It has been a long time between whiskies from Islay, so it’s about time we did one. Bunnahabhain 1997 vintage is the whisky for May.
Islay is renowned for its heavily peated whiskies. As a general rule the further south they are the heavier the peat smoke. Bunnahabhain (pronounced Boona’havn) is the Northern most distillery and hence is the least peaty. It has a light distinctive slightly oily palate, typically with a salty, iodine character which it is said to come from the sea air and kelp beds growing just meters from the barrel rooms, filling the angel’s share of the barrels with their delectable nautical characters.
The Bunnahabhain Distillery was established in 1881 and is long credentialed with maritime exploits. It is the base single malt for the Cutty Sark blend and it’s catch phrase is “Westering Home”. You can just imagine a Scottish Sailor wrapped tightly in his tartan, navigating his vessel through the Sounds and Loch’s off the Western Coast, whipped by the prevailing wind, but warmed inside by the thought of rounding the Sound of Islay and a few drams of Bunnahabhain in the belly.
The Bunnahabhain 1997 is from Gordon and MacPhails ‘MacPhails Collection’ range. It is a 1997 vintage bottled at 43% after 11 years in refill sherry butts. The water used rises up through limestone making it very soft and minerally but because it is piped to the distillery doesn’t pick up peat on the way. It is distilled in large onion shaped stills which give a broad cut, capturing all the flavours of the heavy esters that carry over and lend the oiliness to the palate.
Michael Jackson suggests the distillery character is mixed with ginger-marmalade sherry notes suggesting “a breakfast whisky for the truly decadent”. I don’t think I will be pouring it over my cornflakes, but I am sure am looking forward to a few drams over these cold autumn nights.