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Monday, 28 December 2015

Bunnahabhain Ceobanach Whisky Review!

Finally, another peated Bunnahabhain! And with another challenging Gaelic name!

Bunnahabhain distillery's standard releases are basically un-peated, in contrast to most of it's fellow distilleries on Islay, but there have been a few limited release exceptions to the rule. The only peated expression I've tasted so far was the Toiteach, pronounced 'toe-chack' and meaning 'smoky' in English, which was brilliant, and my favourite Bunnahabhain whisky so far. So when another peated release appeared at a similar price point, I had to have it. 

This one is named Ceobanach, but it's pronounced 'ky-aw-bin-aach', which translates to 'smoky mist' in English. It's bottled at 46.3%, is non-chill filtered and naturally coloured, and doesn't carry an official age statement. So far, there isn't a lot of difference between the Toiteach and this newer release, but there were rumours that the Toiteach had been finished in ex-Manzanilla sherry casks, whereas this new expression is ex-bourbon cask only. It's also unofficially 'more than ten years' old, which I suspect is slightly older than the Toiteach. 

Bunnahabhain usually flies under my radar when it comes to Islay whiskies, partly thanks to their un-peated-ness, but also because there's no middle ground between their entry-level 12 yo, and the expensive 18 yo, as far as their standard releases go. And I find both of those to be a little lacking, personally. In fact even a 24 yo independent bottling I tried recently also left me wanting. I can't comment on the older OB releases, though, they're out of my price range. But thankfully these peated expressions seem to fall right in between the 12 & 18 yo, price-wise, and are also much more up my alley!
Bunnahabhain Ceobanach, NAS (but see below), 46.3%. Islay, Scotland.
'Intensely' peated, ex-bourbon cask, 'more than 10 years old'. Non-chill filtered, natural colour. Batch 1, limited release. 

Colour: Very pale gold. 

Nose: Dirty smoke, but quite light. Grassy & herbal, some lemon zest and aniseed. Dry & pungent peat, salted caramel. Drying seaweed, hot sand, brine, salty sea air. Very beach-y. 

Texture: Light-medium weight, no heat at all and plenty of flavour.

Taste: Big peaty punch straight away! Dry, spicy and intense peat. Big pinch of black pepper, a little chilli, lemon oil, and warm salted butter. Strong brine and ashy smoke. 

Finish: Medium-long. Still lovely & peaty right to the end, becoming a little more earthy & herbal but still intensely peaty. A little salted liquorice, dry grass and some sweet malt behind. Lovely.   

Score: 4 out of 5.

Notes: Not hugely complex or dynamic, but really very nice. Intensely peaty, pure and simple. A really enjoyable, straight-forward peated Bunnahabhain. In a similar vein to the Toiteach, but quite different as well. A worthy competitor to the Islay heavyweights, lined up against the likes of Ardbeg or Laphroaig, the Ceobanach will certainly hold it's own. 

While I did give the Toiteach the same score in my review, that was over 18 months ago, so I had to re-visit the older Bunnahabhain after tasting the Ceobanach, purely for research purposes! The Ceobanach wins the fight, and I think I'm right in saying the Toiteach is a little younger. There's more smoke and chilli, and less peat and salt when compared to the newer expression. They're both good, but the Ceobanach takes it for me. 

This one is a little scarce in Australia at the moment, but there is a second batch coming. For now, SM Whisky still has some stock available, and the excellent Nippy Sweetie Whiskies will have some Ceobanach (batch 2) and Toiteach available shortly. Both are well worth buying, and if you're a fan of peaty Islay's, the Ceobanach is definitely one to have on the shelf. And let's hope batch 2 is just as good! 

Cheers!