Bruichladdich sits on the shores of Loch Indaal on Islay, across the water from Bowmore. Unlike most of the islands distilleries, the majority of the spirit made here is unpeated. Bruichladdich has had a long and sometimes tumultuous existence and in fact, it 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 who also owned Dundas Hill and Yoker grain disitilleries 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 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 fall out 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, like many other distilleries, 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 it was bought by Joseph Hobbs (who also owned Ben Nevis) and then had stints under the ownership of DCL, AB Grant and Whyte & Mackay. The distillery was eventually closed in 1995 and for a time it’s 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 it’s 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 affects 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.
The nose is 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. On the palate is Vanilla, Cereal, Biscuit, Honey, Lemon and Cream.
The Scores: About the Scoring…
Smell: 18 / 20. Really showcases the barley but the coastal undertones remind us we’re in Islay.
Taste: 19 / 20. Great flavour and silky texture. Despite being 50% ABV it doesn’t need any water. In fact, it’s very easily drowned.
Value for Money: 9 / 10. Good value dram that comes in around £45 a bottle.
Overall: 46 / 50. Nothing fancy here, just a good example of a whisky that does the simple things very well. Good ingredients in skilled hands, patiently distilled and naturally presented. Excellent.