Bunnahabhain isn’t known for rich, smoky single malts. In fact, apart from their Toiteach and the “Intensely Peated” Ceòbanach, Bunnahabhain’s core range of expressions, from 12-40, could be described as “lightly peated”. And when I say “lightly peated,” i’m talking in the range of around 2-3 ppm – very, very light…as in nothing like Ardbeg, Lagavulin or Laphroaig. So when I saw this “Heavily Peated” expression of Bunnahabhain selected by independent bottler Battlehill (Duncan Taylor), I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. However what intrigued me the most about this bottle of Bunnahabhain wasn’t its uncommonly high levels of peat, but its 4 year age statement. At just 4 years old, it not only is the youngest single malt i’ve ever come across in the wild, but it’s also just one year over the minimum legal age that Scotch Whisky is required to be.
So what we have here is an uncommonly peated Bunnahabhain, at an unusually young age. On top of all that, it’s been bottled at 58% abv (116 proof), making it well within the realm of cask strength. This Bunnahabhain’s label and box both state that the juice was simply “Aged In Oak Casks”, which could theoretically mean anything. However judging from the color (which I suspect has had some E150A color added), and more importantly the overall flavor profile, i’m 99% sure the “Oak” Battlehill is referring to is American…specifically ex-bourbon…
Bunnahabhain 4 Year Heavily Peated, Battlehill
ABV: 58% // 116 proof
Age: 4 years
Mash Bill: 100% Malted Barley, Single Malt
1 of 1152 bottles
Color: Molten Honey
Nose: Bold, strongly accentuated peat – Laphroaig like, but not as phenolic. Notes of dried, green vegetation follow along hand in hand with savory notes of orchard and dried fruits, particularly lemon, lemon merengue and a tart raspberry compote. Crystal clear, sweet bourbon notes create the backbone for the nose, complimenting the prior peat and fruit with honey, bee’s wax, brown sugars, American oak, vanilla and baked bread while rounding off with hints of cured peppered meats, peppered jerky, and honeyed ham.
Palate: Oily, thickly viscous and heavy while being slightly dry. Coarsely crushed black peppercorns & bitter fruit rind. The peat sings here – it’s herbaceous and super dank with tons of IPA hops and dried leaves. Honey from the nose penetrates the peaty herbaceousness and brings along the rest of the bourbon gang with vanilla, oak and some mildly floral notes. Very drinkable considering this is 116 proof. It’s not terribly complex on the palate, but this should be expected at 4 years of age. What I really like is everything on the palate is very consistent with the nose. Evocative and with definitive personality.
Finish: Long and full flavored. Like the palate, the finish isn’t complex, however what you are left with is displayed in spades: herbaceous peat reek, smoke, honey, honey cream, vanilla cream, lemon, freshly crushed nutmeg, black pepper and resiny oak. The peat by far out lasts everything though, and due to the youthfulness of this single malt, you’re left solely, after everything else fades, with the vivid peat reek, and it’s simply magnificent.
Bourbon and House Rating: 90.5
Virtually all of my preconceptions about this single malt were true, and i’m still to this moment left pleasantly surprised. As a high proof, heavily peated Bunnahabhain, I knew to expect big peat and strong signature Bunnahabhain house malt notes, but I wasn’t expecting the bourbon influence to be so gorgeous from a swift 4 years. Being so young, this single malt is incredibly spirit driven, which I love but this did mean it would likely be lacking any substantial complexity. That being said, what this single malt lacks in complexity is made up for with its prepossessing character and balance, and I feel that much of this is directly proportional to its age to abv ratio; its youth is its charm, and the high proof its personality. It’s evident that some killer bourbon barrels were selected by Bunnahabhain, which should come as no surprise. The peat adds lovely weight and balance to the bourbon cask influence & the signature Bunnahabhain house profile is fresh and vibrant, even from just 4 years in the cask(s) – mad props to Battlehill for bottling this one at 116 proof.
One trivial gripe/rant I have with this single malt, or more pointedly Battlehill, is that I think they added color to this. Many independent bottlers proudly display that they add no coloring. Battlehill however is not one of these, as nowhere on any of their packaging, or website do they state that no coloring has been added or that the whisky they bottle is naturally colored. Ergo, one must assume that coloring has been added. Another reason I feel coloring has been added is because since reviewing this, I recently picked up a Bunnahabhain bottled by Signatory called ‘Moine Heavily Peated’ that, like all Signatory bottlings, is bottled at ‘Natural Color’ (no coloring added). This expression from Bunnahabhain was aged for 7 years, was bottled at 46% abv, and it has a significantly lighter color than the Battlehill. Now the Battlehill is 58% abv, and is non-chill filtered, so that could attest to its slightly darker hue. Battlehill’s label does not specify that it hasn’t been chill filtered, however after adding water to one glass, and ice to another, the whisky hazed up quite nicely both times, so that along with its oily mouthfeel makes me almost positive this has not been subjected to chill filtration. Whether coloring has been added will forever be a mystery – I just find it suspicious that a 7 year old has a significantly lighter color than a 4 year old, which leads me to believe that at the very least, coloring has been added to Battlehill’s 4 year Bunnahabhain.
Taking my rant even further, I recently found a bottle of Bunnahabhain bottled by Cadenhead which was aged in ex-bourbon for 10 years. Cadenhead is Scotlands oldest independent bottler, and explicitly states that “the whisky in this bottle has not been treated to change its colour. It is free from additives and has not been subjected to chill filtration”, and even this 10 year old was noticeably lighter than Battlehill’s 4 year Bunnahabhain. Whisky for thought.
I was torn about rating this one. The saying “your first pour is always the worst pour,” applies to this single malt, but even my first pour was great, and it only got better. The whisky needed time to open up, it was incredibly tight and tasted very, very simple – but over just a weeks time, and a few more pours, it became quickly apparent that this single malt’s beauty was its simplicity. As I mentioned earlier, I gave this Bunnahabhain a 90.5. It’s young, very young, and so it’s easy to assume this won’t stand up to other single malts which bare double digits on their label and most would be dissuaded from even the thought of purchasing a bottle of this. This is unfortunate though, as its youth is enchanting – and its gushing with quality and richness. Although not complex, the characteristics and notes it does showcase are brilliantly clear, fresh and precise. Nothing is muddled or fuzzy. Bottled at cask strength(ish) and 8 years removed from the next closest sibling in Bunnahabhain’s core range, I thought this bottling was very special, considering it gives you an insight rarely seen in the world of single malt Scotch whisky. The bourbon notes of honey and vanilla mixed with the herbaceous peat and signature Bunnahabhain wax & lemon made this malt well rounded, and in my opinion, well executed. Its buttery and sumptuous, thick and oily, and sure to satisfy any Peat fanatic’s craving. If their was ever a single malt to prove that age truly does not matter, this would be it.
Wrapping up on the topic of age, this 4 year old Bunnahabhain is a valuable tool in showing what a very young single malt is capable of. In a market saturated with older age statements & murky NAS, trying this will give you a great point of reference so that you can really compare & contrast a truly young single malt to many of the older, mature single malts on the market, and hopefully see that age truly does not guarantee quality.
Bottle was purchased at Total Wine for $54.99.