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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)