The Bunnahabhain distillery was built in 1881 by William Robertson and the Greenlees Bros. It is in a remote location on the north east coast of Islay and remains the most northerly distillery. The initial construction required more than just a distillery being built as it was such a remote location. New houses, road connections and a pier were all erected and cost a total of £30,000 which is the equivalent of around £2.6million in today’s money. In 1887 the Glenrothes distillery merged with Bunnahabhain and formed the now infamous Edrington Group, previously known as Highland Distillers.
The rapid rise in demand for Scotch in the 1960’s saw Bunnahabhain double their stills in 1963 which was the same year their floor maltings came out. However, the good times didn’t last, and the distillery was mothballed in 1982 like many other distilleries. The distillery then reopened again in 1984 but production was kept to a minimum for many subsequent years. At the end of the 1980’s Bunnahabhain released their first official single malt under the strap line ‘the unpronounceable malt’.
The distillery changed hands a couple times more in the early 2000’s until coming under ownership of Distell. Since their acquiring of the distillery production of their single malt has gradually increased with huge success in the likes of Taiwan and Africa. In 2017 Distell announced plans to upgrade the distilleries appearance and build a new visitor centre to turn Bunnahabhain into a ‘world-class whisky destination’. Construction of this project began in early 2019 and should be completed by 2022.
For the most part Bunnahabhain provides Scotch for the blended market for big brands such as Cutty Sark, Black Bottle and Famous Grouse. The distillery also bottles a range of different aged Scotch from a 12-year-old to a 40-year-old. A few official bottlings also have no age statements. You will also be able to find many independent bottlings of Bunnhabhain all offering a different take on their malt compared to the official releases.
Their uniquely large but low filled stills influence the Scotch in a way that produces their classic light style of malt, due to the exposure to lots of copper. For maturation ex-Sherry casks are mainly used which add incredibly rich and sweet notes but it is unclear as to where the slight spiced nose comes from. Salinity is also present in some of their releases as well as peat, however since the 1960’s the smoky peat has been put on a back burner with only recent produce starting to explore that bonfire-like taste profile again