South Africa is the fifth biggest market by volume and the seventh biggest by value for Scotch whisky. About 150 000 litres of single malt get sold here and Bunnahabhain is Distell’s offering, currently selling some 4 500 litres.
From Islay, Bunnahabhain is unpeated and un-chillfiltered (chill filtering being a process whereby the temperature of the whisky is reduced sufficiently that some fatty acids, proteins and esters precipitate out and are caught by a filter to prevent haziness).
Whereas terroir is a big deal in wine, it’s far less so in whisky and everybody admits it – the barley can come from anywhere (although there does seem to be some kind of premium on using Scottish grown) and very few distilleries do their own malting anymore. It all comes down to the type of still and the sort of barrels – sherry or bourbon – used.
Tasting the Bunnahabhain range last night, my overall impression was that these are whiskies intended to be mild and approachable. The 12 Year Old (R600 a bottle) was light and relatively uncomplicated while the 25 Year Old (R2 500) was very fine, smooth and round with a crème brûlée quality about it. My favourite was the 18 Year Old (R900) which featured the biggest proportion of sherry casks at 40%. Sultanas, spice, a hint of honey and a slight saltiness. The most multi-dimensional of the three.