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.
How to Pronounce Bruichladdich
How to pronounce Bruichladdich (Brook-laddy) courtesy of Brian Cox
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).
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 5.1 – a seriously impressive whisky made from the finest casks Bruichladdich has to offer. Bruichladdich Laddie 8, Bruichladdich Laddie 10 yo and Classic Laddie are all superb, easy-drinking, well-balanced whiskies. The Islay Barley range is equally tasty, using grain sourced entirely from Islay.
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 before a final year of marrying in French oak.
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.
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.
Click here to see the currently available releases of Octomore.
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 Islay, 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 offer standard distillery tours for £5, which is redeemable with purchase and includes far more tastings than you’ll get at most distilleries. A great way of trying much of their current range.
For £25 you can partake in the Warehouse Experience, which includes a tour of the distillery, straight from the cask warehouse tastings, and a tasting glass to keep.
Bruichladdich is also the maker of the fantastic The Botanist gin, and offer foraging and tasting tours for 25 GBP.
Children are welcome on standard tours but it’s over 18s only on the warehouse experience.
For online bookings, tour days and times go to https://www.bruichladdich.com/distillery-tours
For further information and bookings email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44 (0)1496 850 190
Useful Visitor Information
Bruichladdich doesn’t just make excellent whisky, they also make a superb gin. The Botanist is distilled in combination with 22 Islay botanicals. The Botanist is the first gin I actually liked, and now regularly enjoy. Worth a tasting or a tour in its own right.
Bruichladdich Distillery Images
What Else Is Nearby
- Ardbeg Distillery
- Ardnahoe Distillery
- Bowmore Distillery
- Bunnahabhain Distillery
- Caol Ila Distillery
- Kilchoman Distillery
- Lagavulin Distillery
- Laphroaig Distillery
- Jura Distillery (Isle of Jura)
References & Further Reading
- Alfred Barnard, The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom, 2008 Edition, first published in 1887 by Harpers Weekly Gazette
- Ian Buxton, Whiskies Galore : A Tour of Scotland's Island Distilleries, 2018 Edition
- Neil Wilson, The Island Whisky Trail : An Illustrated Guide to the Hebridean Whisky Distilleries, 2003 Edition