KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 17

17 12 2017

By Tyler Derksen

I smile every time I pull a whisky from the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar because, well, whisky.  That said, I must say that my smile was a bit bigger today, as after trying some new whiskys over the last few posts, I am returning somewhere familiar – Islay.  Today’s scotch is the 12 Years Old from Bunnahabhain (pronounced boo-na-hah-venn).  The distillery dates back to 1881 and its name is Gaelic meaning “mouth of the river”.  The river in question is the Margadale and it will make a reappearance below.  Bunnahabhain is the northernmost of Islay’s distilleries and is located a few minutes north of Caol Ila, which made an appearance on Day 5.

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Bunnahabhain’s website takes a remarkably honest approach.  Rather than suggesting that its whisky is better because of the use of superior ingredients, it acknowledges that all whisky production begins essentially the same way.  In the case of Bunnahabhain, especially as it compares to other Islay distilleries, it is all about location, location, location.  Many of the other distilleries on Islay create their spirit using spring water that has wound its way through the island’s signature peat bogs.  Bunnahabhain, on the other hand, sources water from the Margadale, which flows through sandstone rocks and results in a spirit that is cleaner in its characteristics.  Also, unlike its Islay brethren, Bunnahabhain does not heavily peat its malt, creating a scotch that does not have the mossy, smoky characteristics for which the island is known.

At this time, I’d like to take a moment to give a shout out to my Dad.  My parents and I went to Scotland in 2008 and spent five glorious days on Islay, during which time I took advantage of the opportunity to taste many of the peaty scotches that I love. It seems that an affinity for peat is not genetic as my Dad does not enjoy peaty scotch in the slightest, and so while he was able to enjoy Islay’s incredible beauty, he only took an academic interest in the distilleries we visited.  That all changed after we left our Caol Ila tour.  We were exploring the coast with no particular destination in mind and came upon Bunnahabhain, which neither of us had heard of.  Not ones to turn down the potential to try some free scotch, we went in.  It was a revelation for my Dad (and for me too) as we discovered a phenomenal Islay scotch that didn’t have the distinctive Islay peat flavour.  From that day forward Bunnahabhain has been one of my Dad’s favourite whiskies and we have enjoyed many a dram together.

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They say that it’s the journey and not the destination that’s important.  I don’t know who “they” are, but they are very wise.

The Bunnahabhain 12 Years Old was launched in 2010, is bottled at a comfortable 46.3% and is a deep golden colour in the glass.  The nose has a wonderful maltiness along with readily apparent sherried notes.  As if being unable to completely hide its Islay heritage, there is a slight note of smoke meandering through the nose, but it comes across more like wood smoke rather than the earthy peat smoke of other Islay scotch.  On the palate, the scotch is sweet with vanilla and further sherry notes.  There is also a wood flavour of some kind (I’m a lawyer, not an arborist) along with a hint of smoke to round things out and add further depth.  Again, the smoke is more like campfire/wood smoke and far less pronounced than one would expect from an Islay scotch.  If you’re not familiar with Bunnahabhain, I recommend rectifying that.  It appeals to those peat-averse like my Dad, but there is also something familiar for Islay aficionados and certainly justifies its price-point ($75 at KWM).  Trying something new is always fun, but sometimes its great to curl up with a glass that is familiar and comforting, which is what I got to do tonight.

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