The Black Bottle blended smoky whisky, for which Bunnahabhain contributes the largest percentage, actually contains whisky from every distillery on the island of Islay. The exception is Kilchoman which only started production in 2005.
tel - +44 (0)1496 840 646
web - www.bunnahabhain.com
Tours through the Bunnahabhain Distillery are available three times daily Monday to Friday mid April to mid October. By appointment only all other times of the year.
How to pronouce Bunnahabhain? bun-na-ha-ven
Bunnahabhain means ‘mouth of the river’ in Gaelic and stands on the mouth of the Margadale river where it joins Bunnahabhain Bay on the north-east coast of the western isle of Islay. The distillery overlooks the Sound of Islay, a narrow channel of sea that separates Islay from the neighbouring island of Jura. The whisky produced at Bunnahabhain is different to those made on the rest of Islay. It is the lightest Islay malt and has none of the rich, peaty and smoky flavours of its neighbours. They achieve this by using non peated malted barley, water from a nearby natural spring that doesn’t flow through any peat and by taking only a narrow selection of the spirit for maturation during the second distillation. Having said that, they have been producing around 200,000 litres of heavily peated whisky since the late 1990s and this is particularly popular with the independent bottling companies. The whisky also has a pronounced salty tang to it and this comes as a result of the whisky being matured next to the sea and the casks ‘breathing’ in the sea air over time. Bunnahabhain was exclusively used in blended whiskies until the late 1970s and the current owners, Burn Stewart Distillers, are concentrating on establishing it as a single malt whisky in the world market. The distillery is working to its 2.5 million litre capacity in order to achieve this as sporadic production within the last 20 years has left stock low. The main market for Bunnahabhain single malt is the UK, although it is also popular in America, France and Holland.
Bunnahabhain was founded in 1881 by a co-operative of William Robertson from Robertson & Baxter blending house in Glasgow and brothers William and James Greenlees from the Islay Distillers Company. Despite its isolated location, they were attracted to the site by the abundance of fresh, peaty water from nearby Loch Staoinsha and the natural harbour close by that made transportation by sea easier. They had to build a one mile long road to link up the remote site with the island’s main road. The stone for the distillery buildings was quarried locally and soon the village of Bunnahabhain grew up around the distillery. Full production at Bunnahabhain started in 1883 and in 1887 it became one of the founder members of the Highland Distillers Company Limited. The distillery suffered during the post First World War slump in the whisky industry and was closed between 1930 and 1937. Upon re-opening, the whisky was used by the Highland Distillers Co. Ltd. as the base for their Black Bottle blended whisky. The demand for Black Bottle grew and in 1963 the number of stills were doubled to four, in order to meet this. The first Bunnahabhain single malt was only released during the 1970s and even then it was very limited. The distillery was closed again between 1982 and 1984 and in 1999, the Edrington Group took it over from Highland Distillers. They only ran production for a few weeks every year in order to supply whisky for their Famous Grouse blend. In 2003, they sold Bunnahabhain and the Black Bottle name to Burn Stewart Distillers, who rebranded and expanded the ranges of both.