The Bunnahabhain Distillery was founded in 1881 by William Robertson who worked for the Glasgow blending company Robertson & Baxter. The distillery was built in cooperation with the local Islay Distillers Company and was completed in 1883.
Bunnahabhain is Gaelic for ‘mouth of the river’ and the distillery is indeed situated right at the shoreline close to where the Margadale River flows into Bunnahabhain Bay. The site was chosen partly due to the abundant supply of quality water from the Margadale spring but also because of the proximity to the sea route through the Sound of Islay. The Distillery lies 6.5 kilometres from the village Port Askaig.
Like many other distilleries, Bunnahabhain was built to meet the demand of the blended industry during the 1880s. The remote location of the site meant that the contractors had to build other facilities apart from the distillery; housing for the workforce, a schoolroom, a pier and even a road south to Port Askaig. In only a few years this once deserted spot of the north-eastern Islay shoreline had become the home of a small community which surrounded the distillery. Most of the buildings are still in use, although it is possible for tourists to rent four of the small well kept cottages.
In 1887 the Highland Distillers Company was formed as a result of a merger with the Glenrothes Distillery. All whisky produced at Bunnahabhain went to the blended industry until the 1970s when the single malt bottling Bunnahabhain 12 yo was launched.
Bunnahabhain whisky is an important ingredient in the blended whiskies Famous Grouse and Black Bottle (all Islay Whiskies are included in Black Bottle to some extent).
Production at Bunnahabhain
Bunnahabhain is the only distillery on Islay to use water from a spring that lies on site. The water does not flow through any peat, which contributes to the lightness of Bunnahabhain compared to other Islay whiskies. Another reason for the lightness of Bunnahabhain is that the distiller takes a very small Middle Cut which results in a more ‘pure’ spirit. Bunnahabhain buy their malt from three different sources –one is the well-known Port Ellen Maltings, and the remaining malt is bought from Berwick and from Speyside.
The distillery has a cast iron mash tun which holds 13 tons and six washbacks made from pinewood. The distillery was expanded in 1963 when the number of stills was increased from two to four. All four stills are onion-shaped and steam-heated. The annual production at Bunnahabhain is 2.4 million litres.
Port Askaig, Isle of Islay
Argyll PA46 7RP
Phone: +44 (0) 1496 840646
Fax: +44 (0) 1496 840248
Distillery Manager: John MacLelland
Visitors: The visitor centre is open March-October Monday-Friday 10am-4pm. Three guided tours every day (free admission).
Owner: Burn Stewart Distillers