November 3, 2012

Bunnahabhain Toiteach - The Peat Bog Monster

Toiteach (pronounced "Toe-Chack") is gaelic for "smoky" and is Bunnahabhain's first peated single malt.  So our opportunity to get our hands on a bottle of the Bunnahabhain Toiteach for a SmokyBeast review couldn't be passed up.

A Touch of Geography

Bunnahabhain is an Islay scotch - i.e. it's from the island of Islay (pronounced Eye-La).  You'll notice a trend on our blog that the vast majority of delicious smoky beasts that we love are from Islay.  Islay is an island in the south west of Scotlant about 25 miles north of the coast of Ireland.

Islay is home to all of the notorious smoky beasts: Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Bowmore, Ardbeg, Caol Ila, and Bruichladdich are all Islay scotches.  We will eventually be hitting all these distilleries in our smoky beast reviews.

Why does Islay produce such an all-star list of beasts?  Because the island is composed entirely of peat bogs, swampy areas overgrown with the mossy vegetation that has warmed Scottish hearths for millennia.   Peat fires are used to dry the barley which is then distilled to make scotch.  The amount of peat in a scotch is typically determined by how long the barley is roasted over the peat fire.  To make peated whisky, the barley is roasted for up to 48 hours.

You Can Really Taste the Bog

According to Bunnahabhain's site they describe the effect as:

Bunnahabhain Distillery, and neighboring peat bog
"What if a touch of smoke from our peated malted barley was introduced in the distillation process?" "The nose has a charming subtle peatiness with prickling strength emanating from the dram. The taste has immediate warming flavours drifting towards a slightly sweet sherry influence with delicate peppery notes.  The finish has a good robust length with an extremely pleasant aftertaste – beautifully peated Bunnahabhain single malt for the discerning palate."

Our take:  Holy crap this stuff is smoky!  The peat flavor absolutely permeates your mouth and tickles your nose.  There's something about this scotch that feels viscous, like a heavy oil.  It has a texture on your tongue that feels full and substantial.  We're not sure what they mean by "a touch of smoke", perhaps that's meant not to scare off the tourists.  This baby is like a wildfire in your mouth and we love it.

The Bunnahabhain Toiteach is a peat-lovers dream.  The thick oily texture mixes exceptionally well with the deep layers of smoke.  The smoke starts in the scent, erupts onto your tongue, and carries down to the bottom of your throat and up into your head.  It's a cerebral glow that brings you back to a simpler time when a warm fire and a hearty drink brought in the close of another day.

It is an un-chillfiltered whisky, which probably accounts for the meatiness that has not been lost in the filtering process.  You can taste the authenticity.  This is a raw and old-school beast.

The only slight disappointment might be the color, which is a light and slightly foggy pale gold.  While there is something inherently satisfying about a dark colored whisky, this lighter, weaker color is in fact the natural hue and clarity of the malt and should be celebrated.  Don't let the looks put you off, the minute this bad boy enters your mouth you will be blown away.

The Review

This bottle costs $82.99 at Astor Wines and $85.99 at KLWines.  At this price we've found few malts that get it this right.  This scotch is actually smokier than Lagavulin, we'd say by around 15%.  While it does not have quite the smoothness and balance of The Lag, the increased smokiness and peat flavor is a welcome variation and is exciting to drink.  We give Bunnahabhain Toiteach an A-.  If you are looking for a bottle in this range, especially something that really stands out and will add a unique dimension to your collection, this is a must have.  

Comparison to Other Bottlings

Bunnahabhain produces a number of unique bottlings under different distributors and releases.  The most common are the Bunnahabhain 12-year and the 18-year.  The 12-year is pretty easy to find and usually runs around $45/bottle.  The 18-year is more difficult to come by (at the time of this post it is available here at KLWines and costs a premium $109.99.  The 12-year and the 18-year are both very respectable scotches, however the Toiteach is a completely different whisky.  The traditional Bunnahabhains have only a hint of the peat and smoke that is present in this variation.  Personally, having tried all three, this one knocks it out of the park.  I felt that the 18 was delicious but not quite a homerun at over $100.  The 12 is a nice choice for a mellow mid-range scotch that is a bit off the beaten path.  However the Toiteach is far-and-away the winner - well worth the additional cost above the standard bottle and also a much better value than the 18.

The Last Sip

We're trying to savor this bottle.  It's the kind of scotch that you want to have one glass of as your first drink of the evening.  Then if you're looking to keep drinking, move on to something a little more mainstream.  It's the kind of unmistakable flavor that you will find yourself craving on the ride home.  Once you've had it, you'll never forget the 100% distinctive taste and texture.  Bunnahabhain Toiteach is one bottle in our cabinet that will be replaced when it's gone and has won a permanent spot in our rotation.