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Bruichladdich was founded in 1881 by the Harvey Brothers but consistent success eluded them and the distillery spent much of the next century passing from one owner to the next. By the 1990s the site was under the stewardship of Whyte & MacKay, who deemed it surplus to their requirements and halted production. All remained silent until a group of investors led by Mark Reynier bought the distillery in 2000. Production resumed and the Bruichladdich brand began to make a name for itself. So much so, Remy Cointreau paid £58 million for the site and its stock in 2012.
Remy have invested heavily since that acquisition, building new warehousing to allow for additional cask storage on the island but the work hasn’t finished there. Re-installation of an onsite maltings is in planning, with the ultimate goal of it being fully operational by 2023. Sustainability is at the heart of the design process, something Bruichladdich takes seriously across the entirety of their business.
Distillery bosses state Bruichladdich is on track to be 100% de-carbonised by 2025 and alternatives to the fossil fuels used in production are currently being investigated. They also hope to switch to 100% green electricity by March of this year, with consideration being given to tidal energy and other renewable sources.
This conscientious approach to distilling is mirrored in the company’s employment policy. Despite being the third smallest distillery on the island by capacity, Bruichladdich now employs more than 100 people, making it the largest private employer on Islay. Perhaps not the most cost-effective way to run a business, but it is the most beneficial to the island community upon which it relies.
The Laddie Eight was introduced by head distiller Adam Hannett to serve as a travel retail exclusive. I must confess that I am not a great fan of this sector, all too often finding myself faced with wall after wall of diluted, artificially coloured, no age statement single malts that give the impression they were spat out as an afterthought to fill shelf space.
There are exceptions though. Bruichladdich bottle at 50% alcohol by volume – as standard. They bottle at natural colour – as standard. They bottle un-chill-filtered – as standard. Throw an eight year old age statement on there and you have a rather attractive package beckoning to you from the sea of mediocrity. It will cost you a fairly chunky £57 but even that seems reasonable in comparison to many of its neighbours on the shelf.
Smell: Clean and fresh with a seaside ozone aroma. As you would expect from Bruichladdich, malt is at the heart of the dram with cereal and barley extract mingling with biscuit, vanilla and custard. Lemon sherbet and pear drops. Scottish shortbread!
Taste: A good example of the Bruichladdich spirit being allowed to stand on its own feet without the influence of highly active wine casks. Malt notes with shortbread biscuits and barley sugar. Sea salt and pepper. Vanilla. Toffee. Agave syrup. Apple and lemon. Dry, slightly woody finish. Bruichladdich is famously unpeated but I frequently find something unmistakably ‘Islay’ about it that I struggle to put my finger on. As if the wood, sea salt and pepper notes combine to give a suggestion of smoke.
Thoughts: On the face of it, asking the best part of £60 for an eight year old whisky seems a little bit much. In the context of travel retail however, it is one of the more appealing options.
Bruichladdich in its purest and simplest form, yet not so simple as to be dull. It is a deeply satisfying single malt that gets its flavour and complexity from good ingredients and time in quality oak, rather than relying on exotic wine casks or extreme peating levels. Given a straight choice between this and the considerably cheaper “Classic Laddie” I’m afraid the Classic wins, but for those hell-bent on buying at the airport, this Eight deserves to be high on their list of possibilities.
Visit Bruichladdich here.