Updated 20 September 2020

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Bruichladdich Distillery – Terroir Matters

bruichladdich town sign aqua turquoise tint

How to Pronounce Bruichladdich

How to pronounce Bruichladdich (Brook-laddy) courtesy of Brian Cox

Bruichladdich Whisky

Bruichladdich put out a huge number of whiskies every year, including two Valinch (single cask releases) every month which are only available from the distillery.

All Bruichladdich whiskies are non chill-filtered and do not contain colour enhancers (E150a).

Bruichladdich

While the other two flagship brands are known for their peat, the Bruichladdich label itself is unpeated.  There is a wide range of complex flavour profiles under the Bruichladdich label, including my favourite, Bruichladdich Black Art – a series of very impressive whiskies made from the finest casks Bruichladdich has to offer. Bruichladdich Laddie 8 (duty free exclusive, be sure to grab this next time you're at the airport!!) and Classic Laddie are all superb, easy-drinking, well-balanced whiskies. The Islay Barley range is equally tasty, using grain sourced entirely from Islay.

Roddy's Favourite
Bruichladdich The Organic 2010 Edition

Made exclusively with organic barley grown on Mid Coul Farms in Inverness, Bruichladdich The Organic 2010 is light, grassy and fruity, with hints of butterscotch and barley sugar. This elegant unpeated whisky is the sort you can sit down with all afternoon and happily dram the day away.

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Port Charlotte Heavily Peated

Named after the town of Port Charlotte, two miles south of Bruichladdich, in honour of the now-defunct Lochindaal Distillery.  The Lochindaal Distillery ruins are still visible as you enter Port Charlotte (the vacant lot on the right just after you come over the wee bridge).  Established in 1829, the Lochindaal Distillery was known for its heavily peated spirit, and production ran for 100 years until its closure in 1929. Sadly, only a few crumbling walls and the warehouses remain, though these are put to good use storing its namesake. At 44ppm, Port Charlotte deserves its Heavily Peated title and is a worthy tribute to a lovely town and an old distillery.

My personal favourite is the Port Charlotte: Cognac Cask 2007 – smokey, rich and somewhat sweet (unsurprisingly, it’s reminiscent of … cognac!). A recent release that also tastes superb is the Port Charlotte: MRC 01 – distilled Scottish barley, matured in first-fill ex-American whisky casks and second-fill French wine casks (think of a winery that rhymes with 'othschild' = MRC) before a final year hanging out in French oak.

Highly Recommended
Port Charlotte Whisky

While not as heavily peated as sister spirit Octomore, Port Charlotte is still a full on peaty smack around the ears, but without the heavy price tag. The PC 10 Year Old is like a warm peaty hug, and one of our favourite drams.

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Octomore

If you’re not sure whether you like peat or not, definitely don’t start here! To be classed as Octomore, it’s got to be over 80ppm, which leaves most ‘heavily peated’ whiskies in the dust. That said, Octomore is one of the few whiskies my dad will drink, peated or otherwise, and it most certainly has a cult following among Bruichladdich Distillery fans.

My personal favourite is the limited edition Octomore OBA: C_0.1. Octomore OBA was a 2016 Feis Ile Masterclass special – Octomore Black Art – it was never intended for release, however, at the insistence of Bruichladdich fans, head distiller Adam Hannett bowed to pressure and released this masterpiece for general (though limited) consumption.

The key to the different numbering you'll see on the bottles

  • x.1 = distilled from 100% Scottish barley, generally matured (certainly in recent years) only in ex-American oak, in varying ratios of different ex-bourbon and ex-Tennessee whiskey casks
  • x.2= distilled from 100% Scottish barley as per x.1 but x.2 are matured in European oak e.g. ex-Amarone, ex-Sauternes, ex-Austrian sweet wines. You'll rarely see x.2 for sale anywhere other than at the airport though, as it's a duty free exclusive release.
  • x.3 = distilled from 100% Islay grown barley. Single estate, single vintage bottlings from barley grown on Octomore Farm by James Brown (who also provides the water for the Distillery). Generally x.3 Octomore is matured in ex-American and ex-European oak (a varied mix that changes with each edition).
  • x.4 = partially matured in virgin oak, producing a tannic, spicey, brutish whisky. Occasionally a totally random Octomore will be released in place of a x.4, such as with the Octomore 9 series, when a 10 year old Octomore was released instead. Most Octomore is released at around 5 years to maximise the heavy peat influence.
Super Heavily Peated
Octomore Whisky Octomore Whisky

Bruichladdich Distillery's answer to super ultra heavily peated whisky. Octomore is not for the faint hearted!

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Where is Bruichaddich Distillery?

Bruichladdich Distillery is located in the town of Bruichladdich, on the beautiful Isle of Islay (55.7659360, -6.3619070).

Bruichladdich is one of the more accessible distilleries on the island, as the local bus stops right out the front. Note: the buses do not run on Sundays. The Islay bus itinerary can be found at http://www.travelinescotland.com

Bruichladdich Distillery Tours, Pricing & Bookings

Bruichladdich Distillery has decided that the risk of COVID-19 to staff and operations remains too great to re-open in 2020. They will remain closed to visitors until Spring 2021. In the meantime, they plan to upgrade the visitor centre, which will mean new facilities and an even better visitor experience next year.

The Bruichladdich Distillery website shop is open with all products and merchandise available, and they will also launch a “click & collect” service if you happen to be visiting Islay. The Bruichladdich Stormtech Softshell Jackets are an excellent buy (I always steal Roddy's!) - they last for years, are warm and waterproof - exactly what you need on Islay!!

In the meantime, check out this fantastic Minecraft Tour of Bruichladdich Distillery, built by the very talented David Hope Jr.

Bruichladdich Distillery Images

Bruichladdich 2003 Cask Islay Single Malt taken during Feis Ile 2017 in warehouse 12

Bruichladdich 2003 Cask - Islay Single Malt

Bruichladdich distillery still room on festival day 2017 full of people and one dog

The Bruichladdich Still Room on Festival Day 2017. There are 2 Wash Stills (left) and 2 Spirit Stills (right). The low wines safe is on the left, and the spirit safe is on the right.

Malted barley sample bins at Bruichladdich distillery

Malted Barley, varying degrees of peat. Port Charlotte Malt was my favourite to eat, but to drink, it has to be the Octomore. Wish they sold this stuff at the distillery as it is incredibly tasty!

mill house sign at bruichladdich distillery

Bruichladdich Mill House, Islay

The barley mill chalk board at Bruichladdich distillery, Islay

The barley mill, Bruichladdich, Islay

The barley mill at Bruichladdich Distillery

The barley mill at Bruichladdich Distillery

Dark grungy pic of Lomond still named Ugly Betty at Bruichladdich distillery use to make The Botanist Gin

Mother of The Botanist Gin, the stunningly beautiful Ugly Betty

Column condensers at Bruichladdich distillery

Column condensers at Bruichladdich distillery.

Bruichladdich distillery wash still and low wines safe

Bruichladdich Wash Still No. 1 (of 2) and Low Wines Safe. Wash still No. 2 is in the background.

Bruichladdich distillery spirit still number 2

Bruichladdich Distillery Spirit Still Number 2 (of 2), built 1975, holds 12,275 litres

Wash still number 2 at bruichladdich distillery

Bruichladdich Distillery Wash Still Number 2 (of 2), built 1975, holds 17,350 litres

bruichladdich distillery and tanker

Bruichladdich Tanker - Progressive Hebridean Distillers

Accommodation

There are two hotel options near Bruichladdich Distillery, the Port Charlotte Hotel, and the Lochindaal Hotel, both located in nearby Port Charlotte, where you'll also find the only restaurants in the area, and a post office/general store. An asphalted pathway has recently been established between Bruichladdich and Port Charlotte, making it a relatively easy walk between the two villages.

As with the rest of Islay, the widest selection of accommodation options are available on AirBNB.

Airbnb
5* B&B on the Beach Bruichladdich
from £150.00/ night

Loch Gorm House is on the the beach at Bruichladdich and offers homely comforts. Seals and otters on the doorstep. Rare birds on the window sill. Famous whisky tours galore on the island. Other activities: walks, stalking, fishing or just sleeping and relaxing.

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Airbnb
Farm Cottage Overlooking Bruichladdich Distillery
from £80.00/ night

Recently renovated Gortanachuirn is a cosy 2 bedroom farm cottage. Located on a small farm outside the village of Bruichladdich it has stunning views over Lochindaal, with Ireland and the Mull of Kintyre all easily seen in the distance. 

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Bruichladdich Distillery History

Bruichladdich Distillery was built in 1881 by the Harvey Brothers dynasty. “Bruichladdich was to be the very antithesis of an Islay farm distillery … a cathedral-like still house that enveloped 6-metre tall stills designed to produce the purest spirit possible. Using concrete, a newly-patented building material, this was a modern, purpose-built distillery, ergonomically laid out around a central courtyard for efficiency, and on a gentle slope … a state-of-the-art Victorian distillery.1

The gentle slope exploited gravity, rather than pumps, to move much of the production liquid between stages. “..the brewing tanks being highest up, mash tuns (2) cooker (3) refrigerator (3) and underback, finally tun room. By this arrangement, the only pumpings required were from tuns (the fermenting vessels) to the wash charger in the still house and pumping the sparges from underback, back to brewing tanks. The draff house was immediately under the mash tun and was emptied from 2 long plugs in the mash tun.”2

While the Harvey Brothers had great intentions, and a robust design for their distillery (the third to be owned by the family), internal conflicts between relations, coupled with tough external forces (WW1 and fixed pricing), meant Bruichladdich was on unstable ground from its inception. The Harvey family sold Bruichladdich in 1936, and while refurbishment works were completed by 1938, the outbreak of WW2 meant the cessation of distilling from 1940 to 1945. The distillery was sold several times in the Post-War years, undergoing another refurbishment in 1971 (replace the spirit still) and 1975 (increase mash room capacity and add a new pair of wash and spirit stills).  Bruichladdich limped through the 80s and 90s before being closed in 1994/5.

Bruichladdich’s most recent resurrection was in December 2000 when the distillery was purchased by a group of private investors led by wine merchant Mark Reynier for £6.5m. Jim McEwan became Director of Production and spent five months restoring the Victorian machinery and buildings that had been built by the Harvey brothers. Production resumed again on May 29th, 2001.

A subsequent changing of the guard occurred though in 2012, when investors forced a sell out to Rémy Cointreau for £58 million – at the time it was believed to be the highest price ever paid for a distillery. In 2015 Jim McEwan retired as Head Distiller, and the very capable Adam Hannett took over.

Aside from Maltings (which an extremely rare few, such as Springbank, still do), Bruichladdich production is 100% Islay, and still very much done ‘how it was’ back in the 1800’s. Whether it’s mashing in their Victorian-era open-top mash tun (the biggest of 3 still in use in Scotland), the saddle-leather belts that drive the 1913 Boby mill, or their use of Douglas Fir washbacks; from birth to bottle, Bruichladdich whisky is made on Islay. They’ve even been sourcing much of their barley from Islay fields in recent years, with several ‘Islay Barley’ releases available.

One of the few areas where they’ve conceded to modern technology is Bruichladdich’s state of the art bottling lines, an essential item for any distillery trying to keep up with demand.

Bruichladdich is one of few remaining Scottish (and Islay) distilleries to still store all their cask at or near the distillery. The number of warehouses is increasing, with new installations sprouting on a nearby hillside, overlooking Loch Indaal. You need a maritime environment to create a maritime dram.

Production and processing water comes from 3  sources, but the source for bottling (whisky and gin) is a natural spring on nearby Octomore farm, owned by farmer James Brown.  James initially hand-pumped the water into barrels/casks before driving it down to Bruichladdich but has since upgraded to a 10,000-litre tanker that fixes to the back of his tractor. The spring water is about as pure as it gets, having filtered down through ancient gneiss rocks, formed some 1.8 billion years ago. Octomore farm also produces some of the Islay barley for Bruichladdich.

What Else Is Nearby

References & Further Reading

Personal Favourite
The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom
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Whiskies Galore : A Tour of Scotland's Island Distilleries
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About the author

Amanda

Amanda is an Australian-born photographer, digital nomad and whisky lover. Her passion for travel and whisky lead her to Islay, where she fell in love with an Ileach (an Islay native). Amanda and Roddy now share their Spirited Adventures.

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