Author Mack McConnell is a contributing writer for Cocktail Enthusiast. He also runs a Rum of the Month Club.
When I found out that Bunnahabhain (one of the stranger names in the whisky world, pronounced bunna-hah-ven) was the largest distiller on the island of Islay – with about 2.5 million liters produced per year – I was a bit surprised they weren’t more of a household name. I was also surprised that I didn’t ever remember trying it.
This is partly because only a small portion of their production is released under the Bunnahabhain name. Much of what they produce is used in the popular blended whisky, Black Bottle. So, if you’re a whisky fan, chances are that you’ve tasted Bunnahabhain without realizing it.
Most of the time, Bunnahabhain’s whiskies are unlike others from Islay. In a region known for very smoky/peaty characteristics, Bunnahabhain’s known for producing whisky that is uncharacteristically light. The distillery claims they can achieve this smoothness due to their natural and local water source – the Margdale Spring. Perhaps this is why it plays such a big role in the Black Bottle blend – it can play nicely with others.
In the last couple of years, however, Bunnahabhain joined the ranks of their neighbors and made a real smoky monster of an expression, dubbed Toiteach (pronounced toc-chach). In fact, even the name means “smoky.”
Margdale is the rural Scottish island town where the distillery is located, and there’s not much else there. Apparently, with just 11 employees, the distillery is the largest employer in town.
Adding a bit of ambiance to the rural location of the distillery, it is situated near the 338-ton trawler ship “Wyre Majestic,” which ran aground after hitting the nearby rocks. The ship was deemed unsalvageable and has sat on the rocks ever since, as do approximately 50 other ships wrecked in the perilous Sound of Islay.
Anyway, fun facts aside, let’s see how it tastes.
Nose: A good amount of peat/smokiness that leans toward burning rubber. It seems to get more earthy and toned-down the longer it sits in the glass. A distinct caramel and molasses sweetness is present as well, which rounds out the smoke nicely.
Taste: Smoke and peat starts off light but get bigger shortly. Caramel and honey are also there right off the bat, peaking through the smoke and peat. Then there’s a bit of malt followed by a salty sea water flavor, plus some dried apricots and butter.
Finish: Long-lasting. Warming sensations as the flavor leaves. Also, a bit of saltiness, smoke (stronger than before) and dry wood. Very smooth, with a slow decrescendo to the end.
– 46% Alcohol by Volume