Our Methods

The Bunnahabhain Know-How

We could spin you a tale of how our whisky is made from superior ingredients compared to other Islay malts, but as you know, the truth is all good whisky starts the same way; with water, barley, yeast & time (lots of it!). What sets Bunnahabhain apart is our signature unpeated style, and the rich, complex layers of each cask matured in our Bay on the shores of the Sound of Islay. Whilst we’re known for being the unpeated Islay malt, this was not always the case, and our Distillery Manager loves to pay homage to his 19th century predecessors, who would have used peated barley like many of the other whisky distilleries on the Island. Today, we call our peated expressions Mòine, pronounced moy-nya and meaning ‘Peated’ in Scots Gaelic. Whatever the phenol content (level of peated’ness), all of our whiskies are non-chillfiltered and natural colour, meaning nothing is added and nothing is taken away. This allows us to showcase the true natural character of our Islay Single Malts.

Read on to learn more about what makes Bunnahabhain unique.

Water

Bunnahabhain is the only distillery on the island to use pure, spring water. Drawn from our namesake, the Margadale River — via pipes that lead directly to the distillery — our water remains un-influenced by the abundance of peat found throughout the Islay landscape. This pure, non-peated water contributes towards the light signature character of Bunnahabhain, and when you visit us, you can trek up the hill and see the source for yourself.

Barley

We use two types of barley, depending on which whisky we are making. For our non-peated whiskies, we use non-peated concerto malted barley and for our Mòine, we use peated concerto malted barley. Both barley types are passed through our Porteus Mill, which grinds it into ‘grist’, before being transferred into our mash tun for mixing with heated spring water.

Mash

Our mash tun at Bunnahabhain is one of the biggest in Scotland. It holds 12.5 tonnes and is made of stainless steel with a copper top. The grist from the Porteus Mill and the heated spring water is mixed in a mash cycle that lasts 12 hours, during which time the ‘wort’ (a sweet liquid) is produced.

Fermentation

Our Wort, or sweet liquid, is then drained through the perforated floor of the Mash Tun and transferred to our Wash Backs. We have 6 Oregon pine Wash Backs at Bunnahabhain, each with a capacity of 66,500 litres. It is here that the magic begins, as the yeast is added and the fermentation, which can last as long as 100 hours, is set in motion. As the cooled wort and yeast react to produce a weak alcohol solution called ‘wash’, and a bit like a strong beer, the natural bacteria within the wood interacts with the yeast and sugars to create additional layers of flavour not achieved by more modern methods and technology. Now we can start the next stage of the process; distillation.

Distillation

Once fermentation is complete, we move our ‘Wash’ from the Wash Backs to our Wash Stills where it is heated to the point of evaporation. This evaporation rises to the top of the still, flows down the curved lye pipe to the condenser where it is cooled, and runs on to the low wines receiver. At this stage, the solution is still too weak and impure to be casked, so it is redistilled in a second still called a Spirit Still. With the tallest stills on Islay, which have unusually long swan necks, we are able to produce a lighter, more delicate flavour profile.

The second distillation flows through the Spirit Safe, where our stillmen watch for the anticipated middle cut, rejecting the first and final parts of the run. The middle cut, or heart of the run, is stored in the spirit receiver for casking, while the rest is returned to be re-distilled. The ‘heart’ is now our New Make Spirit and has the perfect percentage of alcohol for taking to the next stage of the process. Our stills have a total annual production capacity of 2,500,000 litres.

Maturation

From the Spirit Receiver, the ‘New Make’ is transferred to the Spirit Vat where water from our natural spring is added. The New Make is then decanted into the highest quality Bourbon, Sherry and Red Wine casks and laid to rest in our coastal warehouses which sit alongside the Sound of Islay. Some of our warehousing dates back to 1881 and together have a capacity for 20,700 butts, hogsheads and barrels. And so the wait begins…