Exactly two weeks ago was the day we visited Bunnahabhain Distillery. I did visit it before in 2010, but I didn’t do a tour back then. There wasn’t enough time during our stay on Islay to also take in the east coast of this glorious island.
To change things up, we did go there this time. It’s the only Islay distillery I hadn’t visited that was on the plan for this year, but somehow I wasn’t expecting too much. After all, I know what the place looks like…
We had dinner at the Bowmore Hotel, and before we sat down we had a beer at the bar there. Some random guy started talking to us, mainly by shouting loudly that our choice of beer wasn’t to his preference: “IT’S PISH!”
After that we talked whisky, and his comment on Bunnahabhain, apart from it being his favorite distillery on the island was:
“You won’t take your Jewish granny to Bunnahabhain!”
Luckily, none of us had our Jewish granny with us that week, so we were good to go.
We booked the Warehouse 9 Experience, since the main goal was to properly experience distilleries and do tastings of stuff we can’t get anywhere else. So, straight from the cask is as good as it’s going to get.
After we took a few pictures around the premises we walked into the badly signposted visitor center. There was one guy with us on the tour who didn’t say a word during the entire ordeal. He cycled to the distillery for it, and after the five pound tour he cycled away again. Let’s say he took a very different approach to experiencing Islay than we did.
The tour of the distillery was great. Sarah Ferguson toured us around the premises, with information, stories and a joke every now and then. To say the distillery looks very different to the well polished rooms at other places is an understatement. However, that does make this feel like a slightly more genuine experience. You really are walking through a production facility. Because of this I’m not entirely sure about the major investments Distel (the parent company) is going to make to improve the visitor facilities in the coming years. A new visitor center might help, but ‘luxury cottages’ and ‘mobile beach huts’ doesn’t really sit well with me.
It was good to see, though, that the distillery still runs on people. All the electronic equipment is just measuring things and not automating production. People produce the whisky, with a lot of tools that have been there for decades, if not longer.
And, I have to say this, even though the place looks a bit rough around the edges (and the center), it’s still quite gorgeous to see. It has it’s own charm, with all the different styles of buildings, the rather impractical layout of the place and the casks just lying around near the entrance to the site.
The tasting we had afterwards was… How to say this… Intense. Sarah guided us through a lot of different whiskies very professionally, even though there was just us and she didn’t have to stay in line.
“I often use the F-word like a comma.”
We could relate and we had an epic time on a Monday morning. Let’s say it took the chill from our bones. Luckily our Designated Survivor took sample bottles, because none of us was fit to drive after, let alone allowed to.
The tasting consisted of five sizeable drams of various cask strength samples. There were bourbon casks, peated whiskies, a Marsala cask, a wine cask and two Manzanilla casks. At least the wine cask, Marsala cask and Manzanilla casks were available as 20cl in most cases and 70cl for the Marsala one.
As with all the tastings, I didn’t take any notes, but let’s say that all whiskies were at least very good. I’m generally not a huge fan of peated Bunnahabhain, but with the Marsala cask it worked very well. The wine cask was good for a wine cask, but the ones that stole the show for me were the Manzanilla ones. Those were BIG whiskies. I bought 20cl of each of them, and I am very much looking forward to getting to know these whiskies a lot better.
All in all, I have to say I had an ace experience that morning. Only to be nicely topped off by a great burger in Port Askaig, and a nice walk through some peat bogs on Jura. Who needs walking paths, anyway?
The Jura bit was highlighted by:
- “Sure, the ordnance map says there’s no trail, but I bet there is”
- “See that fence, there must be a proper way of getting over that”
- My pants tearing (because of said fence crossing)
- FV sinking knee deep in peat (literally)
- Walking by Jura without the slightest inclination to go in
- Being very surprised how many cars fit on that tiny ferry