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History of Bunnahabhain
Bunnahabhain is the most northerly of Islay’s 8 working distilleries. It was built by William Robertson in partnership with the Greenlees Bros in 1881. Constructing a distillery some 8 miles north of Port Askaig was no mean feat in those days and as well as the distillery itself, Robertson constructed a road, housing for his workers and even a pier.
For many decades, the distillery and surrounding community survived purely on deliveries from the sea. Clyde puffers brought barley supplies and took whisky back to the blenders in Glasgow and beyond. Even this endeavour was not without its problems however as the treacherous stretch of water between Islay’s north-east coast and the Paps of Jura has claimed its fair share of wrecks over the years. For an example of this, we need look no further than the tale of the Wyre Majestic…
The Wyre Majestic
On the 18th of October 1974, a Fleetwood Trawler named the Wyre Majestic along with its sister ship Wyre Defence was unable to secure a berth at Oban for the night and decided instead to push on home to Fleetwood. While attempting to navigate the Sound of Islay, the Majestic ran into trouble and found themselves veering off-course. They hit the rocks at full speed and, despite the best efforts of Captain and crew the trawler could not be freed. To this day it rests, crumbling on the shore by Bunnahabhain Distillery.
Today of course, the distillery is supplied by road and tales of shipwreck and marooned trawlermen are largely a thing of the past. One can’t help but wonder though, if there has ever been a better place to be marooned than outside Bunnahabhain distillery!
The bulk of whisky made throughout the distillery’s long life has gone into blended Scotch with brands like The Famous Grouse, Cutty Sark and Black Bottle all containing various levels of Bunnahabhain over the years.
The distillery was mothballed in 1982 during a downturn in the fortunes of the whisky industry but was reopened again just two years later by then-owners Edrington. It was then sold, along with the Black Bottle brand, to Burn Stewart distillers in 2003, placing it in the same camp as Tobermory and Deanston distilleries.
Bunnahabhain is famed as an unpeated Islay malt and is generally viewed as a lighter alternative to its neighbours although recent times have seen a great deal of experimentation with heavily peated expressions, many of which are of extremely high quality. For this review though I’ll be focusing on the classic 12-year-old, bottled at 46.3%, without the use of chill-filtering or caramel colouring.
Smell: Heather Honey with Malty Biscuit and a touch of Sherry. Also, Sea Spray and a faint hint of Peat Smoke along with Oak, Cherry, Lemon & Lime. Very enticing.
Taste: Sea Salt and Treacle, Caramel, Cinnamon & Nutmeg, Dark Chocolate and a touch of Smoke. Very well balanced dram.
Thoughts: This 12-year-old single malt is available for around £40 a bottle. The distillery may not inspire the cultish following of some of its island neighbours but Bunnahabhain is producing some exceptional whisky at the minute. Much of their core range exhibits a fascinating combination of coastal elements with ex-sherry casks from Spain and the 12 is no different. I’m a big fan of this stuff. So much so, I’d maybe call it the best 12-year-old on the market. It really is that good.
*If the whisky reviewed in this article has caught your eye, you can buy it from Master of Malt here. Please be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid a small commission on any purchases you make after following links from my page. The whisky is also available from several other excellent retailers.