Bunnahabhain

Bunnahabhain is a fantastic, maritime single malt whisky from the island of Islay. Unlike most Islay whiskies, the standards of the distillery are unpeated and therefore do not show the hard-smoky flavors of the island’s neighbors. Bunnahabhain has introduced peated variants.

Bunnahabhain Whisky

Bunnahabhain is an extraordinary Islay distillery. The distillery is located in a lonely bay in the north of Islay. It is only about a narrow, almost seven miles long road to reach, especially for trucks an adventure again and again. The name, which is unspeakable at first sight, is pronounced like “Buna havn” and means “mouth of the river”. The complicated name, however, should not be deterred by this exciting distillery. It offers something very special: unusually for Islay whiskies, the single malts of Bunnahabhain are usually not torgeted, which leads to a very special Islay aroma.

Since Bunnahabhain is so remote, a small village for employees was established at the time of its foundation. A few houses for workers, a school, and a shop. The distillery buildings of Bunnahabhain are arranged around a central inner courtyard. On the wall of the distillery, an old bell is attached, which was recovered from a ship that was sunken in the vicinity. In earlier times, it was used to bring about the director of problems, living nearby. The emblem of Bunnahabhain shows the icon of a saluting tax man. A reference to the song “Westering Home”, which delights on Islay some popularity.

House style

How does Bunnahabhain single malt taste? The whisky of Bunnahabhain has little in common with the extremely smoky Malts of the south coast. Bunnahabhain whisky is typically fresh, sweet, nutty, and shows a maritime salinity. It is well suited as an aperitif.

Production

How is Bunnahabhain whisky produced?The water for the production of the Bunnahabhain is pumped through pipes from the Margadale river, which flows underground, and rises through limestone. Since Bunnahabhain does not have its own onsite malting the distilleries malt is sourced from the Port Ellen Maltings located on Islays south coast. The proportion of peated whisky production is currently increasing rapidly. Just a few years ago, around 90% of the annual production was unpeated. Today, while numbers vary from year to year the current ratio sits at appoximately two-thirds unpeated and one-third peated malt. The peated whisky from Bunnahabhain have a phenol content ranging between 35 and 45 part per million (ppm). 

Bunnahabhain has four copper pot stills: two Wash stills with 35,000 liters of capacity and two Spirit stills each with about 15,500 litres each. The stills are large and pear-shaped and thus provide for little reflux. The round shape thus leads to a spicy and heavy whisky. On paper, Bunnahabhain can produce 2.7 million liters of alcohol annually, but currently distills only about 1.5 million liters. Bunnahabhain works primarily with traditional, flat warehouses directly by the sea. This leads to a relatively slow maturation, during which the whisky can suck up the classic marine aromas of the sea air.

Recommendations:

The Bunnahabhain 12 year old is not only a great entry into the range of Bunnahabhain but an outstanding single malt whisky, and easily one of Scotland’s best all-rounders. It serves as a prime example of a non-smoky maritime Islay whisky. Comprised of 75% Bourbon barrel matured Bunnahabhain and a further 25% Sherry cask it’s a perfectly balanced, easy drinking maritime malt with surprising depth and complexity for the price. The 12-year-old complex character offers nutty salt caramel and seductive dry spice from the Sherry Cask. A single malt that every whisky fan should have in the glass once. Our recommendation for you.

History

Bunnahabhain was founded in 1881 and expanded in 1963. For a longer period of time, the distillery was only sporadically operated and the single malts were treated more in a stifled way. Bunnahabhain has been used for the heart of blends such as Famous Grouse, Cutty Sark and Black Bottle.

Accordingly, the stock levels fell steadily and it was to be feared that Bunnahabhain might vanish. Happily today, Bunnahabhain not only survives as one of the Islay malt components for the legendary Black Bottle Blended Scotch Whisky it now has a booming malt offering as well.

It was only after 2003 that the takeover by Burn Stewart Distillers succeeded in revitalising and rescuing before the planned closure. Luckily, the focus has been on the single malt of the distillery. Today Burn Stewart, together with their Bunnahabhain, Tobermory and Deanston, belong to the South African group Distell.

Distillery Factsheet

Name Pronounced AKA Region Country of Origin
Bunnahabhain buh*nah*hav*enn Islay Scotland
Status Active Whisky Type Website Tours Available
Active 1881 - Present Malt Bunnahabhain Tour Link
Manager Distiller Blender Owned by Parent Group
Ian Macmillan CL Financial

Bunnahabhain Timeline:

1878: W.A. Robertson (of Robertson & Baxter, blenders in Glasgow) and J.C.R. Marshall purchased a piece of land at the mouth of the River Margadale and contacted the Greenless brothers of Campbeltown for technical advice on building a distillery

1880-81: Built by a partnership which was incorporated 1882

1882: Partnership incorporated as the Islay Distillery Co. Ltd.

1887: Islay Distillery Co. Ltd. merged with W. Grant & Co. and Glenrothes-Glenlivet to form the Highland Distilleries Co. Ltd. but still named the Islay Distillery Co. Ltd. per Nettleton in 1893 (1888 mentioned as well)

1963: Extended from two to four stills. Last year the floor maltings were in use. Light-grains plant

late 1970s: The 12yo Single Malt was launched with a label inspired by the song "Westering Home". Until that time the entire production was for blending

1984: Bottling released from casks filled in 1963 to celebrate Bunnahabhain’s centenary

1999: Owned by Highland Distillers

....: Owned by The Edrington Group

2003: Bought by Burn Stewart Distillers plc from The Edrington Group