HAS BUNNAHABHAIN JUMPED THE SHARK

A Look At What The Future Holds For A Once Lauded Brand

Introduction

What happens in the whisky world when a brand we collectively sing the praises of, and
strive to have on our shelves, and in our glasses, starts to listen to their own press (or in
this case social media). Usually there is a marked increase in price, as well as a forced
scarcity for consumers which again hikes up, not only the price, but also the demand for
their particular brand. We have seen it happen time and time again. From The Macallan to
Ardbeg to Glendronach. One brand I fear is quickly joining this list is
Bunnahabhain. I will try to show you, the reader why I believe this is the case and hopefully
offer a solution or two as to how us consumers can fight this process.

The Past

When I first started my journey along the path of the water of life, I was lucky enough to
make some quick friends that were already ingrained in the Whisky Fabric. As any eager
new fan of whisky does, I would always ask what the next bottle I should look to acquire
should be. Almost unanimously I would hear the answer come back in the form of the
difficult to spell (and fearful to try and pronounce) name of Bunnahabhain and their twelve
year expression. It was quoted as a magical daily drinker at an almost too affordable price.
So of course, as a type of repayment of my dues, I too would offer up this bottle almost
without question as a great bottle that both beginners, and enthusiasts alike would agree
upon and enjoy all the same.
While my love for “Bunna”, as it is affectionately called, started with this twelve year bottle,
it only branched out from there. I soon found myself searching out ways to try as many
releases as I could. At the same time, Canada’s Bunnahabhain Brand Ambassador, Mr. Mike
Brisebois was admirably building up the awareness and profile of this brand. He did this
through criss-crossing journeys pouring for eager fans at whisky shows and tastings. One
benefit of these in person events is actual friendships were created and faces were put to
names and social media tags and collectively an army of Bunnahabhain lovers was created.
Obviously once the global environment shifted almost overnight, Mike was one of the first
to shift to being able to keep the profile of his brands and the love growing by creating
virtual experiences for fans new and established. It was through these virtual events that
more and more limited edition bottlings and rare releases were consumed and again the
folklore of Bunna grew at a rapid pace. This is what I like to call the “Brisebois Effect”.
Through Mike’s hard work and never ending passion and promotion of Bunnahabhain the
entire country has been collectively put under a sort of trance or spell. Now that Mike has
parted ways with the company tasked with representing Bunna in Canada, the current reps
are using his goodwill and results in hopes it will carry forward into the future. Time will tell
if the Brisebois effect wears off or remains constant.
One effect that this caused, was more of the limited and rare bottles were being tasted and
talked about, the word of Bunna spread and the FOMO also grew to points where people
were striving to obtain any release they could. The era of dusty Bunnahabhain bottles

sitting on shelves disappeared overnight. Every single new release was met with an
insatiable fervour to the point where no one really questioned anything when it came to
the quality of the products they were crawling over each other to get. This is seen with
quite a number of other brands currently and it makes myself and others shake our heads
when we see our friends and strangers alike posting their new bottles like trophies without
even ever tasting the liquid inside.

The Present

The present state of where Bunnahabhain stands, especially in the Canadian whisky
consciousness, is at a precipice as far as I am concerned. It’s a balancing act that I fear will
be tipping away from the general whisky drinker’s glasses and will fall more towards a
collectors shelf or bunker. Never to see a glass or even air through an open cork. We have
seen the entire whisky industry witness immense growth, both in demand from the public
as well as the wanted return on investment by the companies. Some companies definitely
seem to be pushing this more and more than others and it’s a scary time to be a whisky fan
as prices climb and quality is not keeping up. A big part of this is directly a result of the
lower demand 10 plus years ago when all these age statement whiskies were being
distilled. Now that demand has shot through the roof, the supply will not catch up any time
soon, and this will lead to higher prices throughout the industry. Obviously any
brand/distillery that has experienced an even higher rate of demand growth over the
industry average will fall victim to this quicker and harder than others. This is where I see
Bunnhabhain currently residing in terms of pricing. There are rumours aplenty (and proof
starting to show) that in my local jurisdiction as an example there will be a 30-40% increase
on the fabled 12 year old alone. One of the romantic notions about the Bunna 12 is the fact
it is available for a price that almost anyone has no issue paying for it. Its price is what
makes it a daily drinker for a lot of people.
This doesn’t even take into account the second issue caused by the higher demand than
production will see. That is the quality aspect of the whisky and releases. As demand has
skyrocketed, brands like Bunnahabhain scramble to have more releases available to satiate
the eager drinkers. What we see more and more of as consumers, are non age statement
releases replacing age statements on certain releases as well as regular releases that have
a lessened quality liquid inside due to the simple fact that there isn’t the same care and

time put into the casks during the maturation process due to the high demand. I am not
inferring that the quality has dropped beyond palatable in any means, only that there is an
undeniable effect that is bound to happen when demand for any product surpasses
availability. One side note that I must make here is that of the Independent Bottler sector
of the industry. They have been on the forefront of higher and higher prices for their
releases of Bunnahabhain into the market. Yes, they usually are single cask releases and at
cask strength, but they are also almost always still in sherry maturation and the ages keep
dropping lower as the prices grow higher. Maybe they are partially at fault for what is
happening currently in the same breath as the secondary market which is another beast on
its own…a beast that needs to be slain without mercy.
At time of writing, the disparity in pricing between provinces in Canada is laughable. Across
one single provincial line there is a $50 difference in price for a bottle of the Bunnahabhain
12 year. Will the powers that be behind the brand exploit this to justify a huge price hike in
the province with the lower current price? Will the price hike affect all jurisdictions across
the world? If so they will be pricing themselves away from a huge number of the people
that they built their current reputation on. We’ve already witnessed some divisive releases
and others that have been decent, but not mind-blowing, recently and these came with an
even higher premium priced bounty passed on to the consumer. With this all on the backs
of re-releasing previous (I assume un-sold) Limited Editions in other provinces but at higher
prices than the original retail cost, it’s becoming harder and harder to justify the battle to
acquire a new limited release. What does “Limited Release” even mean anymore? The
original releases that were deemed limited were all released under five-thousand bottles.
Now we are seeing way more than double or triple that in the Limited Releases. So was it
limited before or is it now? With triple or more bottles available and at a steep, and
continuously climbing price point, anyone can see what the end goal is. Yes, I understand it
is a business and the ultimate end game is making money, I just think there needs to be a
balance somewhere to include the maximum amount of consumers possible enjoying the
products. Alienating existing customers, especially loyal ones, is never a good move for a
brand in any industry. The whisky industry can be even more cut-throat against brands that
lose integrity in the customer’s eyes. I guess the big question is what will the customers
inevitably decide to do. Here in Canada we were already low on the list of locales to receive

allocation of these sought after bottlings. That occurs even when on a per capita basis
Canada is a leader in consumption of Bunnahabhain. So where does this end up?

The Future

What does the future hold in the grand scheme of the relationship between Bunnahabhain
and their dedicated following in Canada? There are two ways I can see this going. On one
side, you have the Customers seeing what Bunnahabhain/Distell and their reps on the
ground in this nation are doing and taking a stand against it. It can’t be one or two small
groups calling for action while the rest continue on the road already paved with greed and
FOMO. If real change in the attitude taken by Canadian supporters happens and their
overall sales start to plummet would the mother company notice? Would they even care at
all? These big brands make their living off the core range and entry level products that are
usually plentiful in shops across the country. If those core range products are price-jacked
and their sales drop off a cliff, will we see even less allocation for the higher demand special
bottlings? Will we be punished for finding other options to spend our hard earned cash on?
Does it matter all that much for those lucky enough to afford Limited Release after Limited
Release, when they can (in Alberta) order them directly from the distillery and when all is
said and done, shipping and duties paid, the overall cost is a mere ten bucks higher than
the shelf price of the limited quantity that do show up in stores six months to a year after
initial worldwide release? Time will tell what happens on the consumer side of this coin.
The Other side of the coin is the brand. The owners and reps count on the goodwill
previously established off the backs of a couple people to last through many years? Or do
they not even care, and will continue the attack on the consumers’ pocket books,
regardless of how many of their fans drop by the wayside? The recent push by the reps
across Canada to try to force a “grassroots” campaign in promoting the very lowest cost
and entry level releases by using….sorry paying influencers to produce ingenuine and
forced looking “ads” on their personal social media pages, all came across to many
observers, as a desperate attempt to spur a rush to stores to sell these products. Imagine if
they had a single sole person to do that for them in an actual genuine manner? Oh wait…..

When it comes to the future of Bunnahabhain in Canada, I do believe they will always be
here. There is a deep love amongst the whisky culture in Canada for their products. I do
also believe there will be an increase in price across the board for all their products and
that in my opinion will be a shame. I have stocked up on my favourites before the
seemingly inevitable rise happens. I also know that if they release something super special
or something that potentially would be right up my alley, I can turn to the distillery store
and have it shipped directly to my house. This by-passes multiple levels of price mark ups
and even paying asinine duties and shipping rates will still end up very similar to the shelf
price when they arrive in stores.

Conclusion

I recently made a post on my social media (January 19th, 2022) and posed a fairly similar
point for discussion. The return I received on that post was a very mixed bag and some very
hard stances from both sides of the discussion. Some said they would stay the course and
continue the undying support for Bunnahabhain, and I commend their dedication. Others
are playing a game of wait and see and will make their decision with every release that
comes and will possibly leave the core range alone as well with a significant enough
increase in price. Others still, were adamant that they have already seen the shark being
jumped and have moved on altogether, while still enjoying a core range bottle that’s on
their shelf already purchased at the long gone appropriate prices. I would absolutely hate
to see what was once said to be “an everyman’s whisky” turn into another “luxury” brand,
who only prides themselves on catering to the so called “elite”. Especially when they were
built up through the support of the everyday drinker. As for myself, I will leave you with
this. Maybe the water skis are on the feet and the tow rope is in hand. The boat is speeding
through the water and we all wait to see if Bunnahabhain does indeed jump the shark.

Slainte

Sean “The Dark Cloud” Kincaid

Kavalan Single Malt – Solist, ex – Bourbon Cask


I remember the weekend of September 28th and 29th, 2018 like it was yesterday.  I had the absolute pleasure of attending the very first Banff Whisky Experience in Banff, AB . The days were filled with amazing master classes and the evenings each hosted a grand tasting with 77 distilleries and a plethora or drams represented.  After an amazing Friday evening and night out in Banff with some of the grandest whisky personalities,  soon came a late Saturday morning rise for myself.  I am sure we can all relate to those nights when the morning had somehow slipped away, and well… waking at 11 AM, freaked out and realizing my first master class for the day was about to start at noon!!  I did what I do best and that’s pulling myself together, looking like I had all the beauty sleep in the world, haha.  Might have learned a trick or two about that over the years (yay for concealer !) .  
My first class that day was called “KAVALAN – The Single Malt from the other side of the world –  being presented by the late and great J. Wheelock.  God bless his soul!  As I settled into my seat and started gazing over a beautiful tasting mat of 8 whiskies, I quickly noticed the majority of them were Kavalan single malts from Taiwan.  The theme of the class was essentially de bunking non age statements whisky (N.A.S.) and to say the least, I was all ears!

 
Sitting before me along side the Kavalan spread was a large bar of dark chocolate bar and seeing that I kind of slept though breakfast, I was salivating at the idea of hammering it back. As noon swept across the clock though, and Jay’s introduction commenced the tasting, my eyes were quickly focused on the whisky in front of me. And then it happened… upon my first sip of this rich, deluxe, beautiful, viscous, and tropical whisky, I was sold!  It was love at first sip.

Kavalan is known to have one of the most comprehensive lines and offering of Sherry Whiskies , however there are a few that were matured in alternate ways. Kavalan “Solist” Ex Bourbon Oak is a cask strength whisky that was fully matured in fresh hand picked ex-bourbon oak Barrels by Kavalan’s master distiller, Ian Chang at the time.


Whisky romance 101: I am not sure about you, but when I am drinking a high end Whisky such as Kavalan – you better believe I am taking my time with it.  I am not afraid to say I love drinking whisky alone because it gives me some real one on one time to enjoy and unpack all it has to offer. A whisky date!, as I like to refer to it.

Tasting and Reviewing the Whisky

Upon pouring this whisky into a proper whisky drinking glass (in my case a copita), I see a bright shiny, viscous, and oily whisky that has legs for days, coating the glass and presenting a color that’s described by the distillery as “Cattle Egret” which is a Melanesian bird that dawns a beautiful golden colouring downs its neck and wings. The oily residue on the glass reminds moves around reflecting the light reminding me of a kaleidoscope… I am now extremely intrigued.

Nose

Lush tropical fruits, floral frangipani, blooming Jasmine mist and young coconut cream . One the second nosing I get kiwi, melon, green apple, with oak and vanilla.

Palate

The texture is rich, smooth and silky. I get lots of notes of vanilla and oak as well as the Kavalan signature tropical notes I mentioned above and also mango and pineapple. On my second sip the whisky tasted sweeter and I got a full essence of a vanilla ice cream cone with hints of ginger, nutmeg,  and woody notes.
With a couple of drops of water I got notes of white chocolate, raspberry and cream soda .  What a delight!

Finish

The finish is sweet and spicy like white pepper sprinkled on biscuits that lingers on the palate.

Conclusion 
For such a high cask strength whisky (58.6%) it is very luxurious , smooth and elegant, drinking well below it’s ABV.
This Taiwanese single malt cask strength whisky has won a ton of accolades – most recently including double gold at the international spirits challenge 2019 and gold at the San Francisco Spirits competition in 2019.

  • Review written by Zahara Amiri