A Gentle Islay Dram
Forty years ago, Bunnahabhain introduced its 12 year old expression. It’s been pleasing palates and winning awards since the first dram was served. This is not your stereotypical Islay – peaty, heavy and in your face. No – this is a gentle dram, an easy sipper. After almost a half century, I believe those folks at Bunna are on to something.
In 1979, the world was a different place. There were no blogs, text messages or social media. Computers were for the space program or enormous companies. Disco, leisure suits and Farrah Fawcett hair-dos were all the rage. We didn’t walk around with our face in a phone because it was permanently affixed to the wall. Yet on a small island off the west coast of Scotland, a remote distillery presented its 12 year old whisky – the same cornerstone of their core range we can enjoy today.
Where in my last post I was lamenting the discontinuance of a favorite bottle, Bunnahabhain has consistently produced a version of this whisky going on four decades. That speaks volumes to the integrity and quality of Bunnahabhain’s craft.
Distillery: Bunnahabhain (pronounced “BOO-na-HAven”)
Expression: 12 Year
Age: 12 years
Cask: Ex-Bourbon and Ex-Sherry
Fun Fact: Tallest stills on Islay
Sampling it neat….
Color: Natural Color – Coppery Honey
Nose: Initial whiff of faint medicinal camphor followed by pancake syrup and salt spray
Palate: Vanilla custard – rich and creamy; sweetness is counterbalanced with a light brine and smoke
Finish: Warm, cardamom spice finish with lightly smoked oak
It’s said that we identify smells from memories associated with a certain scent. So keep that in mind when I say that the first whiff was like inhaling Campho-Phenique. The camphor scent was ever so slight and quickly dissipated but it immediately brought up the memory of being a kid and my mom treating bug bites while we were camping in Arkansas. Stewed fruit and pancake syrup follows with a hint of salty sea air.
The dark, smoke-colored bottle hids the gorgeous natural color of the 12 Year old whisky. From its sherry casking, the reddish honey liquid hits the taste buds with a burst of vanilla, rich and creamy like a custard. The texture is steady; not thin at all. I love how it clings to the sides of the glass. There is just a hint of smoke and I find no peat at all. Not your typical Islay.
The spicy cardamom makes itself known setting up in the middle of the tongue where the finish is dryer. Then the finish rolls into a smokey oak goodness.
With a little water… Less sweetness and more smoke on the nose. Spice outshines the sweet on the palate. Far more oak on the finish with waning spice.
Just because this is from Islay doesn’t mean it’s a peat beast. The opposite is the case. Bunnahabhain, which means ‘mouth of the river’ in Gaelic, literally sits at the mouth of its non-peated water source: Margadale Spring. They use non-peated concerto malted barley for this expression. With the ex-bourbon and sherry casking, the Bunna 12 makes for an elegant, well-balanced, yet complex dram.
At 46% ABV the whisky has the legs to hold that complex flavor. At a lower ABV it would have been flat and lacking. Not this dram. I would recommend the Bunnahabhain 12 for someone attempting to try an Islay for the first time. The smoke is light enough for the novice drinker to experience and continue their whisky journey.
This bottle was $85 at a local store that tends to be a higher than average. It’s more like $55 – $65 in major cities. I’ll enjoy this for quite a while. and try to buy another bottle when it is on sale or when I travel.
Have you had this dram? What do you think about it? Let me know in the comments below!
By the Way…
Resurrection Fern: is an epiphyte (air plant) that lives on the oak and cypress trees. It feeds off whatever nutrients and water it can get from the host tree’s bark. During dry times the fern curls up, turns brown and looks dead.
Come one of our famous monsoon-like rains and the fern that appeared crispy yesterday is lush and green – it was resurrected! Spanish moss is another air plant that is abundant in south Louisiana. Both plants adapt to their surroundings to survive. There’s a lesson there.