When we were preparing our trip to Islay, we made sure that we did our research and asked people where to go and what to see. One of the standout recommendations was a visit to Bunnahabhain. Lots of people that I know who love their whisky recommended a trip off the beaten track to Bunna.
There were three main reasons that I was given for a visit.
First on most people’s list was the chance to try some special liquids, direct from the cask. For those of that aren’t familiar with this distillery, they are the one distillery on Islay that make most of their whisky without peat smoke. This means that they have the opportunity to play with the characteristics of Islay whisky, without the drams being dominated by smoke. The whisky that we tried was both elegant, powerful and full flavoured.
The second reason for a visit, was its secluded location. Bunnahabhain Distillery is at the end of a four mile long single track road, perfectly hidden in its very own bay. It even has its own pier, dating back from the times when all the supplies were shipped into the distillery. The bay overlooks the stretch of water between Islay and Jura. On the day we visited, the sun was out as we arrived, which served to highlight the gloriousness of the distilleries location. It was somewhere that I could have spent a very long time.
The final reason for visiting, is the friendly and knowledgable staff. We had the pleasure of being taken around the distillery by David. He was knowledgable, funny and obviously had a deep affinity with the place. He made us laugh on numerous occasions and gave us real insight in to the process of distillation. I was most impressed by looking into the washbacks and seeing the differing actions of the yeast at differing stages of the process. The thick, heady smell of that room will stay with me for a long time.
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Our trip around Bunnahabhain, was the standout treat of our time on Islay. The distillery, although resembling a decaying prison from the outside, has a real family feel to it. Each part of the distillery feels imbued with history, of the people working there now and the people long gone. We got to see each part of the process of distillation and felt like we gained a really good insight into the character and charms of Bunnahabahin.
My personal highlights of the tour were four fold. Firstly, seeing the yeast activity in each washback, noticing the patterns and feeling the life in the process was enlightening. Secondly, stepping into the still house, seeing the age in the stills. Not polished for looks, but full of character, story and industry. Thirdly, David was brilliant. Funny, full of life and seeped in the traditions and practise of the distillery. Lastly, the liquid. It was a real pleasure to sit surrounded by barrels, drinking straight from them. Each dram had individual character, whilst sharing a softness, subtlety and depth of flavour.
For family feel, working charm and incredible first hand experience, we would give the tour 9.5/10