There’s always a presumption amongst people with a passing knowledge of whisky that, if it comes from Islay, you’d best prepare yourself for a massive smoky hit. However, Bunnahabhain has bucked this trend, by using very little peat in the malting of its barley. This wouldn’t always have been the case though, and in its newest release, the distillery has aimed to recapture the whisky’s misty origins by stepping over to the dark, smoky side.
Ceòbanach – which is apparently pronounced ‘kyaw-bin-och’ – comes from the Gaelic for ‘smoky mist’ and is inspired by Islay’s mystical past. Master Distiller Ian MacMillian has taken 19th century Islay life as the inspiration for his newest release – a time when the peat smoke from open fires would mingle with the salty Atlantic air, to create a ‘smoky mist’ which islanders could taste. And if this is what Bunnahabhain tasted like back in the 19th century, then the islanders had a great dram on their hands!
The nose is much smokier than any Bunnahabhain I have tasted before. However, it’s quite a light smoke, accompanied by an underlying freshness. The smoke continues on the palate, with Islay’s earthiness coming to the fore. This is no peat monster though, as it is extremely clean and citrusy to taste. The smoky finish lingers at the front of the mouth, whereas the rear has a slight spiciness to it.
My sample also included a bar of Divine 70% dark chocolate. I’ve never been overly convinced by the whole ‘whisky and food’ matching ethos but this really works, as the strength of the chocolate mixes with the whisky to amplify the flavour of both.
Overall, Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach a is a really interesting addition to the distillery’s range. As someone who doesn’t usually gravitate towards smoky whiskies, this is definitely one I could see myself drinking again. And at £60 a bottle, it’s not going to break the bank either.