Let me start by saying I have a soft spot for Bunnahabhain. The 12yo was one of my ‘enlightenment drams’ way back in the early 2000’s. As well as opening up my palate, I liked it for its colourfully rounded & rugged character, rather reflective of the distillery itself. From next year, an £11m makeover will transform the distillery from it’s grey war-torn visage and structure, though I’ll miss the ugly duckling buildings & hickledy-pickledy layout. As for knocking down those fishing cottages, I thought they’d be listed!
After finding an idyllic spot for the night [see pic below], I wasn’t driving for once. I was here to enjoy myself and enjoy myself I did – eventually.
However, at the beginning of Bunnahabhain’s Open Day, a uncomfortably loud PA system wasn’t going to help my morning grouchiness. The lead singer reading lyrics from a tablet [maybe a dep] was far less forgiving than the 15 minutes of almost constant feedback, a record I never want to hear beaten. The band stopped & started, the sound engineer stressed and punters abandoned the courtyard for the midgy-ish bay. No one writes about it, but stall holders [in their own words] were “pissed off“!
With more than a 100% mark-up on a full bottle, the prices of festival drams at the bar were incredibly un-festive. I’m glad I had bought along a 15yo limited release vintage Balblair, a quarter of the price of Bunna’s 15yo Feis Ile Spanish butt.
As for Bunnahabhain’s ad-hoc paper-system for ticketing and events – farcical, and so Bunnahabhain. Booking sheets blowing away in the wind, extra places being added whilst others were crossed out by hand on some sheets and not others, led to a confusing pickle on the hour every hour. Fortunately everybody was in good spirits and we muddled through with smiles & smirks on their faces. I even managed to procure tickets for a tour and Warehouse No. 9 tasting. Until then, there was only one thing for it. To the bar!
Bunnahabhain An Cladach  Ob. 50% [1ltr] WB79.63
Ignoring the [still available at the distillery shop a year later] limited release 2002 15yo Spanish oak Feis Ile bottling for £220 [or £20 for 2.5cl WB], I went for something more affordable. I’m sure everyone else knows about Cladach, another one I’ve passed by. I could have asked about the cask types and everything, but who really cares how many mega pixels your camera has if you’re pleased with the results right? Yeah, that’s the mood I was in.
- N: Resinous raisins, murky putty, a touch of vanilla varnish – all predictably young, cask-led stuff.
- T: Sour young raisin-y charred vanilla popcorn spirit – all cask on the surface but little solid maturation behind it.
- F: Green sour vanilla notes endure alongside a milky scummy finish and rancid oily notes at the death.
- C: This is what I’ve come to expect of modern NAS Bunna and many NAS malts in general, though thankfully, notable changes away from this direction have been seen from key distilleries for a few years now.
Scores 78 points
Bunnahabhain American Craft Ale  Ob. Hand-filled exclusive 50.5% WB85.25
SW says: ‘Bunnahabhain’s main attraction is the annual masterclass hosted by distillery manager Andrew Brown and senior blender Dr Kirstie McCallum in the filling store. Featuring a range of cask samples, the class is a testbed for future Fèis Ìle releases, as well as for new expressions from Bunnahabhain due for release over the coming year. ‘A few of these may become future limited editions,’ Dr McCallum told the room. ‘So please get involved and let me know what you think.’
As people started filling out of the filling store, so did the juice. I got to try this twice – blind.
- N: There has clearly been a spirit < cask fusion here. Clearly it’s not straight bourbon or sherry matured, so what is it?
- T: This is delicious. It’s very sweet yet not saccharin – Koval Millet-esque if you will [WB], with icing sugar & Peach Melba yoghurt notes, accompanied by a pleasant soft mouthfeel.
- F: It’s the easiest drinking barley juice. I’m guessing age-wise, it’s just scrapped the three year mark, though one masterclass attendee suggested it was a 2012 vintage. Anyone?
- C: It’s so obvious when you know! I’ve always enjoyed these infrequent ale-cask malts and this one is no exception. This proved very popular on the day and was available in the shop.
Scores 82 points
Bunnahabhain 2002/2018 Un-Ob. Madeira finish cask sample [abv unknown]
Another experimental whisky featured at the annual masterclass. Potentially to be released in 2019. I was told by a masterclass attendee that this contains 18% rye. True?
- N: With an orangey-golden hue, we have a vibrant modern >old skool dram with notes of varnished icecream, pecan danish maple syrup, glazed pears, stewed pears, oven baked pears,… all the pears except pear drops!
- T: Eggy waxy Madeira?, and a touch of fruity acetone.
- F: Tails off, concluding with rubbery-ish ash.
- C: I’ve no problem with Madeira cask-matured whisky. From time to time they can be cracking.
Scores 79 points
Bunnahabhain 2007/2018 10yo Ob. Feis Ile 2018 Moine Oloroso [btl #1382/1881] 59.5% WB89.74
[Only] £75-80 for a bottle yet £10 for a 2.5cl taster?! Thank goodness for friends. Tasted blind.
- N: Despite the big & firm contemporary first-fill action, the distillate comes through. I’m getting more PX vibes than oloroso – wrong!
- T: A spicy sweet peaty number.
- F: Peaty vegetal >smoky barley before becoming sweet and ashy.
- C: Decent, fun and well made.
Scores 85 points
Next up came the standard tour with a complimentary glass of Bunna 12 in hand. Nice! Like an episode of The Unbelievable Truth, here are some titbits from our tour guide. Believe what you like!
- Bunnahabhain means ‘Mouth of the River’.
- Operating Monday to Friday, the distillery produces 2.5mlpa.
- Bunna have the second biggest mash tun in Scotland, second only to Glenfarclas.
- Just one of Bunnahabhain’s 100,000 litre washbacks can fill their wash stills four times over, though they generally fill their washbacks to around 65% of their full capacity.
- Their cut points are typically between 74-64%.
- 6 weeks of peat production reflects 10% of their output. though I’ve seen some writers state it’s 20% at 35ppm. At the Warehouse No. 9 tasting [next up], we were told it’s now up to 30%.
The old faithful, ha! – currently made up of 75% bourbon-matured juice.
- N: Finally, a whisky with some decent ageing signs, though those casks are still dominant. Notes then of vanilla putty cream, a slight lactose fungal depth and rich & literal bourbon notes.
- T: Fairly weighty presence, malty, dry, creamy & spicy. Everything’s well tempered but there is an underlying uneasiness from some spicy heat lurking in the wings.
- F: The finish is like a creamy Jim Beam bourbon which spoils any illusions of grandeur beyond the sum of its parts.
- C: Despite wildly differing batch variations, I always liked the 12yo. This is a fair example though there are still 1990’s bottlings going at auction for the same price as contemporary expressions.
Scores 83 points
The story at Bunnahabhain so far is one of a cask-centric tale. Lets see if we can muster a sense of distillery character from the Warehouse No.9 tasting up next.