Bunnahabhain 12 year Cask Strength and 18 year old


The last review was looking at a trio of Ledaig expressions and I've decided that while we are looking at the Distell portfolio I may as well keep on theme. So today I'm looking heading to Islay and Bunnahabhain. We've had a few Bunnahabhain reviews on here already and generally they've been pretty consistent bar the abomination that was the Moine. It's definitely a distillery I have a lot of time for and it's a source of disappointment that on my trips to Islay I've yet to make it to there. Possibly I'll get there in the future.

Bunnahabhain 12 year old is one of those classic entry level malts for me. It's presented really well at 46.3% abv, natural colour and non chill filtration. Predominantly sherry matured you get a lovely salty, nutty, dried fruit flavour profile but importantly for non-peat heads, none of the peat punch to the chops. I think it's an excellent way to start prepping yourself for your Islay whisky induction and journey.

In a way the Bunnahabhain 12 would be my Islay equivalent of the Redbreast 12 year old (at least it was, more on that in an upcoming review) in that you got what felt like a rich, decadent dram for not a huge financial outlay. With regards to the Redbreast, Midleton upped the ante somewhat in 2011 with the release of the first 12 year old Cask Strength, Batch B1/11. This has been an annual release ever since and for Redbreast fans always something to look forward too. These were and are very different beasts to the core 12 year old expression with batches B1/16 and B1/19 generally considered to be the peak of the batches. These releases are a great way to highlight batch variation in action.

Due to my appreciation for the Redbreast 12 year old Cask Strength releases I often found myself commenting with other Bunna fans that 'Wouldn't it be great if we got a 12 year old Cask Strength that was a regular release like the Redbreast range?'. This would always illicit an affirmative response.

So when Bunnahabhain announced a cask strength annual release of the 12 year old in 2021 it was met with some excitement. This was gonna be the core 12 year old release on steroids....right? Well read on to find out.

I have two releases of the 12 year old Cask Strength for you to savour dear readers, the 2021 1st release which was bottled at 55.1% abv, is non chill filtered and natural colour. It cost me £75 direct from the distillery (with a reasonable £6 shipping fee on top). Thanks to @hamishdramface I also got a sample of the 2022 Cask Strength release which was bottled at 56.6% abv. There is no details as to the outturn on either release but fair to say it's probably quite sizeable.

Finally we have the Bunnahabhain 18 year old on review too. This is a dram of whisky lore. I'd heard so much good reports on this I felt confident that I was on to a superlative experience with it. So a bottle was bought for £128 from Master of Malt. As we all know age makes whisky much, much better. In typical Bunna fashion this is bottled at 46.3% abv and is non chill filtered and natural colour.

Review time!

Bunnahabhain 12 year old Cask Strength 2021 55.1%

Nose: Golden Sultanas & brown sugar. Ginger cake. Fudge, orange zest, cinnamon and hot buttered toast. Walnuts, prunes, new leather with a little chalkiness too.

Palate: The mouthfeel is great, oily and mouthcoating. The arrival is a little spicy, peppery and oily along with a discernible chalkiness. Then comes the sherry sweetness with sherry soaked raisins, vanilla & fudge. Walnut halves and dark chocolate nibs. A touch of sulphur too.

Finish: Shorter than I imagined it would be with peppery oak, some saltiness and a dry nuttiness.

Score: 6 out of 10

Bunnahabhain 12 year old Cask Strength 2022 56.6%

Nose: This is more like it! Marzipan, apple and pear tarte tartin, malt, morello cherries, milk chocolate, dates and sultanas and plenty of woody spices - nutmeg and cinnamon. New leather and coastal saltiness.

Palate: Another lovely mouthfeel - not overly sweet but the arrival brings toffee apples, salted caramel and sherried raisins. more of those morello cherries followed by a dry nuttiness of walnuts and Brazil nuts. Dark chocolate with orange zest. An espresso to finish.

Finish: Medium length with an ever changing mix of dry nuttiness, syrupy sherry, coastal salinity and wood driven spices.

Score: 8 out of 10

Bunnahabhain 18 year old 46.3%

Nose: Musty dunnage, leather, buttermilk, sandalwood, mild clove rock. Copper and walnuts plus some cocoa powder too.

Palate: Body wise I'm surprised how thin this is. Initially there is caramel with milk chocolate. Definitely the expected raisin note from the sherry is there alongside a dry nuttiness and ground ginger. Worn leather and flat cola.

Finish: Not overly long with caramel sweetness, raisin and spice.

Score: 4 out of 10

Overall: The thought of a cask strength 12 year old Bunna has always excited me, I mean the standard 12 year old is such a good dram how could you not get excited to think how much better it might and could be at cask strength...…kind of like how I felt about Redbreast 12 year old.

When the 2021 Cask Strength release was announced I knew I had to buy it. Sadly though it didn't quite live up to my expectations. In fact I'd rather take the core range 12 year old over the 2021 Cask Strength. That's not to say it's a bad whisky, it isn't. It just doesn't up the ante over the core 12 year old.

Thankfully that was put right with the 2022 release of the Cask Strength which is the jacked Big Brother to the core 12 year old. All the notes of the core 12 year old are present and correct but just amplified. Dangerously drinkable a bottle of this wouldn't last too long.

After all the hype the 18 year old is such a disappointment. Very limited development on both the nose and palate without much real complexity given the age or real flavour explosion. To sum it up in one word: muted. At the price there is so much better value propositions out there as the 12 year old cask strength goes to show.

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