Bruichladdich – Progressive Hebridean Distillers
Bruichladdich – one of the most famous distilleries on Islay – happens to be one of WhiskyGeeks’ favourite distillery as well. While we have yet to visit this top-notched distillery, we just have to pen something about this progressive, Hebridean, distiller.
History of Bruichladdich Distillery
The history of Bruichladdich is comparable to a roller coaster ride. The Harvey brothers – William, John and Robert – established Bruichladdich in 1881 on the shores of Loch Indaal, on the Rinns of Islay. They built Bruichladdich stone by stone and designed the building with an efficient layout.
They installed uniquely tall and narrow-necked stills and other state-of-the-art equipment that was unheard of in those days. Bruichladdich was one of the top notched distilleries in Islay. Sadly, the Harvey brothers were better distillers and engineers than they were businessmen. The distillery struggled against the bigger players, and soon, it fell into trouble. A fire broke out in 1934, and shortly afterwards, William Harvey passed away. The distillery was sold several times after 1936 before getting mothballed in 1994. The reason for mothballing was “surplus to requirement”.
The Rise of the Modern Bruichladdich Distillery
Bruichladdich distillery saw a gleam of hope when it was purchased by Mark Reynier of Murray McDavid with the funds from a group of private investors in December 2000. Official records said that he brought the distillery for £6.5 million, but in fact, he brought the 8,000 casks maturing inside the distillery for that amount! The buildings were practically free. Right after the purchase, Mark hired Jim McEwan, the whisky legend who was, at that time, working with Bowmore Distillery, as the master distiller and production director.
The next few months saw Bruichladdich risen from the grave as Mark and Jim dismantled and renovated the entire distillery. While most of the exterior of the building was dismantled and renovated, they refurbished the old, Victorian equipment and restored them for usage. Mark was determined to retain as many of the Harvey equipment as possible, and they managed to do just that! Today, these old pieces of machinery stood proudly in the distillery as the hallmark of the history of Bruichladdich.
In 2012, Rémy Cointreau bought Bruichladdich Distillery and remained as the owner today.
Philosophy at Bruichladdich Distillery
Bruichladdich is a non-conformist distillery, rejecting many of the “whisky production theories” of the day. Believing that industrialisation and self-interest have strangled the whisky industry, Bruichladdich strives to be different. Instead of following the “rules” of the days, the people behind the distillery set their mind to be innovative and creative distillers.
The people at the distillery believe that whisky needs a character to convey authenticity. They believe in variety, innovation and progress. Bruichladdich is not after a title of homogeneity; it is after a change. The distillers think that the world needs a challenger, one that will stand in the face of blandness and denounced it as such. Hence the distillery often surprises their fans with exceptional, new creations.
Bruichladdich also produces a gin – The Botanist. Similar to what they do for their whiskies, they make sure that The Botanist is different from gins presented by other companies. If you have yet to try a Botanist, it is time for you to try!
The Land, The Water and The Ingredients
Bruichladdich works closely with the people living in Islay as well as the land that forms Islay. Islay farmers planted barley in response to Bruichladdich’s call for an Islay Barley, and others built sheds to dry the barley for the distillery. The land yields the barley; the mountains and lochs produce the water source for mashing, distilling and bottling. Most importantly, the people of the island come together to create whiskies that speak of its origins. It is also the largest, independent employer in Islay.
Bruichladdich believes passionately in terroir – authenticity, place and provenance. That is a heritage that they are proud of.
Bruichladdich Range of Whiskies
Bruichladdich produces three different brands of whiskies in the distillery. They have the Bruichladdich brand, serving up unpeated whisky. Then, there is Port Charlotte, a heavily-peated whisky at 40ppm. For the peatheads, there is Octomore, the most-heavily peated whisky in the world.
Classic Bruichladdich is unpeated, floral and sophisticated. It is a natural whisky which is non-chill filtered and colouring free. The whisky is made purely from Scottish barley, although there are some expressions distilled from Islay Barley and Bere Barley.
This range of whisky is living proof that Bruichladdich rejects traditional labelling of the whisky-producing regions in Scotland. Produced in an area where peat is the norm, the Classic Laddie challenges the label of what constitutes an Islay whisky.
The range of Port Charlotte is a tribute to the men who once worked in Lochindaal distillery from 1829 to 1929. It is peated to 40ppm and still retains the classic floral complexity of the typical Bruichladdich. The most exciting nibbles about Port Charlotte is that the original stone warehouse of Lochindaal distillery in Port Charlotte still stores the maturing spirits now.
Octomore is famous; or in the distillery’s own words, it has taken the world by storm. It was a “what if” idea that turned into a reality. Named after the Octomore farm on the hill above Port Charlotte, the whisky is a legacy to the farm that used to be a distillery. In 1816, Octomore farm was a self-sufficient distillery. It grew its barley, cut its peat and distil its whisky on the farm. While the spark burned only for a few years, Bruichladdich Distillery carried the legend till today through the Octomore range of whisky.
Octomore is known as the world’s most heavily peated whisky. One of the latest expression, the Octomore 8.3, is peated to 309ppm! Contrast to expectation, the whisky is aromatic, floral and sophisticated. You will never expect something so delicious!
Looking to the Future
It is no secret that Bruichladdich continues to be a progressive distillery in today’s whisky world. We trust that Bruichladdich is striving harder than ever before to produce authentic, good-quality whiskies for the world.
We look forward to new releases from Bruichladdich. As always.
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