WHISKY REVIEWS, NEWS, HISTORY & FOLKLORE
The Unpronounceable Malt
Bunnahabhain’s name is derived from Scottish Gaelic and the current owners have made a habit of giving different bottlings complicated Gaelic names. In this review, I’ll be looking at one such bottling. Bunnahabhain Aonadh is named after the Gaelic word for Union. It’s a marketing decision, of course, based on what works for the brand but it’s nevertheless pleasing to see. Scottish Gaelic has been on the decline (and persecuted) for generations but is enjoying something of a resurgence and its common usage in Scotch whisky highlights its prominent role in our heritage for all the world to see.
The whisky industry is passionately obsessed with a “sense of place”. Whether that manifest in modern talk of terroir and provenance or in older advertising that fixated on the purest Highland water, the unique characteristics of the area in which a distillery is located have always been seen as important. The nature of the location, the weather conditions, the people… All are viewed as key components in the shaping of the whisky. That interest in place is also found in Gaelic culture. It’s even in the name.
Most of Scotland’s distilleries have Gaelic names, albeit Anglicised ones and Gaelic place names are fascinating because they are literal descriptions of the place. Bunnahabhain comes from Bun na h’ abhainn – the foot of the river. Imagine a conversation between two friends. One asks “where is the distillery?”, and the other answers “it’s at the foot of the river”. By naming places in such a simple and literal way, Gaelic places an emphasis on the place from the very outset. Perhaps Scotch whisky inherited more than just a name from Gaelic culture.
Bunnahabhain has long celebrated its Gaelic roots whilst also having a bit of fun with the difficulty it can cause non-speakers. The brand’s advertising has often focused on that very aspect. The following newspaper placement dates from Christmas 1991 and was part of a series that showcased the “Great Unpronounceables of our Time”…
Among recent releases, there have been words like Toiteach (smoky), Mòine (peat), Stiùireadair (helmsman), Cruach-Mhòna (peat stack), An Cladach (the shore), Eirigh Na Greine (rise of the sun) and Abhainn Araig (Araig River). As a lover and supporter of Scotch whisky, Scottish history and the Gaelic language, it’s lovely to see so much Gaelic on a product that’s sold all over the world.
Whisky often serves as a gateway to a deeper understanding of other topics. It’s a passionate hobby that encourages people to go deeper and deeper. Through whisky, we learn about other spirits and drinks. We learn about oak. About agriculture. About history. Why not about Gaelic too?
The anti-Gaelic sentiment is sadly still far too prevalent in modern Scotland and people are very fond of calling it a dead language. But it can’t possibly be dead, not when the villages, towns and cities we live in, not to mention the rivers, glens and bens we admire so much and the whisky we make and drink, all carry Gaelic names. The truth is, Gaelic is all around us in Scotland and there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging or even celebrating that fact. So here’s to the drams like Bunnahabhain Aonadh, keeping Gaelic out there, on people’s lips, in more ways than one.
Aonadh is another Gaelic word, meaning Union. This limited edition bottle was gifted to me by the students of the Islay Whisky Academy September Residential Diploma. It was a very generous act that meant an awful lot to me. I’d like to thank Adam, Anneli, Kai, Marco, Chuck, Dan, Jim and Ralph once again for their generosity.
Bunnahabhain Aonadh is a 10-year-old single malt, made by combining sherry-matured and port-finished whisky. It’s bottled at 56.2% and retailed for £120.
Smell: The sherry certainly seems more prominent than the port. Raisins. Treacle. Honey. Walnut. Conkers and autumn leaves. Toffee. Some light chilli powder. Cinnamon. Grape juice – maybe the port coming through now. Plum sauce. There’s a slight char note (but no smoke). It’s even a wee bit meaty. Like charred beef in the background. A wee bit sulphury with a struck match-thing, going on.
Taste: Some fiery spices. Chilli powder and chipotle flakes. Cayenne. Then some dried fruits and lots of oak tannins. Dark chocolate. Dry, oloroso finish. More sherry than port. Not quite as interesting as the nose.
Thoughts: The overall experience on the palate is quite dry and woody. The nose seemed to promise a little more complexity than what was delivered. It’s worth spending some time with, though as it develops and opens up the longer it sits in the glass. It’s a nice dram but feels a wee touch over-oaked for my palate.
Price: £120 strikes me as a little steep for a 10-year-old malt – even one at cask strength. Sadly, Bunnahabhain seems to be catching up on its island neighbours where inflated prices are concerned. It’s particularly hard to understand when their core range, or the 12, at least, offers such good value for money. The Bunnahabhain Aonadh is still an enjoyable malt of course – and I’ll treasure it as the generous gift it was but not sure I’d recommend you run out and grab one for yourself. Not at that price, anyway.
For more on Bunnahabhain, please visit here: https://bunnahabhain.com/
For more on the Islay Whisky Academy, please visit here: https://islaywhiskyacademy.scot/
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