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The most northerly distillery on Islay
As the 2018 edition of the Islay Festival approaches, I take a look at a single cask expression from the island’s most northerly distillery, bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.
Bunnahabhain (anglicised from the Gaelic for ‘Mouth of the River’) was founded in 1881 on the north-east coast of Islay. Standing some eight miles north of Port Askaig, the distillery was constructed with its own access road, onsite housing for staff and dedicated pier to allow for supply delivery by sea. Today however, Bunnahabhain rather looks its age, resembling a prison rather than a Victorian distillery, though it remains one of the most fascinating sites to visit on the island.
Those who make the trip to this least accessible of Islay’s distilleries during the festival will be rewarded with a variety of events from Warehouse Tastings to Twilight Tours and Boat Trips, as well as enjoying the opportunity to buy the two exclusive festival bottlings.
Traditionally produced for use in blends, the Bunnahabhain spirit is distilled from largely unpeated malt, though peated versions are not uncommon.
Aside from official distillery releases, Bunnahabhain is a common inclusion amongst the output of independent bottlers, with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottling some 145 casks to date. This latest offering was matured for 9 years in a refill bourbon barrel before being bottled at 61.7% and made available to society members for £50 a bottle.
Smell: Peat Smoke & Briney Sea Breeze, Vanilla Cream, Butter, Lemon Curd, Pineapple, Melon, Banana and Apple
Taste: Smoke and Sea Salt, Oak, Pepper, Ginger and Nutmeg, Butterscotch, Vanilla, Lemon and Pineapple.
Thoughts: Though the majority of the Bunnahabhain range is unpeated, the peated stuff they produce is excellent. This is another lovely balance between tropical fruit notes and coastal brine and blustery smoke. It’s also a great introduction to the world of flavour on offer at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.
I’ve been sampling SMWS bottlings on occasion for a few years now but have never gone so far as to sign up – until now. The sheer quality of the drams I reviewed here finally persuaded me that it was time to take the plunge and I have not been disappointed with this first bottle. A true Islay dram with thick, pungent smoke clearing to reveal the light fruity character of Bunnahabhain underneath. Great stuff.