Bunnahabhain is often described as the mildest of Islay malts. This small Scottish island is famed for its smoky whisky but the majority produced at Bunnahabhain is unpeated. Instead, the distillery produces a sweet, fruity spirit with a salty note.
Maturation in ex-sherry casks gives a rich, dried fruits character. Ageing in an ex-bourbon cask often highlights its coastal nature.
Bunnahabhain is distilled from unpeated malt. This means the barley is dried using hot air instead of an old-fashioned peat fire. In recent times however, as much as 20% of the distillery’s output has been heavily peated. This smoky whisky is bottled under the Mòine range. Mòine is Scots Gaelic for peated.
The distillery’s pot stills are the tallest on Islay. Their height promotes a lighter spirit character as heavier flavour compounds can’t reach the summit.
The spirit is matured in oak casks that previously held sherry, bourbon, port or red wine.
The whisky is bottled at natural colour and non-chill filtered at a minimum strength of 46.3% abv.
The distillery produces a core range including 12, 18, 25 and 40 year old expressions alongside no age statement bottlings like Stiùireadair and Toiteach a Dhà.
Bunnahabhain distillery was founded in 1881. It was established by William Robertson and Greenlees Bros & co. A location was chosen overlooking the sound of Islay so that grain and casks could be shipped in. The construction also included the creation of a pier, road and housing for staff.
In 1887 Bunnahabhain merged with Glenrothes distillery in Speyside to form Highland Distillers. The company would grow to become distilling giant Edrington.
Bunnahabhain was built at the peak of the blended Scotch boom and for most of its life, the distillery has produced spirit for use in various blends. It became a key ingredient in The Famous Grouse, Cutty Sark and Black Bottle blends.
In 1963 the distillery was expanded. Its pot stills doubled from two to four and the old floor maltings, which were no longer in use, were ripped out.
The 1980s brought industry-wide decline and Bunnahabhain closed in 1982. Production resumed two years later but rarely reached full capacity. By the end of the decade however, the first single malt bottlings had emerged.
Ever since those early releases the label has carried the image of a sailor at the wheel of his vessel. This is said to be a link to the distillery’s past. A reminder of its close affiliation with the sea.
In 2003 Edrington offloaded Bunnahabhain and the Black Bottle brand to Burn Stewart in a deal worth £10million. When Burn Stewart went bust in 2013 however, its distilleries were snapped up by Distell.
The new owners have since invested heavily in the distillery. In 2017 they announced the site would be upgraded to better cater to visitors. As part of the £11million works, crumbling warehouses were demolished to make way for a new visitor centre. Holiday accommodation is also planned for the future.
Bunnahabhain is the remotest distillery on Islay and can only be accessed by a single track road from Port Askaig. The distillery runs tours and tastings for all budgets and experience levels and visitors are rewarded with stunning views across to the isle of Jura. So whilst not the easiest of journeys it is certainly worthwhile.