I’m generally in favor of Scotch producers embracing current trends in craft whisky: higher proof bottlings, avoiding chill-filtering, and ditching the spirit caramel for coloring. It’s also generally a good thing when a producer revitalizes a languishing expression with a new recipe or an updated maturation technique.
That said, I’m not crazy about Bunnahabhain’s updated 12 year-old expression. I wrote here about the older, 40% bottling (green bottle), and while unobtrusive and unassuming, it had a certain charm. The new, muscular 46.3% ABV bottling is brash, bitter, and relies heavily on wood char for flavor. I’m disappointed, but kudos to Bunna for trying something new, and embracing the craft aspects of whiskymaking. The new bottling is in a redesigned brown bottle, and is a touch more expensive than the older one.
Nose: Woah, what’s going on here? There’s some big wood in here, it smells musty and smoky, almost as if it were peated. Mushroomy and nutty, with a bourbony lacquer note. A little more acetone than I normally like. Angular and muscular, this is not delicate and subtle like the 40% Bunna. A dash of water doesn’t seem to have much effect on the nose.
Palate: Nice thick mouthfeel, oily. Upfront the palate is dark and brooding – overcooked caramel, burned-out logs, and some slightly bitter char. Later, there are some sweet roasted nuts, pecans and chestnuts. A hearty dash of water brings some mellower fudge and spice cookie notes.
Finish: Medium length. Oaky, but soft and thankfully not too bitter. The flavors all seem to be darkened by soot and charred wood, start to finish, just stopping short of acrid. The water sweetens the finish.
Overall: I was expecting old-style Bunna, but better. Instead, this seems a little overcooked to me, like grandma’s pecan pie was in the oven a few hours too long. The barrel char is deep and overrepresented, the sweetness is minimal and overshadowed. For once I wish Bunna were peated, to provide a counterpoint in flavor. A pity. A hearty dash of water goes a long way toward repairing the damage. I recommend the water with this one for sure.
Note: I gave this one a “Mediocre” rating, although it’s really not a bad whisky. This just reflects my disappointment in the rough, unapproachable new style. I just couldn’t bring myself to “Recommend” it, but don’t let me stop you from trying it.