Bunnahabhain Distillery

(Bunnahabhainn Distillery)

A sizeable distillery in a road-end settlement of the same name on the northeast coast of Islay in the Inner Hebrides, Bunnahabhain Distillery looks out across the Sound of Islay 2½ miles (4 km) north northwest of Port Askaig. The name is derived from the Gaelic for 'mouth of the river' and is Islay's most northerly distillery. Bunnahabhain was built in 1883 by the Greenlees Brothers, who had formed a partnership four years previously with William Robertson, of the Glasgow-based whisky blender Robertson and Baxter, to ensure a market for their product. Initially the distillery was only accessible by sea, but in 1960 a road was built although puffers still brought supplies by sea until 1993 and its pier remains.

The distillery is noted for producing a lightly-peated malt whisky, unusual for Islay, but ideal for blending which was the destination for Bunnahabhain's spirit until the 1960s. Thereafter a commercial single malt was produced which, after 2011, was no longer coloured or chill-filtered to enhance the natural quality of the product.

The malt is bought from Diageo's Port Ellen Maltings in the south of the island but is milled on site. For much of the year unpeated malt is used but then, for a few weeks, production switches to a peated malt, more typical of Islay. The water used in the process is derived from the River Margadale, itself emanating from a limestone spring and consequently both moderately 'hard' and alkaline in comparison to the peaty water used by distillers elsewhere on the island.

Sugar is extracted from the malt in a substantial thirteen-tonne steel mash tun with a copper lid. Fermentation takes place in six 66,500-litre wooden washbacks and then distillation proceeds using two 35,386-litre copper wash stills followed by two unusually pear-shaped spirit stills, also constructed of copper and each with a capacity of 15,546 litres. This unusual shape is said to give rise to a spicier whisky which is matured in either sherry or bourbon casks, obtaining salty marine tones from the coastal environment. The distillery has an annual output of 2,600,000 litres of spirit, and now produces a range of peated (marketed as the Toiteach range) as well as Bunnahabhain-branded unpeated malts aged for 12, 18, 25, 40 or 46 years.

In 2003 the distillery was bought by Burn Stewart Distillers, which also owns the Deanston Distillery and Tobermory Distillery, together with a bottling hall in East Kilbride and blending and warehousing facilities in Airdrie. In 2013, the South African drinks multi-national Distell bought Burn Stewart for £160 million.

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