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Bruichladdich distillery was built in 1881 by the Harvey Brothers, who also owned the Dundashill and Yoker distilleries in Glasgow. At the time of its construction, the plant was of ultra-modern design, arranged practically around a central courtyard with production flowing from one building to the next. Nowadays, however, the place has something of an antique quality to it, giving the impression that little has changed since its creation almost 140 years ago.
Bruichladdich clings to the coastline on the blustery Rhinns peninsula on Islay’s western coast with the lashing rain and howling wind only serving to make the visitor centre seem all the more welcoming. Indeed, it is the warmth of the welcome here that first endeared the place to me back in 2014.
Back then I was visiting Islay with a group of friends and even though we hadn’t planned on it, we found ourselves with some free time and decided on a whim to visit Bruichladdich. Calling ahead to check they were open, we were advised that tours were off due to essential maintenance being carried out but were invited to come over nonetheless. Upon our arrival we were welcomed with a dram before being led to the warehouse for a look around. Curiosity sated we returned to the shop where we were made to feel at home with a seemingly endless supply of excellent drams. When the time came to leave, distillery manager Duncan even arranged a lift to the Port Charlotte hotel two miles down the road.
Needless to say I’ve revisited the distillery several times since that first experience and I must say that I’ve never felt any less welcome. As a whisky reviewer I strive to remain as impartial as possible in my writing, but sometimes ones preferences must come to the fore and to be quite honest, this distillery quite simply embodies much of what I love about single malt Scotch whisky.
Production runs on antiquated equipment, operated by the hand and eye of the most dedicated staff, but despite this slavish devotion to tradition within the distillery itself, their branding is fresh and modern, with sleek, often brightly coloured bottle designs, stamped by bold, unmistakable lettering. There is a vast array of different expressions to try, ranging from the unpeated Bruichladdich to the super-heavily peated Octomore. There’s different barley variations, each one proudly declaring a year of harvest while various cask types have been used to provide a huge range of flavour profiles. All of this is then bottled un-chill filtered at a minimum of 50% abv as standard. No two trips to Bruichladdich are the same and each visit presents a new headache over which bottle(s) to take home.
On this, my latest pilgrimage to the distillery, I purchased (among other things) the 2009 vintage ‘Organic’ single malt, distilled from barley grown at Mid Coul Farm in Dalcross, Inverness-shire by William Rose in 2008. Cultivated without the use of Herbicides, Pesticides or artificial Fertilisers, this barley takes its turn in a seven year farm cycle that also produces Organic Cattle, Sheep, Oats, Beans, Grass, Carrots, Market Gardening and a megawatt of Green Electricity. It is a single harvest expression from the 2008 crop, distilled in 2009 and matured in American Oak casks for 8 years before bottling at 50% alcohol by volume.
*My thanks to Murray Campbell at Bruichladdich in Glasgow for arranging my distillery tour & warehouse tasting, also to Frazer and Ashley for looking after us during our visit.
Smell: Vanilla, Barley Sugar, Toffee, Butter Pastry, touch of Oak, Sea Salt & Black Pepper… Pebble Beaches…
Taste: Bitter Apple and Citrus Orange, Vanilla, Toffee, Pepper & Oak
Thoughts: For £55, you get a bottle of single malt whisky that wears its unique provenance like a medal of honour and tastes really bloody good at the same time. It’s a lovely little dram that shows that Bruichladdich are just as adept at the simple things as they are at the more experimental end of the scale. Good barley, organically grown and harvested, traditionally distilled and subtly matured in American Oak casks. Nothing too flashy this time around, just good, honest, barley-centric whisky.