Bunnahabhain (pronounced Bun-a-hav-in) is located on the North-Eastern coast of Islay in a village which shares the same name as the distillery. The term Bunnahabhain is derived from the Gaelic term Bun a h-Abhainn, which translates as ‘foot of the river’.
The distillery is located close to the coast and is directly opposite the isle of Jura. On a clear day, the majestic Paps of Jura can be seen from the distillery in all their glory. In terms of proximity, the closest distillery to Bunnahabhain would be Caol Ila in the neighbouring village of Port Askaig.
The distillery traditionally produces a range of unpeated and peated whisky which is matured in a mixture of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks and vats both types in different proportions to create their core range of whiskies.
In terms of history, the distillery was founded in 1881 by William Robertson of Robertson & Baxter and the brothers William and James Greenless, who were the owners of Islay Distillers Company Ltd. Construction was completed late the following year and the distillery came onstream in early January of 1883. In 1887, Islay Distillers Company Ltd merged with William Grant & Co to form Highland Distilleries Company Limited.
The distillery remained virtually unchanged for many years until 1963, when an additional pair of stills were installed to increase the rate of production. This was crucial as Bunnahabhain is one of the core components of the Cutty Sark blended whisky as well as the blend created by the distillery owners, Black Bottle.
The distillery continued operations until 1982, when it was mothballed until 1984. Upon reopening in 1984, the distillery released a 21 year old whisky to commemorate its 100th year anniversary. The distillery was then taken over in 1999 by the Edrington Group (owners of Macallan and the Cutty Sark blend), who proceeded to mothball it once again but allowed for the distillery to produce whisky for a few weeks during the year.
The distillery remained under Edrington control until 2003, when it, along with the Black Bottle brand were sold to Burn Stewart Distilleries for £10 million. The new owners then released a 40 year old bottling from 1963 to commemorate the change in ownership and the revival of the distillery.
In April 2013, South African spirits conglomerate Distell Group Ltd purchased Burn Stewart Distilleries for £160 million, thus becoming the owner of Bunnahabhain as well as Black Bottle. The acquisition also brought the Deanston, Tobermory and Ledaig single malts and Scottish Leader blend under Distell’s control and directly contributed to these brands becoming more recognised internationally.
In terms of equipment, the distillery sports a 12.5 tonne stainless steel mash tun, six washbacks made from Oregon pine and two pairs of stills (2 wash and 2 spirit) respectively. The fermentation time varies between 55 and 80 hours and is dependent on whether the malt being fermented is peated or unpeated.
An interesting fact about the distillation process is that the stills are only filled to 58% of capacity. This would be to allow the spirit to have more contact with the copper and this interaction is intended to provide the whisky with the light character desired by the distillery.
The distillery is capable of producing up to 2.7 million litres of new make spirit per year, of which 20% is traditionally peated with a phenol content of up to 35 ppm.
This weekend's review focuses on an unpeated expression of Bunnahabhain which was distilled in 2001 and filled in a port puncheon before being matured for 12 years and then bottled at a cask strength abv of 51.4% for The Maltman range of whiskies.
Bunnahabhain 2001 12 Years Old (51.4% abv, The Maltman)
Colour: Burnished copper
Nose: Initial entry presents hints of creosote along with berry compote, sea salt, sprigs of mint and a hint of acetone along with a certain leafy green note. The nose opens up soon enough and reveals hints of coal tar soap, oak, allspice, fruit cake and struck matches.
Palate: Initial entry presents a sweetness that is berry-esque, coupled with a spiciness born out of the oak in which it was matured. Allspice and a cinnamon emerge along with the unusual leafy green note which was detected on the nose and provide a nice warmth to the palate. The warmth grows over time and hints of black pepper also emerge to increase its intensity.
Finish: Medium on the finish, with the spiciness slowly fading while the warmth lingers on for a fair bit. Slightly savoury and the mouthfeel is somewhat clean and becomes increasingly dry.
Balance: The balance is skewed towards the spicy side of things, with the sweet berry note fading away fairly quickly. An unusual representation of the distillery's style, but definitely in a good way. The intriguing notes that this dram conjures up will surely keep you hooked!
The Bunnahabhain 2001 12 Years Old is available for purchase for in-bar consumption by the bottle or the dram and for retail/takeaway purposes. Please approach our friendly bar staff for more information and they will be more than happy to assist you.
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