Cadenheads Bunnahabhain 1999 16-year-old

Early in January when an email from Cadenheads landed in my inbox, the rumours became reality. For their 175th Anniversary, 2017 would be celebrated by a series of monthly releases as this leading independent bottler turned the screw on bank accounts across the country.

Arsenal collated and prepared, this opening salvo is very much an indication of things to come having been advised of what follows in February. By chance I’ve managed accidently to cover several bottles from the January outturn thanks to the excellent Burns Tasting held in Edinburgh recently. This featured the 19-year-old Aberfeldy, 28-year-old Girvan and an Isle of Arran 19-year-old. Then came my motivation for the 24-year-old Bruichladdich review leaving just this offering from Bunnahabhain; have I saved the best for last? Admittedly, a few bottles have escaped my clutches for now including the Glenburgie and Glenrothes offerings, but ladies and gentlemen, 2017 is going to be costly but thoroughly enjoyable so let’s pace ourselves.

Cards on the table, I really enjoy a Bunnahabhain whisky. The official range is of a good standard and well-priced. It’s not a polarising whisky and one many can find comfort in. I had the pleasure of visiting the distillery during the Feis Ile festival as part of their Day Tripper event and all going well will return once again in 2017. It’s a stunning setting if you haven’t been to Islay, and it well worth the trip to the northern end of the island. If you’re in any doubt about visiting Islay, or committing too much time or money, then watch out for a future Day Tripper event.

Bunnahabhain being situated alongside the dangerous Sound of Islay, appropriately has a maritime feel. From the distillery logo to the salvaged bell that resides at the distillery. At times it feels a world away from the big battleships of Islay such as Ardbeg and Laphroaig. In comparison it’s a weathered but loved chuffer content to go about its business. Bunnahabhain since 2013 is owned by the African Distell group after their purchase of Burn Stewart Distillers for £160 million; a deal that also included the Deanston and Tobermory distilleries. In retrospect that’s a bit of a bargain given the popularity of all things Islay and the costs in establishing any new distillery, then the necessary finance during the long wait. It promises to be an exciting time for this trio of distilleries as we see Distell continue the good work laid down by Burn Stewart.

This Bunnahabhain was distilled in 1999 and should actually be considered as having received a double maturation. Cadenheads just give you facts and then let you call it whatever you prefer but it’s far from a short finish. Bottled in 2016, from 2013 it resided in a sherry hogshead for the remainder of its voyage. I’m also presuming its more the traditional low peated spirit that has kept under supervision by Cadenheads, as opposed to their heavily peated malt that is not to everyone’s liking. Bottled at 49.7% strength, this resulted in an outturn of 276 bottles priced at an attractive £64.
Colour: a deep amber
Nose: a vanilla toffee, cola cubes and a faint waft of smoke. A resin-like quality and orange marmalade. Walnuts, maple syrup, coffee beans and vibrant malty presence.  
Taste: a very creamy vanilla arrival but it refuses to become a sherry monster, instead there's integration and more spices with cinnamon, cardamom and all-spice. Blackcurrant jam, a touch of bitterness from the wood and sugary syrup transcending into honeycomb.  

Overall: a very drinkable and enjoyable Bunnahabhain. The double maturation has added a coat of gloss but nothing too dramatic. Instead you have an Islay malt that everyone should be able to enjoy.

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