Islay distilleries explained thru Rock and Roll comparisons – Part 6 – Bunnahabhain & my review of the 20yo Single Sherry cask from Master of Malt

Islay distilleries and their whiskies explained through Rock and Roll – Part VI (of VIII)

I was hoping to get part six of this series up last week but time just got away from me. Having only three more Islay/Rock posts left (including today’s post), I’ll be sad to see this series end.

Here’s one of the beauties of Islay: We’re going from young, brash and heavily peated Kilchoman, to older and gentler, Bunnahabhain.  Bunnahabhain’s tagline is “Welcome to the gentle taste of Islay.”

Known as Islay’s [basically] unpeated whisky, Bunnahabhain is also known for often being generously sherried.  Today’s whisky, though not bottled by Bunnahabhain, is no exception to this generalization.

Before we move forward, let’s quick run down the Islay distilleries & their rock and roll equivalents we’ve covered so far — Part one:Bruichladdich as The Sex Pistols, Part two: Ardbeg as Slayer, Part three: Caol Ila as The 80′s (They get their very own decade!), Part four:Bowmore as David Bowie and Part five: Kilchoman as the Jackson Five (somewhat fitting, in retrospect, with them both bearing the number five).

Today we’re reviewing a 20yo Bunnahabhain bottled by Master of Malt.  Sadly, this bottling is completely sold out however, Master of Malt still have some of this as part of their “Drinks by the Dram” offering.  I’m glad I bought a bottle before they were all sold out!

20yo Bunnahabhain – 54.1%ABV – bottled by Master of MaltSold Out (though you can get a 3cl sample of it for only £5/$7)

On the nose What you’d come to expect with a heavily sherried whisky (and I mean heavily):  Furniture polish, cherry stones, tanned leather, rum balls and/or tiramasu, stewed prunes, burning cigars, unlit cigars (dark wrappers)… You name it, it’s in here and nicely organized.

On top of this is a very evident woody note… Oaky and I can almost smell the tannins.

With water and there’s some added unlit pipe tobacco (floral and reminiscent of some hookah stuff I’ve smoked before) and dark chocolates.

On the mouth MASSIVE ATTACK.  It’s like all of the aforementioned items I got on the nose were jammed into my mouth.  Thinnish mouthfeel and highly drying.  Hmmm… a bit too oaky given its age.  Let me try some water here.  ¡¡Agua al rescate!!


The mouth feel is saved and there less heat and less attack upon entry.

The flavors seem to match the nose (again) yet the addition of chocolate covered raisins and wafts of light smoke offer up something quite delicious.

Still a bit drying which leads me to the finish…

Finish Somehow my mouth starts to water as the whisky continues to dry in a long and slightly spicy finish.

In sum  This whisky is a powerhouse, no doubt.  Without water, it’s a difficult whisky to drink.  With a dash of water, it’s delicious (yet the oak will not be subdued and therefore, it’s a bit off balance).

An autumn whisky for sure.  This’ll warm you – boy, will it warm you!


Bunnahabhain – The Band!

With Michael Stipe’s unique voice rising over the band’s overall unmistakable sound and while every song was quite different, every song was very much R.E.M.

Like them or not (and I happen to love them), you can’t argue with this fact.

The same could ring true with Bunnahabhain.  While they do experiment with peated and ex-bourbon expressions such as “Toiteach (and a few others),” it’s fairly safe to say you know what you’re going to get when you taste their 12yo, 18yo,  25yo.  Big sherried whiskies.

What’s more is, like when bands have their music remastered, in 2011 Bunnahabhain “remastered” their standard range.  Moving their ABV from 40%/43% up to 46.3%, discontinuing the use of E150a caramel coloring and the ending the practice of chill-filtration has seemed to do wonders to the their standard range, breathing in new life and vibrancy.

So, rock on Bunnahabhain!  Stand in the place where you live.  Don’t Lose Your Religion, just distill while playing your Finest Worksong.