Friday, December 21, 2012

Review: Bunnahabhain 12

Bunnahabhain 12
Price: $40-$50
Strength: 46.3 %

Some whisky lines, like superhero movie franchises, occasionally need a reboot.  A couple of years ago, Bunnahabhain was in such need.  The flagship 12-year-old expression was a C grade mediocrity: an Islay whisky without peat, mouth-feel, or much character.  My notes for that bottling suggested some mild pepper but otherwise that it lived up to the label's "gentle" (i.e. "boring") billing.

But in 2011, Bunnahabhain received a makeover along with the rest of the distilleries in the Burn Stewart portfolio (Ledaig, Tobermory, and Deanston).  In addition to sexier packaging, all bottles were made non chill-filtered and alcoholed-up to 46.3 %.

The new Bunnahabhain 12 is a delight in every respect: dynamic, flavorful, and well balanced.  Salty sea spray on the nose with a medium sherry influence and touch of vanilla.  Sharp and peppery in the mouth; much more assertive than the old bottling (though not quite at the level of a Talisker).  Sweet and lively.  The sherry has a similar taste profile as a Macallan, and it grows stronger on the finish.  The aftertaste is like a salted prune.  I love the combination of sherry and ocean character.  Even without peat, there is no mistake that this is an island whisky.

This whisky quite grew on me as I continued through the bottle, and my estimation of it rose from being a B whisky on first dram to an A- at the end.  Usually the reverse is the case, where the first couple drams are the best and diminishing returns occur once I've consumed a whisky's novelty.  However, Bunnahabhain 12 is sneaky complex, being highly explorable without being too subtle.  That mix, and its downright tastiness, make it a good drink for many moods, and it gets extra points for this "go-to"ness.  I've already picked up a second bottle and suspect this will be a cabinet staple.  92 points (A-).

Other Bunnahabhain reviews:

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this one too. Such a big, thick texture, and amazing flavor profile. It has a lot going on without being too "busy." To me, this and the Laddie 10 are of a type, both being un-peated Islays that have been remixed, so to speak, to become something even better. Though I have to say, I don't think I've had Bruichladdie from before the change.

    I bought a bottle of brandy for the holidays...just seems Christmasy. Got my brother a nice bottle of bourbon, too.