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.”

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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.”

Grass is Always Greener: Tobermory 10

I bought this bottle before a recent family camping trip. I had hoped to pick up the new Glenfiddich 14yo Rich Oak, as it was likely to go well with the cigars we brought, but this was all the nearby store had. It just so happened to be pouring rain at the time, and I was pressed enough for time that I couldn’t go anywhere else.

Nose: Light, fresh and buttery. Vegetal notes and fresh mown grass all over this one. You’d almost think it was a lowland. Pear, oak and pepper. No mistaking the youth on this one.

Palate: Very fresh. Buttery and sweet with grassy notes. Its like a better Glendullan, but nothing to write home about.

Finish: Barley, light pepper, medium finish.

Grade: B-

This is one of those simple reviews that can be summed up with few words: a fine sipper, but a bit plain and a bit young.

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!