Bunnahabhain’s new un-chillfiltered range gets the nose and palate going

Date posted:
March 14, 2012

Bunnahabhain, produced on the Isle of Islay, known for its world-famous whiskies, has launched its range of un-chillfiltered whiskies, replacing the current 12-, 18- and 25-year old chillfiltered single malt whiskies that were on sale in South Africa during the past four years.


According to Ian MacMillan, master distiller and blender of Bunnahabhain, the new un-chillfiltered 12-, 18- and 25-year olds represent whisky in its purest form with a full depth of flavour, aroma, colour and character, “the way it would have been made by Bunnahabhain’s distillers many years ago”.


“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.”


He says the significance of un-chillfiltering is best understood by appreciating why whisky was chillfiltered in the first place. “It was purely for cosmetic reasons, especially for blended whiskies, and was first introduced in the 1970s. By dropping the temperature of the whisky to 0°C, then forcing it through filters, the fatty esters are extracted just before bottling. This process ‘polishes’ the whisky, as it removes some of the oily-fatty compounds produced during distillation or extracted during maturation,” MacMillan says.


Chillfiltration allows the whisky to be bottled at 43% alcohol by volume preventing the whisky, when in the bottle or when served, from becoming slightly hazy when chilled.  Several whisky experts believe chillfiltration removes some of the flavour and body from the whisky, while with un-chillfiltering it retains the maximum depth of flavour.


As the popularity of single malts grew, chillfiltration was also introduced in the making of these products.

“By un-chillfiltering, as in the case of the new Bunnahabhain, the whisky’s temperature is not dropped to 0°C and the precious esters are allowed to pass undisturbed through the filters. This allows for full depth of flavour, aroma, colour and character.


“Although the higher alcohol strength at 46.3% by volume keeps the whisky stable it does become slightly hazy when mixed with water or ice.”


“Bunnahabhain’s single malts are known for their gentle taste profile and by

un-chillfiltering, the unique character of these extraordinary whiskies become more pronounced. Unlike most single malts from Islay, Bunnahabhain is crafted from unpeated malted barley and pure spring water that flows freely underground, untainted by the peaty moorlands. Whisky drinkers either new to single malts or who prefer the slightly fruitier and more accessible offerings from Islay are likely to select Bunnahabhain as their whisky of choice.”


According to the world’s foremost whisky writer Dave Broom, the result of changing Bunnahabhain’s range of single malt whiskies to un-chillfiltering is “revelatory” bringing “the distillery’s signature gingerbread notes” to the fore.


Dominic Roskrow, acclaimed whisky expert and journalist, says the “extra strength is to the whisky what High Definition is to television, bringing the oral sensation into sharp focus. Non-chillfiltration retains nuances of flavour which provide depth and complexities to the whiskies.”


Bunnahabhain (pronounced B?-na-ha-venn) means mouth of the river in Scots Gaelic and refers to the Margadale River that flows close by. Founded in 1881, the distillery lies on the north-eastern tip of Islay and the tiny village of Bunnahabhain that overlooks the Sound of Islay grew up around it. In the 1800s the sea offered the easiest access to this remote place and men would brave the ocean to supply the distillery with barley.


The new range of un-chillfiltered whiskies have already won numerous accolades and last year at the 2011 International Wine & Spirits Competition, gold went to the 12- and 18- year olds, with the latter achieving best in class. At the 2011 San Francisco World Spirits Competition both the 18- and 25-year olds received double gold and at the 2011 International Spirits Challenge the 18-year old took gold. The 18-year old received the Liquid Gold status in the 2011 Jim Murray Whisky Bible Liquid Gold Awards and quoted as “a triumph for the sherry cask and a reminder of just how good this distillery can be.  It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed a distillery bottling to this extent.”


The whiskies are available at fine liquor outlets and retail for about R490 (12-year old), R820 (18-year old) and R2 100 (25-year old).


As a rule, we don’t write about whisky as it’s not fruit from the vine, so to speak, but as South Africa produces some whiskies worth mentioning, and as we enjoy a glass of the Scottish tipple from time to time, we have decided to do so, but only about local whiskies. However, after a tasting of the new un-chillfiltered Bunnahabhain range, we decided we simply had to share this with our readers. – Ed.



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