Bruichladdich: Progressive Hebridean Distillers

Along the windswept coast of the Hebridien island of Islay stands the headquarters for one of the most innovative distilleries to currently be in operation. It’s a distillery where providence is not only placed on the whisky it creates, but also on the land that nurtures it. It’s name: Bruichladdich.

Re-opening its doors in 2001 after a prolonged closure, the Bruichladdich distillery has stood on its site since 1881. Designed by the engineer Robert Harvey it was one of the few distilleries custom-built with the sole aim to distill the purest spirit possible, and this tradition continues today.

At the hands of new owners Mark Reynier and Simon Coughlin, Bruichladdich puts careful consideration in to each stage of the whisky making process, from using original Victorian equipment, right down to the origin of the barley they use in their distillations.

With the whisky trade booming, many Scotch companies opt to purchase barley in bulk from sources outside of the United Kingdom. Such are the quantities needed to keep production ticking over, that using locally sourced barley is simply not a viable option. As much of the whisky making process occurs once the base spirit enters the barrel, larger manufacturers often eschew quality crop, focusing instead on a blend of colourants and barrel types to create the product they desire.

Using 100% Scottish barley, including the first to have been grown on the island specifically for an Islay whisky, Bruichladdich meticulously create a high quality, full-flavoured spirit without modern machinery before allowing it to enter the barrel. The resulting spirit when sampled has a complexity of flavour that is remarkable, enhanced further by the avoidance of chill filtering – a practice that removes vital flavour-rich natural oils.

Rejecting the industry convention that whisky is better with age, Bruichladdich’s master-blender Jim McEwen creates innovative flavours in the distillery’s non-aged statement whiskies, including the marvellous Port Charlotte, Black Art and Octomore bottlings, the latter holding the prize for the world’s most heavily peated whisky. Unburdened by limitations to his experiments, McEwen is continuously exploring ways to create new expressions with Bruichladdich’s slowly distilled spirit, with many small-run batches only available exclusively from the distillery itself.

Appreciating that age is only one factor in what makes a remarkable whisky, the team at Bruichladdich continue to explore new concepts through their barley crops and blending, never rushing their craft, allowing time and passion to govern the pace of their unique product.