Foto: Peter Sjögren.

Ett av många destillerier i Skottland som är ganska svårt att uttala. Uttalas så här: Bu-na-ha-venn. Namnet betyder flodmynning.

På vägen som leder till destilleriet finner man en berömd, ofta fotograferad, liggande whiskytunna. På den sida som är vänd mot den som ska till destilleriet står det "Bunnahabhain Distillery" med en pil rakt fram och på andra sidan tunnan står det "Other Places" (andra ställen). Vad man bör känna till är att vägen till destilleriet är lång och mycket smal. På denna vägen skall besökare samt all annan trafik, som t.e.x.tunga lastbilar med transporter till destilleriet samsas. Mötesplatserna är inte många så var beredd att backa till närmaste mötesplats. Destilleriet ligger fantastiskt vackert vid vattnet vid foten av en brant sluttning.

Foto: Peter Sjögren.

Foto: Peter Sjögren.

Bunnahabhain är ett av åtta (ett par stycken nya är på gång) destillerier på Islay, och grundades 1881 av William Robertson från Robertson & Baxter tillsammans med bröderna William och James Greenless, ägare till Islay Distillers Company Ltd. Produktionen startade igång i början av 1883. 1887 går Islay Distillers Company Ltd samman med William Grant & Co. och bildar Highland Distilleries Company Limited. Destilleriet hade stängt mellan åren 1982-84. År 2003 såldes det till Burn Stewart Distillers Ltd.

Ett antal specialutgåvor har kommit ut under årens lopp, bland annat en 21-åring 1984 för att fira destilleriets 100-årsjubileum, en 35-åring från 1965 som lanserades under Islay Whisky Festival 2001, Auld Acquaintance 1968 som lanserades 2002 och en 40-åring från 1963 som lanserades 2003.

Jag är mycket glad över att kunna presentera en intervju med destillerichefen Andrew Brown. Intervjun är på engelska.

I'm very pleased to present an interview with Andrew Brown, Distillery Manager at Bunnahabhain.

Hello Andrew. Can you please tell my readers about your background.
Started out working at Bunnahabhain Distillery in December 1988 on full time contract. Prior to this I had helped out at the distillery unloading malt from the malt boats that arrived at the distillery pier where the malt would be unloaded using what can only be described as a giant vacuum cleaner that sucked the malt out the boat at about 15 tonnes and hour and then blew this up to the malt bins. This was a very dirty job and also very hard work especially when emptying both bow and stern of the boat where you could be shovelling malt to the head of the pipeline for anything up to two hours at a time. As the boat's arrived with 500 tonnes onboard it could take anything up to 3 days to unloaded depending on weather and breakdown's although the norm was two twelve hour shifts it the boat. After starting at the distillery full time I started out in the warehouses then the following March I transferred into the mashhouse where I was trained in mashing. I at that time preferred the hours in the warehouse and transferred back out side after a few months. I did remain as the relief shift person for the mashhouse over the next few years. About five years later I went back into the distillery Mashhouse to work full time. During this time I picked up some of working the stills as when you are working on a two man shift crew you learn to carry out some of the other persons jobs. In the late 90's I be came the distillery charge hand or relief team Leader basically carrying out some of the task the manager did when he was away from site at meetings or promotional work. In 2010 I became the distillery team Leader after previous manager left and the following year I was promoted to distillery Manager.

How did you end up at Bunnahabhain?
I ended up at Bunnahabhain simply because my wife's father worked in the distillery and as they stayed in Bunnahabhain I would visit them. As the distillery was only then on a skeleton crew they needed more bodies to carry on production and also unload the malt boats. As I was asked to help out a few times when a role came up in the distillery I was successful in getting this and have been here ever since. 

What would you have done if you have not worked at Bunnahabhain?
No idea I was working as a green keeper on local golf course at time I was offered the job at the distillery which I did enjoy. I had previously worked as a labourer for a small building firm and also worked on a fishing boat. As I am a native Ileach any of the above could have been my job, although personally would have loved to have been a Game Keeper.

How does it look concerning your "old" whisky that shall be e.g 18 and 25YO. Many other distilleries start running out of "old" whisky.
I have said that if anyone out there can make a time machine the first place they should try and sell it would be to the whisky trade in Scotland because I do not think that there will be many Distilleries that do not wish that they had laid down more stock 10, 20 30 and 40 years ago. So I suppose this kind of answers your question on above.

When Edrington bought Bunnahabhain in 1999, they laid the distillery mothballed. They had, however, a couple of weeks distillation a year, but the rest it stood still. As we know, Burn Stewart Distillers Ltd. bought it in 2003. Will these 3-4 years it stood still affect the number of releases in the future?
This is a great myth, would love to know where it came from as a myth it is.

Production was actual running at between 750, 000 L/A and 1,000,000 L/A per year and up for all bar the year 2000 which was 260,000 the reason that this year was so low was due in part to legislation. What happened was that the distillery under went at quite considerable cost upgrade to the way the distillery handled it's effluent i.e. the pot ale and spent lees and cooling and washing water from the distillery. At the time there were 3 new tank's put into the distillery a new sub sea pipe line extending out 300 meters and associated pipe line son land with other tanks and up grades to all the service pipe lines from the village to handle this. Until it was agreed by Scottish Environmental Protection Agency that all was as it should be the distillery did not have a licence to discharge to sea so could not produce any spirit.

For a long time Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich were the "gentle" more or less unpeated Islays. By started making heavily peated spirits in the late nineties. At that time, was it more driven by blending requirements than the malt whisky market? How is it today, can you give rough numbers on the balance between peated-unpeated, single malt-blend fillings?
Bunnahabhain Distillery played with making peated spirit in 1997 for one year and I would guess that this would have been done as a requirement for the blend Black Bottle which has a portion of peated whisky in it. They way it was run did not really work so after this year we stopped making peated spirit. That is until we were taken over by Burn Stewart in 2003 when they again decided to try and make a peated spirit but they actually invested in putting one new feints tank in the distillery which made making peated spirit with no carry over into the unpeated spirit very easy. We Currently produce peated spirit twice a year and we do it in blocks this year it will be produced from January through till first week in March and then again September and start of October. Year on year the amount we produce changes but it is roughly 15 - 30% of annual production. Today's spirit is for both blending requirements but also a proportion is laid down as single malt whisky.

In recent years I have a feeling that the "standard" 12 and 18YO have more Sherry matured content, can you give some comments on the cask profiles used?
Cask profiles have changed very slightly in that we do have better sherry casks and we use less refill for our malt whiskies.The company has also started using more first fill Bourbon Barrels direct from America than was the case 10 years ago. Has the sherry content changed in the whiskies or are the sherry cask we use just that bit better? I am afraid this is one for the blender to answer I will just say as long as she keeps doing what she is doing there will be no complaints from me.

As with many brands it seems to be an increasing amount of core range, travel retail and even national versions. How much influence do you have at the distillery in shaping new releases?
My role is to make spirit that is consistent that we then put in the variety of cask that we get for filling. Am I part of the planning of distillery releases that is not something that I am overly involved in. 

Do you have any 'crazy' experiments like super peated malts such as Supernova/Octomore or sourcing special barley varieties.
Do we have experiments on the go in the warehouse ? Watch this space is all I will say on that one! 

Foto: Peter Sjögren.

Foto: Peter Sjögren.

If you had free hands to experiment, what kind of whisky would you want to create?
This is a leading question but we did have a happy accident a few years ago where we received in a couple of Rum casks in a batch of Bourbon Barrels and I would like to see what could do with some truly old rum cask as the two we had produced some wonderful whisky.

With the building of Ardnahoe you are getting a new distillery neighbor, with decent size, and Bunnahabhain, Bruichladdich and Ardbeg mothballed as recent as late nineties, do you fear a new down turn in the business?
In a word no, whisky has diversified so much from the 80's all distilleries are striving for that new taste that new expression gone are the day's where each distillery made one whisky that went into a bottle and the choice was take it or leave it. This was driven by you the consumer and was a great thing to happen to the industry. Look at the two distilleries you have mentioned above Ardbeg and Bruichladdich real phoenix's from the ashes stories look at both these distilleries both have pushed the boundaries for whisky with Ardbeg even taking it that bit further than most and into space. Whisky is still on a crest of a wave okay there will be times when the industry is on top of the wave and others when we are looking up from the trough but I still think that the industry as a whole is in a far better place today than it was in the 80's.

Around 15 years ago the malt and whisky tourism boom took off. Are the tourists a big business for Bunnahabhain?
Yes the tourist trade has risen every year at the distillery, and funnily enough the advent of the new distillery at Ardnahoe will probably increase the amount of foot fall at Bunnahabhain as this part of the island will have a group of three distilleries with Coal Ila just down the road where people will be able to visit three distilleries on foot in one day the same as happens at the south of the island presently. One of the good things about all the whisky tourists has brought to this one small island is an abundance of jobs in the industries where young local people have the opportunity to work and meet people from all around the world. This was not the case 20 years ago so whisky and tourism have been very good for this one small island of 8 distilleries and soon to be 9. Also we have just on our door step there is the island of Jura with the Jura distillery so you can visit 9 iconic distilleries very easily. Come on and visit the islands and get a good Ileach and Duriach welcome!

What special treats can you promise Swedes coming to visit Bunnahabhain?
Come and visit the Distillery visitor centre team (one person 4 years ago to a team of five today) try out the warehouse experience fill your own bottle from one of at least three casks we will have that you can taste and then select from. Take a tour of the distillery but here is the special thing to do just try sitting at the end of the pier with a small (large if you want) glass of Bunnahabhain in your hand and relax enjoy the tranquillity the view and if you are lucky the otters swimming below you or eagles flying above and just enjoy the moment is this beautiful spot.   

Do you think Bunnahabhin will expand its distillery in the next 10 years?
No. Current production is 2,000,000 L/A and we can still step up if needed.

Which is the absolute best whisky you ever tasted?
My favourite whisky has to be Bunnahabhain 40 year old expensive but well worth it. Luckily I have managed to try this a few times over the years. After that it would have to be an old bottling of Bunnahabhain called Auld acquaintance from 1968 which was my favourite from 2002 till the 40 year old was bottled these two whiskies have been my all time favourites. I have been lucky with the role I am in that I have been able to try whiskies from lots of distilleries and have been surprised on occasion at how great a whisky is but I have yet to have something that compares to these two whiskies in my eyes. Of course I could be biased but I do not think so!

Andrew's favourite whisky - Bunnahabhain 40 YO.

Finally, do you have any advice concerning whisky to share with my readers?
Whisky is for drinking, there is a whisky out there for all taste's you may have to try a few before you find your perfect dram. Remember there is no right way to have a whisky it is your choice have it with anything you like coke , water, ice coffee but relax and enjoy it make it an occasion. Take time to enjoy and when all else fails have a Bunnahabhain!

Thanks to Andrew and Lillian for their cooperation.
And thanks also to Peter Sjögren for the beautiful pictures of Bunnahabhain Distillery.