Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old
As mentioned in my recent Bunnahabhain 12 year old review, this Islay distillery is distinctive for not using peat in its core line of whiskies. The age-statement expressions of Bunnahabhain are thus more easily comparable to many of the whiskies from the classic mainland regions of Scotland.
Impressively, all these single malt expressions lack artificial caramel colouring, are non-chill-filtered, and are bottled at a relatively high 46.3% ABV. These choices speak well to the quality focus of the distillery. As with the 12 yo, this expression is matured in a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso sherry casks (although the exact proportions are again unknown).
Here is how the Bunna 18 yo compares to similarly-aged expressions in my Meta-Critic database:
Aberlour 18yo: 8.74 ± 0.27 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Bunnahabhain 12yo: 8.57 ± 0.33 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain 18yo: 9.01 ± 0.17 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Bunnahabhain 25yo: ± 8.85 0.38 on 13 reviews ($$$$$+)
Caol Ila 18yo: 8.67 ± 0.51 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
GlenDronach 18yo Allardice: 8.71 ± 0.40 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenfiddich 18yo: 8.57 ± 0.41 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenlivet 18yo: 8.58 ± 0.19 on 19 reviews ($$$$$)
Glengoyne 18yo: 8.56 ± 0.41 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Highland Park 18yo: 9.12 ± 0.25 on 22 reviews ($$$$$)
Oban 18yo: 8.71 ± 0.21 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan 18yo Fine Oak: 8.80 ± 0.32 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Springbank 18yo: 8.96 ± 0.19 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
Tomatin 18yo: 8.64 ± 0.21 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
As you can see above, it receives the highest score for an unpeated single malt of this age. The 18 yo even scores higher than the 25 yo “bunny”.
I was so impressed on sampling this expression that I quickly went out and bought a full bottle for myself (despite the rather steep $180 CAD price tag at the LCBO). Here is what I notice in the glass:
Colour: while I don’t normally comment on this (since it can be manipulated), I note that the 18yo is a much richer reddish/brown colour than the 12 yo expression. It clearly shows some extend time in sherry casks (or a higher proportion of sherry casks in the mix).
Nose: Classic sherry notes, with chocolate, raisins, figs and grapes. Has a honeyed sweetness, with some additional plum and apple. Salted caramel, a bit nutty, and with a faint hint of glue (which is oddly not objectionable). All in all, this whisky produces a mouth-watering effect that I typically associate with lightly smokey whiskies that were well-aged in sherry casks. This one is particularly nice, as it seems very rich and creamy (if that is possible to tell by smell).
Palate: All the aromas from the nose are found again on the palate. While not a sherry-bomb, there are a clearly lot of quality casks blended in here – I get rich, creamy cocoa, and a surprising amount of dark fruit. More caramel now too. Malted nuts. Something intriguing, in the way of a light coastal whisky, but with no real smoke or peat (more spicy?). Certainly, a touch of sweet baking spices, like nutmeg and allspice. Happily, it has none of the bitterness that marred the 12 yo for me somewhat. An oily and slightly syrupy mouthfeel, very pleasant to swish around the gums. Doesn’t really need any water – very drinkable at its native 46.3% ABV.
Finish: Fairly long, with dried fruits leading the way. A faint, warming allspice contributes as well. There is a slightly salty/briny residue in the end (which pairs well).
No trouble draining a glass here – a very pleasant whisky, with nothing significant to criticize. Certainly better than most unpreated malts of comparable age that I’ve tried. This one is very close to my favourite “relaxing for the evening” profile, with a hint of salty spice below a bed of fruit and chocolate.
Personally, the 18 yo is well worth the upgrade from the 12 yo expression for me. While many of the core flavours are similar, the quality proposition is high enough here to justify the price bump (again, for me). There is likely more than just extended aging going on – I’m fairly confident they are using a higher quality cask mix here (especially for the sherried component). I’m looking forward to serving this to fans of comparably-aged Glenlivet and Glenfiddich – I’m sure it it will surprise them.
As you can tell from the high average Meta-Critic score – and low standard deviation – reviewers are consistently positive for this expression. For representative reviews, I recommend you check out the guys at Quebec Whisky, Ruben of Whisky Notes, Ralfy, and My Annoying Opinions.