Bunnahabhain tasting at Singl NYC

This past weekend, I snuck away from home and responsibilities to crash on a friend’s couch in New York City.  They have kids too, so we did all the same stuff we would have done if I had brought my kids: pizza, park, etc.

But they weren’t actually my kids, so I could just roll over and put the pillow over my head when they woke up too early and all too ready to party in the morning.  And then my friend served me pain au chocolat and a frothy strong coffee in bed, er, couch.

So yeah, that’s a good vacation right there.

On Saturday night, I met up with a small group of college friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in almost twenty years.  I was nervous, conscious of every smile line and the (cough)several(cough) pounds I have put on in the intervening years. But a shot of the Bulleit bourbon in my little travel flask put that to rights. And once we started talking and reminiscing, it quickly took on the effortless quality that happens with true, old friends. Twenty years can go by, but they’re still just your people, you know?

Singl, lounge near Union Square NYC

As the evening progressed from drinks to food and drinks and then back to just more drinks, we wound up at Singl, a lounge near Union Square that specializes in single vineyard wines and single malt Scotch.

If you’re looking for crowded bustle and “nightlife,” I would say look elsewhere.  But if you want to relax and talk, Singl was rather quiet and unobtrusive, even on a Saturday night.  It was perfect for us.

Modern décor, sexy ambient lighting, and sleek but comfortable seating create an atmosphere that is part lounge, part comfy living room. With whisky! The furniture, art, and music were all beautifully and skillfully selected, but they all faded to the background in the best possible way so that our conversation and the tasty drinks could take center stage.

On to the tasty drinks.

Singl has a very nice selection of Scotches, including several tasting flights that are on their online menu but were not on the in-person physical menu.  Given the pour size for the samples in the flight and the full pour size (at least the night we were there), the flights seem to be a bargain.  So I would highly recommend checking out the tasting list in advance, or asking the server for that list if you go to Singl.

Because also… why taste one whisky when you can taste three?  Am I right?

Bunnahabhain12I settled on the Bunnahabhain tasting. My whiskey twin, who shares my exact palate for whiskey, had told me he really liked the Bunnahabhain, but couldn’t remember any tasting notes.  Just, you know, yummy.  So I was intrigued to try it, but hadn’t quite pulled the trigger on a $50ish bottle of the 12 year.

The tasting included the 12 year, the 18 year, and the Toiteach.

My first sip of the Bunnahabhain 12 was a big surprise.  No, I take that back.  It was a surprise from first sniff.  I hadn’t read anything about it in advance, but knew it was an Islay Scotch.  I was expecting, you know… Islay.  That bang-you-over-the-head peat that we all know and love.

But no.  Bunnahabhain is a subtle version of Islay.  I would have absolutely gotten the region wrong in a blind tasting.  For sure.  When you know it’s there, you can taste the seaweed and salt of the sea, but it’s layered with toasted nuts, dried fruit, sweet malt, and a tinge of sherry.  It is very lightly peated, even lighter than your average Speyside.

It’s lovely.  Very easy to drink.  It would make a good introduction to Scotch for newbies, because the flavors are well-balanced and, despite being slightly stronger than average at 46.3% ABV, it is quite smooth.

The Bunnahabhain 18 was more of the same, with a bit more caramel sweetness and richer earthy and nutty notes than the 12.  While it was smooth, balanced, and completely delicious, at more than twice the price of the 12, I’m not sure I can recommend this one.  It’s very good, but you can do better at the over $100 price point.  And honestly, the 12 is really almost as good and half the price.

If you want to try this extremely lightly peated Islay (and you should!), I would go for the 12 year unless price is absolutely no object.

toiteachMoving on to the Toiteach was a bit jarring.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but at this point, I had pigeonholed the Bunnahabhain flavor profile.  The Toiteach turned that on it’s ear.

I barely got the glass to my nose before the peat smoke wafted out at me. Apparently (I didn’t know this), Toiteach means “smoky” in Gaelic.  So yeah, smoky.

This is more what you’d expect ordering an Islay Scotch.  It was a bit hard to evaluate after the gentler offerings.  It was just so shocking.  But the more I drank, the more I appreciated it.

The Toiteach is a peat monster.  If you like Ardbeg, Caol Ila, and the smokier Scotches, Toiteach is likely to please you.  It still has some of the fruity and nutty essences present in the 12 and 18, but the dominant experience is one of peat and smoke, with a well-balanced foundation underneath.

It’s priced in the $80-90 range, which puts it in competition with Lagavulin 16.  That’s some steep competition.  But I admit, there is something about the Bunnahabhain Toiteach that intrigued me.  I would very much like to try it again on a fresh palate without the gentler Bunnahabhain drams preceding it.

So Bunnahabhain 12, delicious.  And if you like peat, give the Toiteach a try at a bar if you get a chance. Finally, if you’re in New York City and looking for a place to hang with friends, definitely check out Singl.

Singl has tastings every Tuesday night from 6-8PM. Check out their website for the schedule.