If you should ever doubt the extremes to which Scotland’s whisky makers will go to provide you with the finest malt, visit the Bunnahabhain distillery. You’ll find it on the tip of the northeast coast of Islay, and even by the island’s remote standards Bunnahabhain (pronounced “bu-na-HAV-venn”) is remote. In winter it rarely gets light on the island. As the omnipresent rains lash down, the mountainous Paps of Jura are swallowed in thunderous clouds and the road to Bunnahabhain feels like a fast track to the end of the world.
Thank goodness, then, for the whisky. Bunnahabhain may be one of Scotland’s best-kept secrets, but that’s about to change. Its problem in the past has been that Islay is known for its big, phenolic-fueled whiskies, for which the barley has been dried over peat fires, producing a malt that is smoky and tarry.
Bunnahabhain isn’t like that. The distillery has bottled two older versions—an eighteen-year-old and a twenty-five-year-old—and they’re both wonderful. The original clean and slightly salty core malt in both is wrapped up in a delightful layer of fruit and wood, though the older of the two is more about oak, fruit and spice than the better balanced and quite exquisite eighteen-year-old. This is whisky for wild, windy days by the sea, a stormy-island malt to warm you to the core. Perfect for Islay, in fact.