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Bunnahabhain is the most northerly of Islay’s 8 working distilleries and was built by one 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 crucially, 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 endeavor was not without it’s 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…
On the 18th of October 1974 a Fleetwood Trawler named the Wyre Majestic and it’s sister ship Wyre Defence, were unable to secure a berth at Oban for the night and decided 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 the whisky made throughout the distilleries long life has gone into blended scotch… with brands such as 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 it’s 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.
Value for Money: Should be available around £40 though very recently I’ve seen it for as little as £33 in a UK supermarket chain. At £40 it’s a damn fine dram, for under £35 it’s exceptional.
Bunnahabhain may be less loved than some of its neighbours and doesn’t seem to have the cult-ish following of an Ardbeg or a Bruichladdich but producing whisky of this quality is a sure fire way to make me a fan. Great stuff.
*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.