The tongue-twisting name means “mouth of the river”, referring to the Margadale river that provides the distillery’s water - familiarise yourself with (non-anglicised) Gaelic spelling, and the pronunciation actually becomes quite simple! The Margadale reaches Bunnahabhain from the stony mountains in the north of Islay, which keep its fresh spring water from flowing through the peat beds that coat the island elsewhere. The result is a clear water source untainted by the influence of peat; this combined with barley peated to the lowest level on Islay makes Bunnahabhain’s whisky a far subtler dram than its smoky neighbours. The usual peat smoke flavours are instead replaced with the freshness of the sea air, chocolate, fruits, honey, and a leathery earthiness. For the most part, that is: a proportion of the distillery’s production is still peated in the old style, not least to provide for the blends which have always relied heavily on Bunnahabhain malt, such as Black Bottle.
The lighter, softer style of the whisky is perhaps a reflection of the distillery’s location: it is sheltered from the stormy west-coast weather, the fierce winds and the roaring sea by its cosy position in a small bay by the Sound of Islay. At the time of its construction in 1881, this location did not seem as inaccessible as it does today, as the distillery was mostly served by boat rather than road. Today, Bunnahabhain is something of a hidden secret on Islay, the distillery being hard to reach and the whisky being different to the expected peaty style - but despite its low profile, the distillery in fact has the largest production capacity on the island. It does not run at full capacity, however, meaning that neighbour Caol Ila remains the largest at present.