The visit to Bunnahabhain was a significant one for me. It marked the moment that I had finally visited all of the eight distilleries on Islay and that my pilgrimage to the greatest whisky island in the world was somehow complete.
Islay’s ability to alternate days of truly awful weather with ones of glorious sunshine worked out well for Bunnahabhain. The bright early June day presented the distillery in a wonderful light and highlighted its spectacular location on the rugged north east coast of the island.
The trip to get there made you realise just how remote it is. It arguably rivals Kilchoman as the most remote of the eight distilleries. Turning off the main road to the Port Askaig ferry, the bumpy single tracked road went literally up hill and down dale as we bounced along in the Land Rover. We passed the site of the new Ardnahoe distillery and ground works looked well advanced.
The road allowed us to see right across to Jura and then came the big reveal – as we turned yet another corner, the bay where Bunnahabhain sits came in to view. The word stunning is often used too easily, but in this case was fitting. The view was stunning, especially given the beautiful weather.
Bunnahabhain has an old fashioned feel to it. There is no fresh paint, whitewash or branding, as can be found at most of the other distilleries on Islay. It has an immediately relaxed and traditional feel, like it is there to simply make whisky rather than cater for tourists. Black fungus covers the walls and distillery workers go about their daily business as if the Feis Ile does not exist.
This relaxed vibe extends to the staff, who could not have been friendlier or more helpful. We even managed to talk our way in to a sneaky look at the still room and a cheeky taste of this year’s special festival bottling – a 13 years old expression named Moine that had been matured in ex-Port pipes.
Bunnahabhain Moine 13 years old – my quick tasting notes:
Nose – caramel, plums, raisins, milk chocolate, hint of treacle and cinnamon.
Palate – rich, wood and baking spices, caramel, dark dried fruits, prunes, dates, chocolate.
Finish – warming and full of dried fruits, late cinnamon and hint of walnut.
Bunnahabhain may be remote and tricky to reach, but I cannot recommend it highly enough. It felt like stepping back in time to how whisky used to be made and the views across to the Paps of Jura are worth the trip alone.
Sadly, the visit marked the end of my time on Islay – I had to return to London slightly earlier than planned to attend to something else. That meant missing Ardbeg and its day of planned activities. Having previously joined in Ardbeg Day events in London I know it would have been a fun day.
But that will have to wait for another year. At least I got to pop in and pay a visit to the distillery and taste this year’s festival bottling – the Ardbeg Kelpie, which has intriguingly been part-matured in casks made from Black Sea oak.
The trip has been fantastic and The Whisky Lounge guys have been great. They know how to organise a good trip and I hope that you have enjoyed my daily reports and their videos and photos on social media. If you have, then you could always join up with next year’s tour to Feis Ile 2018. Just a thought …