Bunnahabhain (pronounced bunna-ha-ven) is located in the northern part of Islay, an island which lies off the west coast of Scotland. The distillery produces the lightest of the all the Islay single malt whiskies with extremely low levels of peat influence compared to most of the other distilleries on the island. Islay is famous for it smoky and peaty whisky and Bunnahabhain the black sheep of the family. Bruichladdich is the only other Islay distillery that produces the majority of its single malt whisky in a non peated style. Bunnahabhain was founded in 1881 and has endured a turbulent history and a number of closures and part closures. The most recent of these was between 1999 and 2002 when it was closed for the summer months due to poor availability at its local water source.
The current owners are Burn Stewart Distillers and the distillery produces 2.5 million litres per year. Much of this goes towards the popular Black Bottle blend, which contains whisky from seven of Islay’s eight working distilleries but has Bunnahabhain as its base. The core range of single malts has three whiskies - a 12 years old, this 18 years old and a 25 years old. Bunnahabhain is a favourite amongst the independent bottling companies and through these you can occasionally also pick up some peaty expressions from the distillery.
The colour is a golden burnt amber with a nose that needs a couple of minutes to open up fully. To begin with it seems quite flat and one dimensional but becomes rich with a lovely sweetness (imagine a combination of dried fruits, especially raisins, and caramel) and an interesting saltiness (think of brine or seawater). In the mouth this feels creamy with a distinct buttery quality. It is rich yet fresh with a mixture of the fruit, brine and caramel elements from the nose and some sweet (almost sugary) cereal grains, a spicy note (think of nutmeg) and a hint of pleasant bitter woodiness (sounds odd but imagine waxy furniture polish). The finish lingers on and on and is much drier, woodier and saltier than the nose or palate.
This Bunnahabhain 18 years old is only released in 1500 bottle batches so is harder to find than the 12 years old. It is a nice rich and fruity whisky with the interesting salty twist. If you can find a bottle, it should cost around £50 and is pretty good value for that price.