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Bruichladdich sits on the shores of Loch Indaal on the isle of Islay. The distillery is unlike the majority of Islay’s whisky plants because the spirit is unpeated. Bruichladdich has had a long and sometimes tumultuous existence and very nearly crashed before it even got off the ground.
The distillery was founded in 1881 by brothers William, John and Robert Harvey, sons of a well-known whisky family that also owned Dundas Hill and Yoker grain distilleries in Glasgow. The distillery was fitted with tall, narrow stills in order to create a light, pure spirit, in stark contrast to the style of whisky being produced elsewhere on the island at that time.
The brothers had a clear plan in mind from the outset. Using grain whisky from Yoker and Dundas Hill combined with malt from Bruichladdich, they would bottle and market their own blended Scotch. Completely self-dependent, they would have no need for any dealings with other distillers or blenders. At least, that was the plan.
Family is a funny thing and I’m sure most of you have witnessed a family feud at one time or other and the same happened with the Harvey brothers. Instead of operating three distilleries as one enterprise, a fallout left each distillery in the hands of a different brother, all of them working very much alone. William was left to slug it out at Bruichladdich, desperately trying to sell his product to blenders in order to survive. Prices for Islay malt were fixed by the big blending companies and William struggled to make ends meet, even taking the unheard-of step of bottling and trying to sell Bruichladdich as a single malt. This provoked fury amongst the all-powerful blenders who threatened to blackball Bruichladdich were this practice to continue.
So it would continue for Bruichladdich, producing just enough to sell to blends and scraping by. In 1937, the distillery was bought by Joseph Hobbs (who also owned Ben Nevis) and then had stints under the ownership of DCL, AB Grant and Whyte & Mackay. Eventually, the distillery was forced to close in 1995 and for a time, its future looked bleak. It was finally rescued by a group of private investors in 2000 and subsequently sold to Remy Cointreau in 2012.
The distillery and its malt have developed a reputation for experimentation without compromising on quality and there have been many expressions over the past few years. A strong theme for the distillery is an exploration of different barley strains and how variations in this raw ingredient affect the final product. Part of this range is the Islay Barley, a series of expressions distilled from barley grown locally at different farms on Islay.
Smell: Malty and Buttery with Vanilla and Custard Cream Biscuits. There’s a little Lemon and an undercurrent of coastal Brine and Seaweed. Almost a very faint hint of soft Peat, although it is supposedly unpeated.
Taste: Vanilla, Cereal, Biscuit, Honey, Lemon and Cream.
Thoughts: This is Bruichladdich doing what Bruichladdich does. Barley-centric single malt whisky with a wonderful balance between spirit and cask. At £45 a bottle it’s well priced. At 50% abv, you get a lot of bang for your buck. It is whisky grown, distilled and matured on Islay and it’s utterly fantastic. This is a distillery operating at the absolute peak of its powers.