At the end of a narrow road that goes nowhere else you will find Bunnahabhain. Nowhere in Islay is crowded, nowhere is overrun, but this distillery feels the most remote. If not the middle of nowhere, it certainly the outer fringes. It adds to the romance.
Down by the water, hidden by the slope of the land, looking across to Jura the collection of industrial buildings is more a direct connection with the past than the older buildings of Bowmore. It is greyer for a start. All the other old distilleries are spruce with all their buildings washed white, Bunnahabhain is still grimy with the marks of working. Look at the sea facing warehouse with the name in black letters – the white background is just a band, the least they could get away with. Everywhere outside, there are casks, empty casks, stored in an orderly fashion or just randomly scattered they are there in the rain, water gathering and puddling in the head, rust round some of the bands. It gives the place a strange feel: a mixture of a working plant and an abandoned site. I like this – you can wander around and let your imagination play.
The sense of being in a different age is also strong in the visitors centre. Up some rickety steps into a little office, and a desk in the corner, where the names of those booked in for a tour can be ticked off. It has the feel of something half done. Bowmore, for example has recognised that whisky tourism is a thing and they have reconfigured a space and designed it to take a flow of people, give them space to circulate, offer them things to look at, and a room with a wonderful view. Bunnahabhain doesn’t seem to have the faith that it could be such a big attraction and just uses an available room. They recognise the needs of the tourists by offering the tours that is all. Actually I rather like that. I like the feel of the place. It is at odds with the look of their website, which has obviously had a make over from designer types in sharp suits who have tried to theme the distillery as an exercise in story telling. Although the website looks pretty and well designed, the prose is a little bit contrived. The actual place feels anything but contrived, a place that would prefer to have nothing to do with marketing bollocks, even if the nature of the business means they have to play their part.
P.S. The picture at the head is the Bunnahabbain pier looking towards Jura, and at the foot some broken staves that were lying about