Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Whisky Review: Bunnahabhain 12 Year Revisited

Since the first time I tried it, Bunnahabhain 12 Year has been one of my favorite entry-level whiskies. It manages to neatly balance strong sherry influence with the coastal character of the distillery.

80-90% of Bunnahabhain's current output is from unpeated malt and this expression is entirely unpeated. The 12 Year is made up of 20% first-fill ex-bourbon casks, 60% refill casks (mostly likely ex-bourbon), and 20% oloroso sherry casks (mostly likely first-fill). A significant amount of the whisky destined for Bunnahabhain's single malts is matured on Islay, with the rest being trucked off to Deanston on the mainland.

As with most of the whiskies released by Bunnahabhain since Burn Stewart's takeover in 2003, this is bottled at 46.3% without coloring or chill filtration.

Bunnahabhain 12 Year

Nose: bright sherry influence, dark chocolate, malty core, American oak, salty bourbon caramel, lightly vegetal/herbal/floral, heather. After adding a few drops of water, the sherry retreats significantly - integrating with the oak and becomes more raisin-y and dank, giving way to the bourbon cask influence and floral character, something yeast-y/savory pops out, there are some raspberry and strawberry notes on top,

Taste: sherried sweetness up front, sliding through dark chocolate with a touch of oak and seashore salinity in the middle, then becoming increasingly malty with bourbon cask influence (vanilla, caramel) near the back. After dilution, it becomes much softer with more integrated sherry, creamy malt pushes forward to produce more balanced flavors throughout, with some raisins joining the oak near the back.

Finish: cacao nibs, sherry residue, malt, something vegetal, oak tannins around the edges, black pepper

One of the reoccurring complaints I've heard about the reformulated Bunnahabhain 12 Year is that it is over-oaked, which I found to a certain extent in my first bottle. This time I either got a better batch or the distillery is finally zeroing in on the right balance of casks, because the oak felt much more restrained and in balance. In other respects my impressions were fairly similar, which suggests to me that quality can be maintained over time.

All said and done, I have absolutely no hesitation recommending Bunnahabhain 12 Year right now, especially if you already enjoy sherry-driven whiskies from the likes of Macallan, Glenfarclas, or Aberlour. Right now I think it represents a better value than most of the classic Speysiders, selling for a comparable price, but at a higher proof and with craft presentation. When a lot of people are bemoaning the loss of once reliable standbys, I will content myself in the knowledge that there are almost always alternatives around if you look for them.


  1. Man, that small amount of sherry casks sing loudly in this one. As you do, I recommend this one to Macallan 12 fans for something sherried, but different and more complex.

    1. It's possible that some of the refill casks are ex-sherry - the sales sheet just listed them as 'ex-Scotch casks', so they could be anything.

  2. I had the 46%/NCF bottle a couple years back, and I kept thinking that I enjoyed the prior version (40%/CF) better. I found that this one had too much - well, - flavor! In the end the key was to just add water. I know!

    So this was one of very few whiskies that I found better with water, and where less flavor was a good thing.

    1. True that. I added a bit of Bunnahabhain 12 Year to a blend and it's incredible how much it took over the profile, despite only being ~10% of the mix.