%abv
Bunnahabhain 12 year old Cask Strength, 2022 edition, 56.6%abv

2021 Edition - It starts off promising, with Brazil nuts, coffee, chocolate, and roses. But then it drifts towards flat, generic sherry cask-finished notes (stale raisins, etc.).
2022 Edition - It also begins well, and then stays that way. Dried cherried, dried blueberries, lemons, and flowers provide highlights. Moderate toasted oak fills the middle. And tomato soup(!) floats in the background.

2021 Edition - Lots of oak spice and tannins. Milk chocolate in the middle. Unlike the diluted pour, this one is sweeter than it is bitter, and the bitterness reads oaky.
2022 Edition - This one has a better mix of sweet and bitter. Some tangy hot sauce in there. Less oak, more barley, and a hint of metal.

2021 Edition - Matches the palate. All oak (spice, tannin, bitterness).
2022 Edition - Lemons and hot sauce. Just a little bit of sweetness, and even less tannin.

Though they were both cask heavy, the 2022 offered up some angles and complexity, and even let a little bit of malt show through. It still felt a bit young, but possessed good feistiness. At full strength, the 2021 rarely showed any of the positive aspects that it possessed when diluted. The oak that had offered dense richness at 46.3%abv, was replaced by Craft-style tannin syrup.


This turned into a Taste Off between four different whiskies, rather than two. Both diluted versions had surprising smoky notes that never appeared at cask strength. The full strength 2021 and the diluted 2022, were so disappointing that I'd take last week's B- 1990s dumpy over 'em. Conversely, the reduced 2021 and full power 2022 were both quite good, exhibiting differing styles and plenty of strengths. But none of the four whiskies showed the balance, depth, and bold character of the standard Bunnahabhain 12 year old, a single malt that offers better blending and perhaps a few more bourbon casks.

Bunnahabhain 12 year old Cask Strength, batch 2021 - 85 (diluted only, 5+ point drop when neat)
Bunnahabhain 12 year old Cask Strength, batch 2022 - 84 (neat only, 5+ point drop when diluted)

Friday, September 8, 2023

Things I Really Drink: Bunnahabhain 12 year old (bottled 2018)

In 2010, Burn Stewart Distillers' single malts — Bunnahahbain, Ledaig, and Tobermory — received a reboot and upgrade, arriving on shelves at 46.3%abv, with neither chillfiltration nor e150a. Though it was ultimately a business decision made by The Suits, I'd like to think it was then-Master Distiller Ian MacMillan's idea to present a better version of their single malts to the market, and perhaps win over a few new customers in the process. It worked for me! Thankfully the parent company, Distell International, hasn't changed that approach in the 13 years since.

On Tuesday night, I did a side-by-side of old Bunna 12 and new Bunna 12, posting the former's results on Wednesday. The 1990s batch I tried was a decent drink, but it seemed to demand a better presentation. Next to the contemporary 46.3%abv version, it read thin and sleepy. Here are my thoughts on my most recent bottle of Bunny 12:

Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Ownership: Distell International Limited (via Burn Stewart Distillers)
Region: Islay

Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: Sherry casks + bourbon casks
Bottled: 2018
Alcohol by Volume: 46.3%
Chillfiltered? No
e150a? No
(from the top third of my bottle)


It wears its style right up front, with the cuddlier notes in the back. Raw walnuts, saline, lemon, and little bits of earth and shoe polish fill the nose, from first sniffs to last. Cinnamon, honey, marzipan, and Mcintosh apple peels provide background brightness. Gone are the occasional generic sherry cask notes I used to find in earlier 46.3%abv bottlings; now it tilts towards actual Palo Cortado at times.

In the palate, as in the nose, the fight is in the fore. Up top: salty/briny, with bitter herbs, steel wool, and a hint of leather. Toffee, almonds, and lemons in the middle. Sweeter citrus and fresh ginger in the background.

It finishes with tarter lemons and bitter yuzu peels, raw nuts and steel wool. It gets saltier in later sips.


This bottle gets better with each successive pour. Edgier notes are strengthening, and flavors expanding. I'm still in the bottle's top third, so it may improve further. This might be my favorite 10-12 year old standard Islay right now, even though it's not one of the peaters, which is impressive considering there are no thunderous phenolics for the spirit to hide behind. Perhaps I should try some older Bunnahabhain during this cluster...

Availability - First World-wide
Pricing - (USA) $55-75, (Europe) $40-$60 ex-tax, (Japan) CHEAP
Rating - 87

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Bunnahabhain 12 year old, dumpy bottle (1990s bottling)

Burn Stewart Distillers rolled out a 46.3%abv, natural color, non-chillfiltered presentation of Bunnahabhain 12 year old in 2010, an approach that has continued through the 13 years since. Before 2010, the 12yo had been bottled at either 40% or 43% (dyed and filtered) for more than three decades, most famously or infamously in a green dumpy vessel. Because the distillery was closed for a couple years in the 1980s, and since Bunnahabhain single malt was rarely in demand until recently, the 1990s Bunna 12s could be older than their age statement.

With a generous-sized sample of a 1990s bottling, I was finally able to do a Taste Off between it and......well, you'll have to see on Friday. For today: ye olde 12.

pic of a 40%abv version
Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Distilled and Bottled by: Highland Distilleries Company Ltd.
Current Ownership: Distell International Limited (via Burn Stewart Distillers)
Region: Islay

Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: a mix of sleepy refill bourbon and sherry casks?
Bottled: 1990s
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? Yes
e150a? Yes
(from a bottle split)


The pleasant nose starts with nectarines, eucalyptus, orange zest, and caramel candy. Some peach skins and dustiness fill the background. With time in the glass, the whisky picks up notes of anise and apple cider vinegar.

It has a fizzy, apple, ginger thing going on in the palate for the first couple of sips. Malt, pepper, and lots of caramel arrive next. It gets a good bitter bite, plenty of salt, and a hint of skunky weed, but reads a little thin in the mouth.

It finishes grassy and salty, with a curious mix of bitter herbs and apple sauce in the back.


If not for the decent nose and quirky-but-not-quirky-enough palate notes, this 12yo wouldn't be much more than a whisky to slosh onto ice for detached consumption. It's definitely one step up from a blend (or three steps if we're talking about Cutty), but it's begging for the aforementioned contemporary 46.3%/nc/ncf presentation to wake things up a bit. And no, I don't think there's older whisky in this one, unless the warehouse had some underproof casks to use up. (Disclaimer: There was probably plenty of Bunnahahbain 12yo batch variation throughout the '90s.)

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - shouldn't be pricey
Rating - 82

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Welcome to the 2023 Bunnahabhain Cluster!

Unpeated Bunnahabhain is one of my favorite autumn malts, so as I slowly dehydrate in this 92ºF (33ºC) heat I shall try to summon cooler weather with a Bunna cluster. At the very least, the series will end on the last day of September, so this might actually work.

Bunnahabhain distillery's construction began in 1881, ending just before distillation began in 1883. Original owners Islay Distillers (Robertson & Baxter and the Greenlees Brothers) merged with William Grant & Company in 1887 to form Highland Distillers. The distillery kept its single set of stills until 1963-1964 when Bunnahabhain underwent a complete makeover. A second set of stills was added, the floor maltings removed, and a new Porteus mill installed. It was around this time that the distillery focused on creating a light style of malt for its blend destinations: Cutty Sark, Famous Grouse, Black Bottle, and Scottish Leader.

The whisky industry downturn that led to the closing of Port Ellen (and many other distilleries), also pushed Highland Distillers to close Bunnahabhain in 1982. Bunna was reopened two years later but its production was kept low for nearly two decades. Highland Distillers (now Edrington) sold the distillery to Burn Stewart Distillers in 2003, which in turn was bought by Distell International Limited in 2013. Under Burn Stewart's stewardship, production was expanded, single malt bottlings increased, and heavily-peated spirit distillations began, the latter of which seem to increase every year, now making up 35% of the annual runs.

I've always enjoyed Bunnahabhain 12 year old in its 46.3%abv form. It's one of the unsung, consistently high quality single malts, not just from Islay, but Scotland as a whole. It's always been my next-step recommendation malt, as in, "If you like Macallan 12, then you should try Bunnahabhain 12 next." Earlier this year, Columbus Scotch Night opened a current bottle of the 12yo (now sold in Ohio!), and I am happy to say that the state of Bunnahabhain 12 year old is strong.

So how about a baker's dozen Bunnies this month?!

pic source


1. Bunnahabhain 12 year old, dumpy bottle (1990s bottling) - "...one step up from a blend......but it's begging for the......46.3%/nc/ncf presentation to wake things up a bit."
2. Bunnahabhain 12 year old (bottled 2018) - "This might be my favorite 10-12 year old standard Islay right now..."
5. Bunnahabhain Abhainn Araig, for Feis Ile 2022 - "...reads more like a Travel Retail NAS release than a celebratory limited bottling.
6. Bunnahabhain Feis Ile 2023, Canasta Cask Matured - "It has figs and dates, so who am I to complain? Diving for Pearls, that's who!"
7. Bunnahabhain 10 year old 2009 Adelphi, cask 900022 - "...play with dilution to find the honey spot."
8. Bunnahabhain 15 year old 2003 Amontillado Finish - "...a full step better than......the 10yo Adelphi. I'd even argue that the sherry casks in the 15yo are better integrated than the 10yo..."
9. Bunnahabhain 23 year old 1991 Whisky-Fässle - "Duck butts > Sherry butts?"
10. Bunnahabhain 25 year old (2015 bottling) - "The combination of old armagnac, black walnuts, and grapefruit made this drinker's palate very happy while it lasted."
11. Bunnahabhain 28 year old 1988 Alexander Murray & Co. - "...it caters to the bourbon-preferring palate. Alas, it doesn't work for my palate..."
12. Bunnahabhain 30 year old 1987 Wemyss, cask 2675 for Taiwan - "Keep this gorgeous beast neat! It has my dried fruits, fresh fruits, flowers, chocolates, savoriness, saltiness, and mossiness."
13. Bunnahabhain 33 year old 1980 Whisky Doris, cask 92 - "The highlight of this entire cluster, this whisky's nose elicits an audible reaction every time..."


Friday, September 1, 2023

Things I Really Drink: Famous Grouse 18 year old Blended Malt (bottled in 2007)

Okay, I've been hiding this for years. I adore Famous Grouse 18 year old blended malt. Flawlessly assembled, FG18 had a better balance of sherry cask and malt than Macallan 18, and sometimes showed more complexity. It was also the perfect blending whisky. Drop it into anything, or drop anything into it, and you'll announce your brilliance after the first sip. Johnnie Walker hasn't had anything like this for at least forty years.

I know this is a super hot take, considering Edrington stopped producing this whisky almost a decade ago. But you know me, always relevant. It wasn't until FG18 was discontinued and stores were trying to get rid of it that I discovered the stuff, around seven years ago, for the price of $49.99. Eighteen-year-old sherried non-Kirkland single malt for fifty bucks? Yes please. I had three bottles. One remains.

Using Edrington's old convoluted bottle code (detailed in this Highland Park post), I figured out that all three of my FG18s were bottled in 2007. Considering that date, here are some possible ingredients: Bunnahabhain, Glengoyne, Glenturret, Glenrothes, Macallan, and Highland Park, all quite sherried.

Here are some tasting notes that are probably quite useless.

Brand: The Famous Grouse
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Type: The Blended (or Vatted) Malt
Age: minimum 18 years
Maturation: mostly sherry casks
Bottle code: L0968G L8 21/11 16:39
Bottling year: 2007
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? Probably
e150a? Probably
(from my bottle)


The nose notes arrive in groups: Almonds in toffee. Dark chocolate and dried cherries. Manuka honey and a whiff of musty dunnage. Hints of manure, smoke, and walnuts in the distance.

The palate has a layer of figs, plums, sultanas, and tingly citrus on top. Almond flour, bitter herbs, and lightly toasted oak assemble in the middle. Earth, minerals, and hay highlight the background.

The moderately sweet and tart finish lasts longer than expected, with plums, dried apricots, bitter herbs, and floral sake(!) drifting and drifting and drifting...


It's delicious, and does anything else matter? It's also surprisingly bold for a filtered 43%abv production, so the blenders must have included plenty of lovely, possibly older, casks in the mix. Can you imagine Edrington dumping those gems into a blend today?! Yes, I'm certainly leaning on too many superlatives right now, but FG18 has been so reliable, and become so familiar, that I can't just say, "yeah, it's a very good blended malt" without waxing romantic a little bit. It's a whisky of the past, and yeah, it's a very good blended malt.

Availability - 
maybe somewhere out there
Pricing - ???
Rating - 88