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A visit to Bunnahabhain
It was announced earlier this year that Bunnahabhain was to undergo a bit of a restoration project. Expected to cost somewhere in the region of £11million, the construction work will involve new warehousing, a visitor centre and a general facelift for the whole site, as well as the development of eight luxury holiday let cottages.
I paid Bunnahabhain a visit in September to see for myself what kind of condition it was in. It was immediately apparent that it was cosmetically lacking in comparison to its island neighbours. In truth, it felt more like visiting Colditz Castle than being at Islay’s most northerly distillery. Nevertheless, it was not without its charms.
A proper visitor centre and tasting room would certainly be beneficial as standing in the cramped shop wasn’t the best way to enjoy a post-tour tasting. Especially since it came after making the journey along what is possibly the worst access road to any distillery in Scotland. To be honest, it is the road that really needs the investment as much as anything else. Better access would make the trip all the more appealing. Work is definitely required on the visitor centre side of things but I was pleased to hear that internally, the distillery was to be largely left alone. The old wooden washbacks will remain, as will the 4 satisfyingly unpolished pot stills in the stillroom. I must admit to taking a little satisfaction in distilleries that have a somewhat grimy appearance.
Of course, any alteration to the equipment could result in a change to the spirit and judging from the drams I sampled on the day, that would not do at all. The quality of the distillery’s output is incredibly high across the range and they get bonus points for bottling at 46.3% as standard. After much deliberation, I eventually settled on a bottle of their Moine Port Pipe Finish, bottled for the 2017 Feis Ile, the Islay Festival of Malt and Music which takes place each year in May.
Smell: Port (obviously), Berries / Forest Fruits, Oak, Furniture Polish, Fresh Baking and Raspberry Jam. Peat Smoke comes to the fore the longer it sits in the glass and a little water brings out some Creamy Malt and Vanilla.
Taste: Salted Caramel and Orange Cream, Chocolate, Cranberry and Blueberry, Touch of Pepper and, like the nose, the Smoke seems to assert itself over time.
Thoughts: It’s a bit of an extravagance at £95 but there can be no doubting the quality of the dram in the bottle. In fact, I’m struggling to think of a tastier whisky this year. The cask finish mingles more effectively with the peated spirit than you would perhaps expect and the end result is an exceptional balance of jammy fruits and coastal smoke. A huge dram with tons of flavour. With both port and peat being divisive characteristics, it won’t be for everyone but it ticks all the right boxes for me. Absolutely phenomenal.