The most remote distillery on Islay, Bunnahabhain sits on the far north-east coast, past Port Askaig and Ardnahoe, only a few miles from the end of the island. Surrounded by shipwrecks and rocky beaches, it is a far-flung and rugged area of the island – the journey along the winding road from Port Askaig would be worth the trip, even if there wasn’t a warm welcome and a glass of whisky waiting at the end.
Founded in 1881, the distillery sits in the village of Bunnahabhain, established to house the distillery’s workers – a self-contained and isolated place, almost entirely focused on whisky. For years, it was Islay’s least-known whisky, but more recently it has been booming thanks to more attention from the owners on official bottlings and a run of excellent independently bottled drams.
While it is best known for its unpeated whisky, produced since their own maltings closed in 1963, it has been producing small amounts of smoky spirit, originally destined for Black Bottle and other blends, for years. The smoky make – named Margadale after a nearby ruined village, once Islay’s busiest trading post – has boosted the distillery’s prominence on Islay and introduced many more drinkers to both its peated and unpeated whiskies.
From 1964 to 1997, Bunnahahbain produced an unpeated spirit, with very few forays into smoky whisky. However, with demand for peated whisky rising, the distillery has more recently began to produce a very well-received heavily peated spirit in addition to its traditional make. With relatively long fermentation times, the distillery’s unpeated output is soft and fruity, marrying well with sherry and bourbon casks alike.
Ma stands for Margadale, the name of Bunnahabhain’s water source and one of the names used for smoky spirit produced at the distillery. Peated to 35-45ppm, Ma is smoky and robust, although there is often a mineral flintiness akin to the distillery’s neighbour: Caol Ila.