Updated 12 August 2022

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Bunnahabhain Distillery | A Classic Victorian

Bunnahabhain (Bu-na-ha-venn), meaning 'mouth of the river', was purpose-built for blending. In 1881, Bunnahabhain produced whisky destined for Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark. Much of what Bunnahabhain makes today still goes into blends – it is a dominant part of Black Bottle - however, the distillery also produces some exceptional single malts, which are well worth a try; a visit to Bunnahabhain Distillery is a fantastic opportunity for this. In addition, the distillery offers travellers exceptional views of Jura from their new visitor's centre.

Bunnahabhain Distillery and the Sound of Islay, with Jura Paps in the background

Bunnahabhain Distillery and the Sound of Islay, with Jura Paps in the background

How to Pronounce Bunnahabhain

Pronounced 'bu-na-ha-venn'

Bunnahabhain Whisky

Bunnahabhain 12 is one of my go-to whiskies. It’s a lovely clean, crisp dram that goes down very nicely. It has never occurred to me to add water. I was fortunate enough try a 9yo heavily peated bottling at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Edinburgh, and more recently, a Bunnahabhain 13 yo finished in Moine Olorosso – available only at the distillery. Unlike the other Islay distilleries, heavily peated whiskies are not what Bunnahabhain has historically produced as their primary product. However, they do this style incredibly well. Click here to check out Bunnahabhain’s core heavily peated range Ceobanach. If you’re visiting the distillery, see what small batch heavily peated bottlings they have on offer, as they are well worth trying.

Where is Bunnahabhain Distillery?

Located on the Isle of Islay, Bunnahabhain is 4 miles (6.5 km) off the A846 and 4.6 miles (7.4 km) from Port Askaig.

Car

If you’ve got a car, Bunnahabhain is a straight forward drive, not too far along from Ardnahoe distillery. It is a single lane road, so watch out for oncoming cars and lorries. There are many passing places along the asphalt route. You can’t miss Bunnahabhain it as it’s at the end of the road.

Taxi/Tour Bus

North Islay Whisky Tour: £180, day long tour, runs on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday from April to October, however, other days may be available on request. Bunnahabhain have partnered with neighbours Ardnahoe and Caol Ila, in collaboration with Islay Taxis for transport, so you can now easily discover Islay’s three northern distilleries in one day!  Includes transport, tours, tastings and lunch. This is an excellent option if you're not driving yourself - I wish they had this tour available when I first visited Islay! For more information, call Bunnahabhain on 01496 840 557 or to book, contact Stuart at Islay Taxis or email info@islaytaxis.com

Bus

If you’re on foot (as I have done!) it is a fabulous walk along the road, with sweeping views across the Sound of Islay – just ask the bus driver (route 451 Port Askaig) to drop you off at the road to Bunnahabhain. Please note, it is a 4 mile walk each way, although I have always found fellow travellers to be very helpful in providing lifts, and it never hurts to ask at a distillery if someone is going your way. Be sure to check the bus timetable as Islay buses are infrequent. They also finish early on Saturdays and don’t run on a Sunday.

Ardnahoe Distillery is also now at the half way point between Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila, so you'll have somewhere to stop for a rest (and perhaps a wee dram?) on the way/way back.

wood panelled bar room, dark timber, islay distillery map on wall in corner

Islay Maps and Photographic Prints

Whisky Gifts, Wall Art and Man Cave Decor. Made By Whisky Lovers For Whisky Lovers

Bunnahabhain Distillery Tours, Pricing & Bookings

Children under the age of 18yrs old are welcome at Bunnahabhain distillery, but are not permitted in the tasting areas. 

For tour times see https://bunnahabhain.com/pages/distillery-experiences

Bunnahabhain are not currently running production tours due to COVID-19 prevention measures, however, whisky tastings are available.

Warehouse 9 Tasting

The Warehouse 9 tasting is one of Bunnahabain's most popular events. Enjoy an exclusive tasting of 3 x 15ml drams of cask strength whisky straight from the cask and 1 x 15ml dram of new make Bunnahabhain spirit while hidden away from the outside world in Bunnahabhain’s Warehouse 9 (originally one of the the malt floors). £40 per person, 60 minutes duration:

Visitor Centre Tastings

Fabulous whisky with an even better view - enjoy a few drams in the shiny new purpose-built Bunnahabhain Distillery Visitor Centre.

Bunnahabhain Premium Tasting (£35)
Whiskies tasted include:
- Bunnahabhain 12 Year Old
- Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old
- Dram taken straight from the cask in Warehouse 9
- Feis Ile special release

Bunnahabhain Cask Strength Tasting (£40)
Four (4) cask strength drams including:
- Single cask expressions
- Annual Limited Edition Releases
- Special Releases

Ultimate Bunnahabhain Tasting (£275)
- Bunnahabhain 25 Year Old
- Bunnahabhain 30 Year Old
- Bunnahabhain 40 Year Old
- Bunnahabhain 46 Year Old
- Bunnahabhain 1997 Moine PX Limited Release

North Islay Whisky Tour

Runs on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday from April to October, however, other days may be available on request. Bunnahabhain have partnered with neighbours Ardnahoe and Caol Ila, in collaboration with Islay Taxis for transport, so you can now easily discover Islay’s three northern distilleries in one day!  Includes transport, tours of all 3 distilleries, tastings and lunch. This is an excellent option if you're not driving yourself - I wish they had this tour available when I first visited Islay! £180 per person, day long tour. For more information, call Bunnahabhain on 01496 840 557 or to book, contact Stuart on +44 (0) 1496 850 170 or visit the website Islay Taxis or email info@islaytaxis.com.

Bunnahabhain Distillery Images

I have been told, by a mostly reliable Islay local, that the original Bunnahabhain distillery architect was usually employed to design prisons. One look at Bunnahabain, and it’s not hard to believe! The high walls and stark design are very reminiscent of a prison, though in this case, the purpose would have been to keep the whisky in, and potential thieves out!

Bunnahabhain has undergone recent renovations thanks to a £10.5m investment by parent company Distell International. A key part of the redevelopment is the new visitor centre, complete with distillery shop. Th new visitor centre has been designed to take advantage of the distillery's stunning views over Bunnahabhain Bay and across the Sound of Islay, towards Jura.

Other areas being improved include the build of a new filling store, refurbishment of the production building and the six cottages that run alongside the distillery, which will eventually be used for holiday accommodation.

The development schedule has been carefully designed to ensure minimal disruption to whisky production and to distillery visitors.

Bunnahabhain distillery and surrounding countryside covered in ferns

Bunnahabhain Distillery in the distance

Bunnahabhain distillery warehouses viewed from the pier

Bunnahabhain Distillery Warehouses (sadly now partially demolished to make way for the new visitor centre)

Bunnahabhain warehouses, and distillery offices

Bunnahabhain warehouses, and distillery offices

Rickety pathway from the old village houses to the distillery at Bunnahabhain

Rickety pathway from the old village houses to the distillery

Casks outside the former Malt House at Bunnahabhain Distillery

Casks outside the former Malt House. The malt floors were retired in 1963. At the same time the number of stills were doubled to four.

Bunnahabhain distillery sign on top of a rock
Fresh bourbon casks from Jim Beam group at Bunnahabhain Distillery

Fresh bourbon casks from Jim Beam group, including Wild Turkey (zoom in to see stamps!).

Seaweed, Jura, and Bunnahabhain Distillery

Seaweed, Jura, and Bunnahabhain Distillery

wood panelled bar room, dark timber, islay distillery map on wall in corner

Islay Maps and Photographic Prints

Whisky Gifts, Wall Art and Man Cave Decor. Made By Whisky Lovers For Whisky Lovers

The Bunnahabhain Process

The Stills

There are four copper stills capable of producing 2.5 million litres of spirit per year. Bunnahabhain whisky is twice distilled – running from the first/wash still, through a curved lye pipe to the condenser, where it is cooled. It then runs on to the low wines receiver, before passing into the second (spirit) still, the output of which is closely monitored in the spirit safe.

Whisky Stills, Bunnahabhain Distillery Islay

Spirit and Wash Stills, Bunnahabhain Distillery Islay. Note: normally you wont be able to get a picture of the stills, however I was fortunate enough on my first trip to visit during the silent season.

The Water

The ‘mouth of the river’ that the name Bunnahabhain refers to, is the Margadale. Margadale spring water is used in production (mashing, bottling etc).

Margadale River and bare trees near Bunnahabhain, Islay

Margadale River, Bunnahabhain, Islay

Seals sunbathing on rocks near Bunnahabhain.

Seals sunbathing on rocks near Bunnahabhain, Islay.

What Other Distilleries Are Near Bunnahabhain?

References & Further Reading

picture of the front cover of book The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom by Alfred Barnard

One of Amanda's favourite books. Around 1885, Alfred Barnard was secretary of Harper's Weekly Gazette, a journal dedicated to the wine and spirit trade. In order to provide his readers with the history and descriptions of the whisky-making process, Barnard decided to visit all distilleries in Scotland, England and Ireland. Accompanied by friends, he visited and sketched over 150 distilleries. This is a wonderful step back in time and a must have book for a whisky history geek. 

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Front cover image of the book Whiskies Galore : A Tour of Scotland's Island Distilleries by Ian Buxton

Whiskies Galore is not your average whisky book. It is not simply a catalogue of distilleries, but a story of discovery and adventure. Join Ian Buxton on a personal journey across Scotland's islands, combining his expert knowledge of whisky with his fondness for anecdote, as he provides a special treat for all who love Scotland's islands and their drams.

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Book cover of Whisky Island by Andrew Jefford

In Whisky Island, by Andrew Jefford, Islay's fascinating story is uncovered: from its history and stories of the many shipwrecks which litter its shores, to the beautiful wildlife, landscape and topography of the island revealed through intimate descriptions of the austerely beautiful and remote countryside. Interleaved through these different narrative strands comes the story of the whiskies themselves, traced from a distant past of bothies and illegal stills to present-day legality and prosperity. The flavour of each spirit is analysed and the differences between them teased out, as are the stories of the notable men and women who have played such a integral part in their creation.

This is an affiliate link: if you click this link and make a purchase we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

Cover image of the book The Island Whisky Trail: Scotland's Hebridean and West Coast Malt Whisky Distilleries by Neil Wilson

Island Whisky Trail by Neil Wilson, features Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Bowmore, Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Jura, Mull, Talisker and Oban. There is also a thorough look at the major role that women played in the history of illicit distilling in the County of Argyll with maps of known sites of distilling and appendices of the distillers and where and when they lived. I found it to be a very informative read.

About the author

Amanda

Amanda is an Australian-born photographer, digital nomad and whisky lover. Her passion for travel and whisky lead her to Islay, where she fell in love with an Ileach (an Islay native). Amanda and Roddy now share their Spirited Adventures.

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