Peating the Unpeated: Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach

Music: Magneta Lane, “Broken Plates”

As a quite note on the hiatus, I have a couple of reviews to write up, but this year has been short on both money for whisky, and decent whisky to purchase. While the former has since passed, there state of new, decent whisky offerings is slim. I do have an Octomore 6.1 in my possession now, but I have yet to open it. Reviews on Bowmore Tempest 2 and 4 are coming (in a doubleheader review), but I’ve been underwhelmed by the 4, and as such, have not been motivated to write the review. Some critics relish the opportunity to slag a mediocre product; I simply become disinterested.

I’d always wondered what a peated Bunna would be like, if it would be peppery and coastal, citrus and rock, or smoky bacon and brine. I almost expected their peated offering to be sherried, much in the way of an Ardbeg: a dark bog, with hints of fruity sweetness. Instead, the Ceòbanach (at 10 years) comes out much like a Caol Ila, with the soot and citrus at the fore-front. A beauty dram, if different from their 12yo.

Nose: Sooty, fireplace-mantle-type ash and smoke. Vanilla and citrus. So unlike the Bunnahabhain 12yo, but not in a bad way.

Palate: The palate is very fresh, and bright. Not spirity, just bright with flavours of vanilla, citrus, and a silty ash. Smoke and peat are here, but more accents than anything. A beautiful dry, tart note that I’ve come to expect from Bunnahabhain. Nothing too complex, but what it does, it does very well.

Finish: The earthiness of the peat rests on your tongue, and the citrus turns into slightly salty notes to complement the smoke in your breath.

Grade: B+

A leg up on the standard Caol Ila 12, as it hits with some of that patented Bunna sourness. I’m a fan, and it makes for an excellent summer smoke dram, thanks to the brightness of the flavours.

“Everybody falls down darlin’, but I’ll stay the same for you.”

In the Lap of the Gods: Bunnahabhain 18

Music: The Junction, “The Break Makes a Turning Point”

This 18yo really underscores something I’ve come to terms with on my whisky journey: Bunnahabhain is my dram. When I don’t have a particular craving for a peat or sherry bomb, but instead long for a good, complete Scotch, I’ve learned that I’m craving a Bunnahabhain. Their 12yo and 18yo are so well-rounded in all the flavours that make a good Scotch, that I’m always satisfied when I decide to have a sliver of Scotch, and reach for my Bunnahabhain. The 12yo is the perfect daily dram, and when I’m looking for something special, their 18yo is often what I have in mind.

Nose: Its got so much of what the Glengoyne 18 has, and then some. The brown sugar is more of a molasses with this one, something like sticky toffee pudding. Then, the sherry influence makes itself present. There is a hint of smoke, and a really great coastal salt note.

Palate: The smoothness of this dram is unparallelled. Sweetness, oak and smoke. This one comes up like a Highland and comes down like an Islay: instead of a huge sherry influence, it’s more of that port sweetness than anything. Unexpected, but very pleasant. The wood influence from the cask is strong, but again, very pleasant. Sometimes words fail you when you look for the details to describe something that hits all the right notes.

Finish: The wood influence is still there, and the backdrop is slightly sour.

Grade: A

I fell in love with Bunnahabhain’s 12 about a quarter through the first bottle. Before it had a chance to air over the better part of a month, it was a little rocky, but once it opened up, it was spectacular. Bunnahabhain’s 18 is much the same as it’s younger brother; but if I have to open it and walk away for a couple of weeks to come back to this, you better bet I’d enjoy the stroll.

“Break down, and open your heart to me–now that’s a start.”

2014 Year in Review

It’s that time of year again where whisky fans/bloggers/maniacs alike are likely posting their favourites from their 2013 journeys. A banner year for my whisky cabinet has made deciding this year’s favourites very difficult! Some of the same categories as last year, some new ones. Because I was able to try so many great whiskies this year, I’ve given suggestions for Gold, Silver and Bronze instead of winner and runner-up.

Eligible Whiskies:

Highland Park 18
Glenfarclas 15
Glenfiddich 15 Distillery Edition
Ardmore Traditional Cask
Glenfarclas ‘105’
The Arran Malt 12yo CS
Bowmore 12
Amrut Fusion
Auchentoshan 12
Laphroaig 10
Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2006 (Dunlossit)
Bruichladdich 12yo (2nd ed.)
BenRiach 10yo Curiositas
Lagavulin 12yo CS (2012)
Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)
Bunnahabhain 12
Caol Ila 12
Tobermory 10
1998 Caol Ila Distillers Edition
Glendronach 12
Macallan Cask Strength
Highland Park 10
Port Charlotte 10yo
Caol Ila 19yo TWE

*Eligible whiskies must have been tasted for the first time in 2013, and I must have owned at least a 20cl bottle, and had at minimum, 4 drams of it.*

Favourite “Daily Dram” (cost effective @ Ontario prices, non-cask-strength)
Bronze:
BenRiach 10 Curiositas
Silver
: Highland Park 10yo
Gold: Bunnahabhain 12yo

Favourite Cask-Strength/Overproofed
Bronze: Macallan Cask Strength
Silver: Caol Ila 19yo TWE
Gold: Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)

Favourite Peated
Bronze:
Lagavulin 12 CS (2012)
Silver
: Caol Ila 19yo TWE
Gold: 
Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)

Favourite Unpeated
Bronze: Highland Park 18
Silver
: Glenfarclas 10yo `105′
Gold: Macallan Cask-Strength

Favourite No Age Statement
Bronze: Aberlour a’Bunadh (Batch 39)
Silver
: Macallan Cask-Strength
Gold: 
Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)

Favourite Overall
Bronze: Bunnahabhain 12yo
Silver
: Macallan Cask Strength
Gold: 
Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)

After arriving too late in Montreal to grab the Cairdeas there this summer, a stroke of luck would have it that the LCBO stocked several cases in the late summer. Turned out to be my favourite whisky of the year. Sadly, the Cairdeas is a limited edition, but I’ve got 2 bottles in my inventory, one of which is ear-marked for my bachelor party in late summer. This year wasn’t without its unfortunate whisky news, with the Macallan Cask Strength being discontinued this year. It may be the last affordable Macallan of that level of quality we may see here in Ontario… or anywhere. Even with its dwindling worldwide stocks, it’s still worthy of this year’s Silver. Lastly, I’m excited by what Burn Stewart has done with the Bunnahabhain line, and I was thoroughly impressed by the 12yo, which is why it earns the Bronze spot for 2013, earning points for a combination of deliciousness, affordability and availability. While the 19yo TWE Caol Ila is better, it’s also considerably more expensive, and limited edition. I don’t know what the 12yo was like at 43% personally, but the 46.3% bottling has earned relatively more praise in the whisky community, and gets thumbs up from me. My hope is to try their 18yo before the year is out.

Here’s to another great year at “Whisky, Empirically”, where we will get to review #100. I’m about 15 drams shy of that at the moment. I have also recently tried the Ardbeg Corryvreckan, which will give any other whisky a fight for top spot in 2014… and we’re only a week in. Perhaps a worth contender, we will also finally get a review of my 1991 Mortlach Signatory from the Whisky Exchange that I picked up in November 2011. I have been saving it for the next meeting of the Scotch Lads, who have sadly been cities apart all year. With luck, we’ll remedy that this month.

The Little Black Bottle: Bunnahabhain 12

Bunna and I had a strange introduction. I was initially quite excited to try this whisky, hearing that it was a mild and mysterious Islay that was strangely so lightly peated. The first few drams tasted oddly of acetone, and strongly so. I was worried that I managed an off bottle. As luck would have it, though, letting the bottle rest for a month really changed the character of the whisky. Now it’s smooth, silky and sweet. Everything I’d expected it to be, it is.

Nose: Like a chocolatey bog. A strange concept, yes, but a pleasant one. Sherry and salted caramel. Hay. Very light on the peat. Somewhat briny and smoky.

Palate: Oily. Sweet, chocolate, sherry. Kind of grassy, almost like chewing alfalfa (if you’ve ever had it).

Finish: Medium-long and sweet, smoke, chocolate, some stewed black cherry.

Grade: B+

Damn it, this is one fine whisky. Not your typical Islay, but in that way it’s truly remarkable. It surprises you, and the surprise is a good one. It’s not an earth-shattering whisky, but at 12 years, it does the trick. It also makes me wistfully wonder what the 18yo is like. Probably a notch or two higher!