Bunnahabhain (pronounced bunna-ha-ven) is located in the northern part of Islay, the famous whisky producing island which lies off the west coast of Scotland. The distillery produces the lightest of the all the Islay single malt whiskies with extremely low levels of peat influence compared to most of the other distilleries on the island, which is famous for it smoky and peaty whisky. Bruichladdich is the only other Islay distillery that produces the majority of its single malt whisky in a non peated style. This Toiteach (meaning 'smoky' in Gaelic and pronounced as toc-chach) is a new limited edition exception to this rule. It is made with heavily peated malt and is bottled at 46% ABV and with no age stated.
Bunnahabhain was founded in 1881 and the current owners are Burn Stewart Distillers. The distillery produces 2.5 million litres per year and much of this goes towards the popular Black Bottle blend, which contains whisky from seven of Islay’s eight working distilleries but has Bunnahabhain as its base. The core range of single malts has three whiskies - a 12 years old, this 18 years old and a 25 years old. Bunnahabhain is a favourite amongst the independent bottling companies and through these you can occasionally also pick up some peaty expressions from the distillery.
The Toiteach is a light golden colour with a robust, aromatic nose. It is very peaty but the smokiness has an acrid edge that is reminiscent of burning rubber. This becomes earthier the longer the whisky is in the glass. There is also a distinct sweetness (think of caramel) that combines pleasantly with the smoke, although this is tempered by a prickly alcohol burn. On the palate, there is an initial sugary hit (imagine caramel again and honey) and then the acrid peaty smokiness kicks in (still a bit rubbery, like elastic bands). Other elements present include some dried fruits (imagine sultanas especially), some vanilla and malty cereal grains (this note is slightly bitter, like the grain husks), a salty tang (think of sea water or brine) and a warm spicy note (imagine white pepper). However, these struggle against the powerful smokiness. The finish is warming and robust with some noticeable alcohol burn. It starts sweetly with a touch of saltiness before becoming very smoky (a bit more peaty now, rather than rubbery) and pretty dry and woody.
The Toiteach is an interesting whisky, as it shows a different side to the traditional whisky from Bunnahabhain. It shows potential but the problems are its youthfulness and the fact that the smokiness tends to overpower almost everything else. The result is slightly unbalanced. It would be interesting to see how this whisky changes with a longer maturation period, where more would be drawn from the cask and the youthful alcohol and smokiness would mellow. An interesting experiment none the less and well worth a try, even if it is just for curiosity's sake. It is available from limited whisky retailers for £45-50 a bottle.