Bunnahabhain, pronounced Bun na h-Abhainne, is Scottish Gaelic for “mouth of the river.” Bunnahabhain Distillery is located on the Isle of Islay near Port Askaig and was founded in 1881. Now owned by Distell Group, the distillery has 2 wash stills (30 000 L) and 2 spirit stills (15 000L). Bunnahabhain is one of many Islay distilleries but what makes them unique is where most of them are producing heavily peated whiskies, Bunnahabhain is on the lighter side of the peat spectrum with many of their core range expressions being completely unpeated. By doing this they have created their own niche on the island and rounds out the Islay whisky culture quite nicely.
With all the whisky distilleries in Scotland and all of their different expressions one might wonder why Independent bottlers even exist? Well, the answer is that, although official bottlings from a given distillery are adequate for the general consumer, there is a whole other market in the whisky industry that independent bottlings appeal to. Whisky fans, geeks, enthusiasts….we go by many names… This part of the market is always searching for new and exciting expressions to try and add to their collections. When official bottlings strive for consistency from bottle to bottle, Independent bottlers are free to release single casks which are completely unique from one another. This gives the whisky explorer, over time and a range of expressions, a better overall intimacy with the character of the spirit from a given distillery. Every cask is different and imprints its DNA on the spirit that matures in it so it is a unique experience with each single cask release and gives one a chance to “geek out.”
One of the biggest and most successful Independent bottlers in the industry is Douglas Laing & Co. Established in 1948, they have become known for their high quality, single cask releases as well as their premium blends.
For this blog post I decided to compare an official distillery bottle of Bunnahabhain 12-year-old with a Douglas Laing’s Old Malt Cask single cask Bunnahabhain 12-year-old. Although this was the exact same spirit from the exact same distillery I discovered two completely different whiskies.
The official distillery bottle is a beautiful 12-year-old expression created from a blend of sherry and ex-bourbon casks. Their entry level core expression is non-chill filtered and no colour added. Bottled at 46.3% ABV.
Nose: Fruity, floral, dried apricots and wisps of smoke.
Palate: more dried, dark fruits, nutty, all-spice, vanilla bean.
Finish: Lingering for a bit, sweetness fades to a lovely pepper note.
Douglas Laing’s Old Malt Cask Bunnahabhain 12-year-old single cask is from a refilled hogshead (ex-bourbon) and 1 of 331 bottles. This whisky was distilled June of 1996 and bottled June of 2008. It’s non-chill filtered and no colour added and no nonsense! Bottled at 50% ABV.
Nose: Light, fruity, driftwood.
Palate: Tropical fruit, berries, rose hips and oak spices.
Finish: Lingers for a while, spicy and tangy.
When comparing these two expressions side-by-side its easy to see the cask influence on the colour of the whisky.
Bunnahabhain is one of my favourite distilleries and I thoroughly enjoy all of their official bottlings. I recommend picking up a 12-year-old to have in your collection but at the same time, next time you see an Independent bottle of your favourite dram…. maybe give it a try too! Cheers!