Bunnahabhain 8yo (43%, Gordon & MacPhail, The MacPhail’s Collection, Refill Sherry Butts, Heavily Peated)

Let’s continue with a Margadale. You might have never heard of Margadale, but that is how the heavily peated Bunnahabhain spirit is actually called. Margadale has a peating level between 35 and 40 ppm. Bunnahabhain means “mouth of the river”, now guess the name of the river itself… I would have liked it if they really would have called it Margadale, just like Tobermory and Ledaig. Now, the peated spirit Bunnahabhain produces is called Margadale, but when the spirit becomes Whisky, the bottled peated Bunnahabhain is called Moine. That’s probably a name you have encountered before. Only Berry Brothers & Rudd have once bottled a peated Bunnahabhain with a mention of Margadale. Bunnahabhain used to be an (almost) unpeated Islay Whisky, even the water used didn’t ever flow over peated land, but when the going got tough, aided by some changes in ownership, they started to make peated Whisky as well…

Bunnahabhain 8yo The MacPhails CollectionColor: Straw, light gold.

Nose: Fatty and buttery. Nice Islay peat. Sea breeze, salty and warming, but also with a soft quality to it. Peat, smoke, crushed beetle and tar. Burning newspaper. Hidden sweetness and florality. Effective and typical. Everything is there, but nothing is overpowering the rest. I would say elegant, as far as heavily peated Whiskies can be called elegant. Nice citrussy note, giving some freshness on top of the peat, smoke, tar and saltness. The floral and fruity notes are deeper and heavier and lie more on the bottom, or in the depth of the nose. Balanced and fine. With some more air it dumbs down a bit. Hints of (burning) paper (again), and the fruits come more to the fore. Dried apricots and white grape. Here you can see how the Sherry casks worked. It adds fruit and a nice woody spiciness. It somehow lacks the obvious vanilla you get from American oak Bourbon casks, although most Sherry casks these days are made with American oak as well. Sometimes you could guess its relative youth, but on the other hand, this shows enough complexity to be considered and older Whisky. Good ‘un. Nice distillate.

Taste: Right from the start we get some separation. The aroma’s aren’t very well-integrated. Interesting. Starts off with smoked salt and creamy butter and a nice White Wine acidity. Fatty peat, very fatty and buttery indeed. Licorice, sweet wood and honey sweetness. Sweetness there is, but not your regular white sugar sweetness. Yes runny thin honey it is. All the way through it keeps not integrating well. The acidity is displaced and hangs around too long in the back of my mouth, and the sweetness is trying to get too much to say underneath. Not sure this Sherry is a perfect match for the peated spirit. The more it breathes, the more it actually develops in the wrong way.

Nice stuff at 43% ABV. Sure, in times it is a bit thin, but I have no problem with the reduction. It makes this Islay Whisky very accessible. Don’t let it breathe though. It allows the acidity to develop and hold it hostage. The wood makes the Whisky, but in this case the wood broke the Whisky. It’s not terrible, but especially in the details this Whisky fails a bit.

Points: 80

Bunnahabhain 35yo 1976/2012 (48.8%, The Whisky Mercenary, 80 bottles)

500I almost missed it, but this is already the 500th post on masterquill.com. Three and a half years have passed since the moment I wanted to see with my own eyes how a blog was made, so I never intended to continue after the first few reviews. The next few months no new posts were written, but after a while I picked it up again, never to let it go again. It’s too much fun to do, and it still is. It is a never-ending quest for the nicest of drinks that are available on the planet. So much more to discover.

I don’t have to post every day, but I try to have something up every other day. Once in a while I let it be, due to sickness (a.k.a. the nose doesn’t work properly), WiFi-less vacation or other reasons, and I don’t feel bad about it, so it doesn’t feel like something I must do. I have no plans of getting bored with it, or plans to retire after a while. There are so much more drinks around, and so much more to explore and learn, that I fear I will never get bored with it at all. Still, you never know, there have been others I loved to read that have stopped (and some have continued after a while). Here’s to the next 500. Let’s take it one step at a time.

Bunnahabhain 35yo 1976/2012 (48.8%, The Whisky Mercenary, 80 bottles)Time for the 500th post then. I had to pick something special, so why not a nice and old Bunnahabhain. Islay is hot, and so are the picks of Jürgen Vromans. Our beloved Belgian independent bottler. Nothing wrong with his nose, so I have high hopes for this 35yo Bunna. Cheers!

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Soft vanilla and wood, Definitely slowly matured on a slightly active cask. Some sweetness and a tiny hint of what seems to be a sort of waxy peat. light old elegant wood. Hints of chalk and a nice restrained fruitiness (yellow fruits). Old dried out paint dust and a great deep vegetal note. Excellent wood, creamy wood almost. Nothings really sticks out. It all is light and elegant and held back. Tread tenderly with this one. Old skool with excellent balance. Lovely. Should have come with a label in Paisley motif.

Taste: Quite spicy with a burst of sweetness coming from a dried licorice twig. Otherwise the Whisky has a great dry/sweet balance to it. Dry on the nose and dry on the mouth too, with some nice sweet and fatty touches to it. Creamy wax. Vanilla and half-dried pudding. Again a delicious fruity taste, again yellow fruit, mixed with a hint of sweetish black tea. Well integrated woody notes with just a small amount of woody bitterness.

This is a lovely old Whisky, well worth its initial Retail price. Jürgen picked a wonderful old and delicate or even fragile Bunnahabhain. Wonderful stuff. No heavy hitter and lots of nice details. Good balance with decent complexity. I should have gotten me one of these when I had the chance…

Points: 90

Bunnahabhain 1997/2011 (56.2%, The House of MacDuff, The Golden Cask, Cask CM 164, 318 bottles)

Bunnahabhain 1997/2011 (56.2%, The House of MacDuff, The Golden Cask, Cask CM 164, 318 bottles)Another House of MacDuff bottling and yes, another Bunnahabhain from this independent bottler. The one I reviewed earlier was distilled in 1972 and bottled at 40 years of age! This again is a fairly light-colored malt, so it seems like a not so active cask. Still, knowing who picks the casks I still have high hopes for this one. It can’t be bad. It seems to me that Bunnahabhain is a very popular distillery for this independent bottler since they have managed to bottle already five Bunnhabhains, this one from 1997 was their first.

Color: Light gold

Nose: Lots of fatty peat. Crushed beetle. Dark black tea. Spicy and very nice woody notes. Tarred rope. The whole smells like a fishing boat, maybe without the fish. Citrus. Bonfire on the beach, but not salty. It doesn’t smell of sea wind that is. Hint of dried orange peel and some ginger. In the back some dried meat and old paint (from the fishing boat). A very romantic peated malt.

Taste: Lemon, cream and licorice. A stick of licorice “zoethout”. A very nice and laid back Islay malt. Lightly sweet icing Sugar underneath. Toffee, vanilla and smoke, even some ashes. Light fatty peat if given some time to breathe. Dries the lips. Salty. Smoked meat and a return of the dried orange peel.

yes another peated Bunnahabhain. It may surprise you so much peated Whisky is released from Bunnahabhain, but truth be told, Bunnahabhain have something of a shortage of unpeated Whisky on their hands, so expect a lot more peated stuff from this distillery. Beware, because not every bottler mentions on their labels that their Bunnahabhain is peated…

Points: 86

Bunnahabhain “Moine” 5yo 2008/2013 (46%, The Ultimate, Peated, Bourbon Barrel #800011, 341 bottles)

Just the other day, Jan from Best Shot Whisky Reviews reviewed a nice 5yo Islay peated whisky, so why shouldn’t we do just the same. Why? Because we can! Next up a Moine. A Moine say you, yes a Moine, the peated Bunnahabhain. This is bottled by dutch indie bottlers Van Wees under their Ultimate Label. Unchillfiltered and uncolored. Van Wees already bottled quite a few of these Moines, and if you are interested, get one quick since the latest expression bottled in 2014 costs a tenner (in Euro’s) more than the earlier bottlings…

Bunnahabhain Moine 5yo 2008/2013 (46%, The Ultimate, Peated, Bourbon Barrel #800011, 341 bottles)Color: Very pale straw yellow and/or greenish. Almost colorless.

Nose: Fat and fruity peat. I certainly have smelled this before. Than more peat and after that even more peat. Although this has lots of peat, I wouldn’t call this “heavy”. It has some smoke obviously, but you never know, they don’t always come together. The smoke part is light, as is the wood and toast. The fruit plays a big role in this Whisky as does its youth. Sweet licorice and spice. Black tea leaves and green plants. Given some time, it becomes less fatty and gets more floral even (and soapy) and the peat gets more meaty. Little bit of bonfire and coal dust. Not bad, not bad at all.

Taste: Sweet with delicate smoke and peat. Cardboard, plywood and sugar. It’s an almost lovely peated whisky lemonade. Extremely appetizing. Fern and tree sap. After several sips, you get the (thin) sweet watery feel, with tasty peat, but it is highly un-complex. Finishes on citrussy peat and a little bit of bonfire with ashes.

These Ultimate Moines are dirt cheap and sell well, but are not very highly regarded. Yes, at first it is peat peat peat and it looks like a vodka that has aged for a week in stainless steel with a blade of grass thrown in for color. But just forget about your typical peated Islay Whisky. It’s not a heavy peated Whisky, with sea spray and Iodine. Nope, it’s a more easily drinkable, fruity and sometimes floral, modern Islay Whisky. It fits right in with the newer easy drinkable and easy accessible expressions of the big boys like Laphroaig Select, Bowmore Small Batch and many Caol Ila’s. Those are easy drinkable too, but this has more peat to it and still is like a peated lemonade. Don’t expect a lot of complexity. It didn’t do a lot in the cask except for marrying its flavours, and its only 5 years old. But who cares, this is to drink and lie back, it’s about enjoying life. Peat reinvented and very easy drinkable. No high marks here, but still I enjoyed it a lot, and isn’t that the most important?

Points: 82

For fun, I did a head to head of this Moine with the Kilchoman Spring 2010, and found the Kilchoman at 3yo to be more balanced, smokier, less sweet yet more interesting and funkier (the Oloroso Sherry finish probably did that). More happening, more flavor. It’s more of everything actually.

Bunnahabhain 40yo 1972/2012 (44.6%, The House of MacDuff, The Golden Cask, CM 184, 346 bottles)

Recently I reviewed an anonymous Bunnahabhain by David Stirk. That expression was heavy on Sherry. Here we have another Bunnahabhain, much older, and much lighter. As with all Golden Casks, this is again a cask that was picked by John McDougall. John has a big, big history in Whisky, so in the time when it is pretty hard for independent bottlers to find an exceptional cask, John still might be able to find one. Let’s see how this oldie he picked is holding up.

Color: Light Gold.

Nose: Waxy and old smelling (old bottle effect). Fatty wood, with hints of licorice and maybe even some lavas. The profile is also fruitier with pineapple, and dried apricots. It doesn’t have any apparent peat. I do detect, however, some smoke, some chalk and butter. Hints of latex wall paint and custard. Quite a list of funny aroma’s for this Bunnahabhain if you ask me. The most striking aroma of them all is the very special waxy oldness it oozes.

Taste: Interesting, at first a combination of white wine, wood and slightly bitter beer. Licorice again with toffee, but the whole is quite dry and light. The initial attack is there, but the body is already light and the finish is not very long. The more this Whisky gets a chance to breathe, for instance in the glass, the more bitter it gets. It’s still easy within limits, so not to worry. Lacks a bit of power though if you ask me. This cask strength Whisky was bottled at 44.6%, so the angels particularly liked it!

At first, it even shows some similarities to 1972 Caperdonichs, with this exceptionally waxyness, but soon it gets much simpler or should I say lighter. Especially the body of those 1972 Caperdonichs are quite full, whereas this Bunnahabhain has a more lighter style to it. A bit brittle or fragile, but this Bunnahabhain does have the old wax and wood, that Whisky these day just don’t have and with modern techniques, will never be made like this again. So treat this Bunna gently and see it as a time capsule of some sorts.

Points: 86

Bunnahabhain 20yo 1990/2011 “Isle of Islay” (52.8%, The Creative Whisky Company, The Exclusive Malts, Cask #251211, 298 bottles)

Here we go again. Another monstrously long title, again a Single Malt of which the distillery name is not on the label, but we know it’s a Bunnahabhain. So three in a row, this being the third Bastard Malt in a row, reviewed here on these pages. The Creative Whisky Co. Ltd. is non other than David Stirk. Fellow Rush lover and Whisky bottler par excellence, or should I say Exclusive Whisky bottler?

Bunnahabhain 20yo 1990/2011 "Isle of Islay" (52.8%, The Creative Whisky Company, The Exclusive Malts, Cask #251211, 298 bottles)This Bunna is pretty dark in color so my guess would be a Sherry cask. Since David didn’t specify what (kind of Sherry) the cask previously held, we can only speculate what this is. Maybe a Sherry Hogshead, or maybe a Butt that was shared with others, or only half the Butt was bottled? My guess would be the former (a Hoggie). It looks like a Oloroso or PX Sherry Hogshead to me, so we’ll have to try, to make another guess at it…

Color: Copper orange (the typical color of most Bourbons).

Nose: Fresh and Sherried but not heavy or cloying. Nice hints of spicy sweet and acidic wood. Definitely a lot of raisins and overall rather dry. Dusty with some fatty cardboard (nothing wrong with that). Ground coffee and hints of wet sugared cherries. Well balanced.

Taste: Heavy sherry with small hints of fat peat and a little bit of smoke and steam. Nice cloying black fruit. Tarry and a bit dirty. I like it. Yes it is a bit drying on the tongue, so maybe it should have been bottled a few years earlier. Still this is a great dram. It has a lot of character. Near the finish the wood starts to play a part with its spicy and slightly bitter finish and some black fruits come up. Dry black tea, so there are some tannins in here…

I brought this one with me when my Whisky club went to Switzerland two weeks ago and there the drying palate put some tasters off. I for sure noticed the drying qualities of this Whisky, but I didn’t have so much of a problem with it. Far worse for me is a heavily sherried malt, with lots of sulphur of bitterness in the finish, something this malt doesn’t have. By the way, for me this is a Oloroso Sherry Hogshead…

Points: 88

Bunnahabhain 9yo 2001/2010 (46%, Daily Dram, for Bresser & Timmer and The Nectar Belgium)

Bunnahabhain was founded in 1881 and the first spirit trickled from the stills two years later. The distillery was closed two times. The first time in 1930 (for seven years) and the second time in 1982 (for two years). In 2003 the distillery was bought by Burn Steward Distilleries, and they really started to market Bunnahabhain. First of all a series of new bottlings saw the light of day, and in 2010 they started to upgrade the core range with the 12yo and the 18yo. The ABV was raised to 46.3% ánd the new versions are unchillfiltered and no coloring is added. Way to go!

Bunnahabhain is known for being the least peated of the island, still like a lot of others, raising to the occasion by answering the call of the public for more ppm’s. Burn Steward therefore started to bottle a “Moine” expression, with more peat, mimicking pre sixties Bunnahabhain.

Color: Warm Orange, slightly hazy.

Nose: Rubber like bicycle tyres, but also a floral note. Very strange. Almost a strangely burnt Cognac? It smells like a grape distillate. Burnt sugar and toffee. Skins of hazelnuts. First whiffs were ehhhh, lets say, very atypical. I can only hope this will not be one of those harsh tasting rubbery fresh Sherry bombs. Luckily it does get a lot better when aired for a while. I would say, leave the cork off for a short while, a week or two maybe 🙂

Taste: Ash and toasted wood. Burnt sugar again, with its bitterness. This must be a somewhat mistreated or bad cask. And/or very poor Sherry. Sweet grains and caramel. Burnt sugar and rubber. Hint of soap. Thick and chewy. Simple and rather unbalanced. Dark chocolate with burnt bitterness. Quite woody in fact, something you could miss by the overwhelming Sherry influence. Was the cask really empty, when the Bunnahabhain spirit entered the cask?

Little if any distillery character. This could have been any spirit, from any distillery. No merits at all for Bunnahabhain, because this is a Sherry influenced grape thing. This is all fresh Sherry cask. And for me not even one of the nicest casks around. Is this nice? I don’t know. There shall be fans of this, but I’m not one of them. If you like Loch Dhu, then please give this a try.

Points: 76

Thanks go out to Nico for handing me this sample.