Bunnahabhain 12 Year Old
Bunnahabhain is a Scottish distillery that lies on the north-eastern tip of Islay, just north of Caol Ila. And like its nearest neighbor, most of its expressions are a lot milder than what you would typically associate with Islay (i.e., not smokey or peaty).
The reason for this is that Bunnahabhain apparently doesn’t use peated malt for its core line. At least, that is what is commonly reported online. The distillery website actually drops phrases like “lightly peated” or “minimal peating” occasionally, which is a definitely ambiguous. But most would agree that there is no real peated malt in the core age-statement line. That said, in more recent years, they have started making some heavily peated “Bunnys”, like Ceòbanach and Toiteach.
Here is how Bunna 12 yo fares relative to other unpeated 12 yo single malts:
Aberlour 12yo Double Cask Matured: 8.37 ± 0.17 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Balvenie 12yo Doublewood: 8.45 ± 0.38 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
BenRiach 12yo Matured in Sherry Wood: 8.72 ± 0.23 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain 12yo: 8.55 ± 0.35 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Cardhu 12yo: 8.11 ± 0.49 on 17 reviews ($$$)
GlenDronach 12yo Original: 8.60 ± 0.24 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Glenfarclas 12yo: 8.62 ± 0.39 on 14 reviews ($$$)
Glenfiddich 12yo: 8.07 ± 0.26 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Glenlivet 12yo: 8.03 ± 0.32 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Glengoyne 12yo: 8.52 ± 0.44 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.80 ± 0.44 on 19 reviews ($$$)
The Bunna 12 yo is sort of middle-of-the-pack here, if you don’t count the ubiquitous entry-level Glenfiddich/Glenlivet malts (which are lighter tasting and rank lower). Thanks to redditor xile_ for the sample tasted here.
I don’t normally discuss colour (since this can be manipulated), but the Bunnahabhain 12 yo has no colour added and is not chill-filtered (hurrah!). It has a rich pancake syrup colour, indicating a certain amount of sherry cask influence in the mix. Here is what I find in the glass:
Nose: Sweet, with definite sherry overtones – milk chocolate, raisins and prunes most especially. Overall, very light-bodied though (i.e., this is no sherry bomb). Honey and apple are also prominent. Something vaguely coastal or woody, but no real peat or smoke. Also no nose tingle, or any false notes. Bodes well for what is to come.
Palate: Highland Park-like initially, with sherry sweetness upfront followed by an underlying bitterness underneath (tree bark? coffee?). I normally associate this sort of bitter note with smokey whiskies, but I am not really getting any smoke here. A bit of honey and vanilla. Slightly nutty. Has a relatively light taste and mouthfeel overall, despite the 46.3% ABV. However, a touch of water might help with the underlying bitter note. Decent enough, but not very complex, and nothing to really distinguish it from the competition.
Finish: Some bitter chocolate on the way out, like an unsweetened cafe mocha. The balance is more toward bitter over the sweet (i.e., wood and some dry sherry). Slightly astringent, making you want to sip again.
Certainly a reasonable and tasty enough dram, but nothing that really stands out for me. It does have more of the dry sherry influence than you get in a typical Highland/Speyside whisky of this age, but none of the smoke/peat of the typical Islays. As such, I find it odd that there is so much bitterness throughout here.
I find the overall Meta-Critic score for the Bunna 12 yo to be reasonable. I would recommend something like the GlenDronach 12 yo for a more full-flavour whisky, or the Redbreast 12yo for higher quality in the same E flavour cluster. The BenRiach 12 yo Matured in Sherry Wood would be a better choice if you want a more sherried (but still delicate) whisky.
Reviewers are reasonably consistent in their view of this whisky. Probably the most favourable one I’ve seen is from Ralfy. One of the lest favourable would be Nathan the Scotch Noob. Oliver of Dramming, Serge of Whisky Fun and Thomas of Whisky Saga all give it fairly typical reviews.