Sunday, March 3, 2013

Have just tried – Bunnahabhain 40 Years Old

Burn Stewart Distillers, the owners of Bunnahabhain, have released the oldest ever expression of single malt scotch whisky from the Islay distillery at the end of 2012 - 40 years old Journey of Discovery. The whisky was a pleasant discovery by Master Distiller, Ian MacMillan, who came across it in the distillery ledgers noting that it was stored in one of their warehouses. As a result it has a limited quantity of 750 bottles available. The 40 years old will be available in specialist retailers in selected markets worldwide for around £2000.

The whisky is presented in a two-piece wooden case, which mirrors Bunnahabhain's 'maritime character' by displaying the label through a porthole. The special label depicts the whisky's 'journey of discovery' over the last four decades and has been designed by renowned Scottish illustrator Iain McIntosh. Each of the 750 bottles is individually numbered and hand signed by Ian MacMillan.

Bunnahabhain (pronounced bunna-ha-ven) is located in the northern part of Islay, an island that lies off the west coast of Scotland. Islay is famous for its smoky and peaty whisky and Bunnahabhain is the black sheep of the family. The distillery produces the lightest of the all the Islay single malt whiskies with non peated whiskies at the core of their range and, when peated, with low levels of peat influence compared to most of the other distilleries on the island.

Bunnahabhain was founded in 1881 and has endured a turbulent history and a number of closures and part closures. The most recent of these was between 1999 and 2002 when it was closed for the summer months due to poor availability at its local water source. The distillery produces 2.5 million litres per year, much of which goes towards the popular Black Bottle blend - this contains whisky all of Islay’s eight working distilleries but has Bunnahabhain as its base. The core range has three single malts - 12 years old, 18 years old and 25 years old - and it is a favourite amongst the independent bottling companies.  Through these you can occasionally also pick up peaty expressions.

Our tasting notes
This whisky appears burnt golden yellow in the glass. The nose of this whisky is initially quite closed but eventually opens up to reveal quite a depth of character. There are unsurprising savoury earthy, dusty and musty notes, that could be described as mushroom and wood, that you would expect from a whisky that spent so long in a cask. This is met with tropical fruit notes of dried mango, and coconut and a waxiness that is a bit like citrus scented furniture polish. Sweet notes come in the form of chewy nougat, milk chocolate and honey.

The palate feels a little more alcoholic that the 41.7% ABV would lead you to expect. The palate shows a wonderfully savoury character of burnt toffee, burnt orange, warming nutmeg or ginger spice and nutty praline woodiness. There is a definite strong but desirable bitterness from the savoury notes that is balanced by sweetness of distinctly tropical notes that were present in its fragrance. Notes of honey and vanilla add to the sweetness, which blissfully stops the bitterness overpowering the whisky’s flavour. You simply can’t miss the characteristic saltiness of any Bunnahabhain whisky that brings it all together.

The finish lingers with a mix of dry woodiness, savoury warmth, cinnamon and nutmeg spice, orange and toffee sweetness and that characteristic hint of brine.

What's the verdict?
This feels like an indulgent and decadent whisky. It shows layers of complexity that you desire from a whisky of this age and it certainly delivers to making you want to go back for another dram. Bunnahabhain often feels like an underrated distillery but when compared to other 40 year olds this appears to offer value for money especially when the limited nature of this bottling is taken into consideration. Certainly one for the connoisseur who likes to search out a hidden gem.

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