Until fairly recently Bunnahabhain didn't command a lot of attention for an Islay distillery. Its revival is due to two things: the reformulation of its core malt, especially the 12 Year, and a tidal wave of independently bottled single casks at extremely reasonable prices for their age and quality. This upsurge has finally pushed them into the kinds of stratospheric prices that are seen from other more famous distilleries (see: the OB 25 Year and older releases), but there are still a fair number of deals out there simply because the distillery produces so much whisky and sells so much to blenders and IBs that some of them end up being priced competitively. I purchased this one as a thesis bribe after reading a glowing review from Michael Kravitz to get myself to finish my PhD and celebrate when the dissertation was turned in.
This whisky was distilled in May 1980, filled into a sherry butt, then bottled in November 2013 at 45.6% without coloring or chill filtration.
Whisky-Doris Bunnahabhain 33 Year 1980/2013 Cask # 92
Nose: Strong floral sherry notes over a malty core, raisins, malmsey madeira, green herbs, yeast/savory notes, a nice level of American oak in the background, vanilla, butterscotch/cream frosting, a touch of smokey incense. After adding a few drops of water it falls a little flat, with the malt moving forward and the sherry and oak retreating significantly, plus a kind of dusty overlay on it all.
Taste: bittersweet sherry up front with a solid backing of oak tannins/American oak, mint, vanilla, and orange peel in the middle, not a lot of development until the finish. After dilution the sherry gets brighter, clean malt comes out, and the oak is pushed back significantly, but the alcohol becomes more apparent.
Finish: Ben Nevis-y savory herbal notes, fresh mint, citrus, light tobacco/cigar, flowing through American oak, a little molasses, sherry residue, and fading out through clean Bunnahabhain malt and more mint. After dilution the savory herbal notes become dominant and spread out over the experience, pushing a lot of the development aside, and leaving a hotter/ethyl note rather than the pleasant minty fade.
This is a peculiar whisky in many respects. I think Whisky-Doris chose to bottle it at the right time, both because the spirit was on the edge of being overwhelmed by the cask and had hit a significantly reduced but not weak strength. The flavors are unlike anything else I've ever experienced, with not too much happening on the tongue, but an array of complex notes that unfold after the whisky is swallowed. While I didn't like it too much with extra water, this may be because I'm writing the review from the last few pours of a bottle that has been open for roughly a year. With that said, undiluted it still had plenty of power and this has held up better than a sherried whisky has any right to. I'd say it's been diluted by time to an almost perfect strength and any more water breaks its perfect poise.