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Bunnahabhain Launches 12, 18 and 25 Year Old Un-chillfiltered Whisky in South Africa

March 9th, 2012 saw the Johannesburg media launch at the Punchinello’s Restaurant in the Montecasino Southern Sun of Bunnahabhain’s un-chillfiltered range of non-peated single malts from Islay. That’s right, I said non-peated whisky from Islay.

Bunnahabhain Distillery

The most famous whisky island in the world is renowned for the amazing range of peated whiskies that come from it’s distilleries, but Bunnahabhain breaks that mould and is known as “the gentle taste of Islay”.

So what is the big deal about un-chillfiltered whisky and why should you be excited about it? Chillfiltration was introduced in the ’70s for cosmetic reasons. It’s purpose: to ensure that the consumer ended up with a crystal clear liquid in their bottle.

Bunnahabhain Chillfiltration Process

Whisky in it’s natural state turns cloudy, or hazy, when chilled or when water is added. The problem with this technique is that chillfiltering removes flavour compounds (known as esters) from the whisky. This in turn means that the whisky that is eventually bottled has lost some of it’s character/flavour/soul when compared to what the master distiller tasted when sampling the whisky from it’s cask.

Bunnahabhain Un-chillfiltration Process

As Bunnahabhain’s master distiller and blender Ian MacMillan puts it: “In the case of un-chillfiltered whisky, nothing is taken away or added. It retains all its flavour, allowing the gentle, subtle notes of the whisky to come through, thereby providing a purer taste, nose and appearance.”

Burn Stewart Distillers, producers of Bunnahabhain (as well as Tobermory, Ledaig and Deanston – not very well known in South Africa) made the bold decision to go back to the way whisky used to be produced and opted to use un-chillfiltration for their entire range – the 12, 18 and 25 year old Bunnahabhian Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky.

Bunnahabhain's Pierre Meintjes and Brian Glass

Brian Glass, Sales Director for Distell, opened proceedings at the media launch, sharing his obvious excitement that South Africa has now made the migration from Bunnahabhain’s chillfiltered to un-chillfiltered range. He then introduced us to South Africa’s very own “Mr Whisky”, Pierre Meintjes, who had the enviable task of guiding us through tasting the new range.

Pierre is a great story-teller and for the journalists new to whisky he weaved a tale of whisky’s origin, the whisky regions in Scotland and the production of whisky before shifting his focus to Bunnahabhain. Hearing him talk of walking through Bunnahabhain’s sea-battered warehouse complete with a couple of inches of seawater on the floor on the odd occasion transported me to the magical isle that I hope to visit in person someday.

Here are the whiskies we tasted along with the official tasting notes:

Bunnahabain 12 Year Old

Bunnahabhain 12 year old COLOUR
Golden.
NOSE
Fresh and aromatic with a subtle smoke.
PALATE
Light with fruit and nuts leading to a malty sweetness.
FINISH
Beautifully rich and full-bodied, gently lingering on the tongue for a few moments.

Cask influence is approximately:
25% ex-sherry casks / 75% ex-bourbon casks
Un-chillfiltered. 46.3% alc/vol.

Bunnahabain 18 Year Old

Bunnahabhain 18 year old COLOUR
Rich Golden.
NOSE
Honeyed nuts and a slightly sea-induced salty tang, followed by rich toffee and leathery oak aromas.
PALATE
Beautifully balanced, the palate
is influenced by mellow sherried nuts and shavings of the finest natural oak.
FINISH
Dry notes interspersed with mixed spices leading into a light salt and sherry finale.

Cask Influence is approximately:
40% ex-sherry casks / 60% ex-bourbon casks
Un-chillfiltered. 46.3% alc/vol.

Bunnahabain 25 Year Old

Bunnahabhain 25 year old COLOUR
Amber Golden.
NOSE
Sweet caramel dessert aromas with subtle nuances of oak and polished leather.
PALATE
Sweet berries and cream ensures a wonderful mélange of tastes that progress into a roasted nut and malt feast, with a hint of spices.
FINISH
Soft, yet dry, with the sense of lingering sugar and spiced-oak flavours. The close proximity of casks to the shore, results in a more
noticeable sea influence.

Cask influence is approximately:
10% ex-sherry casks / 90% ex-bourbon casks
Un-chillfiltered. 46.3% alc/vol.

Bunnahabhain Media Launch Lunch MenuOnce the tasting was complete we were spoilt with a truly delicious lunch. The mushroom haggis was inspired, the pan-roasted ostrich fillet cooked to perfection and accompanied with a most delicious black olive and tomato confit. Having preferred the 18 year old at the tasting with Pierre last year, I found myself gravitating to the 25 year old this time around, gently nursing a dram throughout the meal whilst chasing away the attentive waitress who seemed very keen on pouring me an un-chillfiltered Sauvignon Blanc. The 25 is beautifully balanced with a lovely creamy caramel nose that turns into delightful toffee on the palate with traces of nuts and spices. Really good!

I found myself sharing a table with Pierre and Brian and was regaled with many a fantastic story about their frequent trips over to Scotland and time spent with Ian MacMillan, as well as getting a glimpse into the long-term planning involved in whisky production and the challenges a distillery faces in getting it’s capacity planning right. Very enlightening!

Thank you to all involved at Bunnahabhain for producing an excellent range of whiskies, and to Distell for hosting us for the media launch as well as bringing the un-chillfiltered range into South Africa. With more and more distilleries turning towards un-chillfiltration one thing is obvious – whisky lovers the world over can look forward to enjoying whiskies with a fuller flavour and richer complexity.

Sláinte!

2 Comments

  1. Beatrice Sandes Beatrice Sandes
    October 29, 2013    

    What an interesting article. I will be visiting Glenfiddich Distillery next week and decided to look up an old friend (lost touch about 20yrs ago), Pierre Meintjes. Decided to Google and this is what turned up first.
    Now this Whisky intrigues me and maybe Bunnahabain will be my next visit as I now live in Scotland, something I never could have envisioned at the time I knew Pierre!!!

    • Mark Mark
      October 29, 2013    

      Thanks for dropping by Beatrice. Pierre’s a great guy, larger-than-life and full of highly entertaining stories. I’ll be seeing him soon and will let him know you looked him up.

      Enjoy the Glenfiddich visit – it’s a great distillery and I can heartily recommend the haggis and cullen skink on the restaurant menu, as well as their whiskies, the Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Solera being my favourite in the standard range. 🙂

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