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Bruichladdich (pronounced: BROOIK-lad-ee) has undergone a remarkable transformation in the past decade. From a forgotten and little loved Islay distillery to one of the most infamous and often controversial distilleries in Scotland. For some it is the distillery they love to hate, while others love the quirkiness and unpredictability of their bottlings, marketing and personnel. Whats for certain is that Bruichladdich is one of the most consciously innovative distilleries and one of the least boring by any measure.
Water Source: Octomore Farm Spring
Stills: 2 Wash. 2 Spirit.
Capacity: 1.5 Million Litres.
Owners: Bruichladdich Distillery Co
1960- 1978: Sea Air, Green Fruits and Natural Bruichladdich.
Like its alliterative cousin Bunnahabhain, Bruichladdich was a heavily peated malt up until 1960 when the market trends changed in the blending labs and more smoke free spirits were called for. If there are any bottled examples of this old peated make then I have not seen them and as always you should be very aware of fakes. There are however many fantastic independent and official Bruichladdichs dating from the early sixties onwards. Lower production levels would have meant longer more leisurely fermentations along with direct fired stills and worm tubs. This produced a classically old style, very fruity and very coastal spirit. Bottlings of Bruichladdich distilled up until 1977/78 have a tendency to display big notes of guavas, kumquats, greengages, bananas, pineapple, sea air, minerals, pebbles and many other coastal complexities. They are lush, often zingy, refreshing and distinctive malts with a wonderfully pristine freshness to them. The official 1970 vintage bottled in 2002 is one of the most notorious and stunning examples of this style. There are some wonderful sherried expressions as well, these can range from overly sherried and cloying to wonderfully mineral, mouth coating and fruity. This character began its slow decline in 1975 when the then owners, Invergordon Distillers, expanded the distillery from 2 to 4 stills and increased production levels.
1979-1998: The Wilderness Years.
Bruichladdich continued production steadily throughout the eighties. However, due to the nature of modernization in distilling it was no longer producing such an idiosyncratic distillate. Spirit from these years is marked by a more obvious malty edge and a less intense fruit quality, the coastal attributes were still apparent but were not always as sharp as in earlier years. However there are still many fine bottlings from these years, especially official ones launched since 2001. One of the biggest problems in these years was the fact that the wood being filled was not always of a high quality, the spirit was only ever intended for the blending hall and as such was frequently filled into very tired old hoggies. While these casks were good for exceptionally slow, long aging, they were not good for producing younger or middle aged whiskies, many of the casks from these years still lack maturity and balance. Bruichladdich was mothballed in 1995 and remained closed for most of the remaining decade. Two weeks production was done by the team from Jura distillery in 1998, they came over to Bruichladdich and produced a medium peated run of spirit, done to about 28 ppm. This spirit would later be used in many of the NAS, multi-vintage bottlings by the current owners such as Infinity.
2001: Rebirth, Adoration and Controversy.
In 2000 Bruichladdich was acquired by a consortium of twenty five different shareholders led by the man behind independent bottlers Murray McDavid, Mark Reynier. Distilling recommenced in May 2001 and the first spirit produced was a lightly peated one, done to around 10ppm, some casks from these distillations were bottled in 2009 as the Resurrection bottling. However the new owners soon settled on a very lightly peated, classical Bruichladdich style. The greatest controversy since 2001, aside from their creative marketing strategies and claims, has been the excessive use of finishing as a process by which to enhance their bottlings. Due to Mark Reyniers connections in the wine trade they have had access to a vast array of different ex-wine casks. The process is called ACEing (Additional Cask Evolution). It works basically like a finish but instead of the more traditional 1-2 years, the spirit would often spend not more than a few weeks in these active casks. This was basically a way to liven up many of these tired old casks that were distilled under Jim Beam in the eighties and nineties. This is understandable in many ways because they quickly used up most of their good casks in the first couple of years and were left with a vast amount of lesser stock that they had to sell. The ACE process was simply a way to add colour and a little extra flavour to thin whiskies, the problem was many people rejected it being promoted to them as if it was some incredible new way of enhancing whisky. This process is being rolled back a little now as many of the casks filled since 2001 begin to reach maturity. Very slow distillation and good cask management have seen several excellent whiskies produced already in the last couple of years. One of the other attention grabbing tendencies of Bruichladdich is its insistence on producing a vast array of different spirits, some work well like Port Charlotte, The Organic Islay Barley and the Triple Distilled while others are more controversial like Octomore or just plain silly, the X4 quadruple distilled springs to mind here. What is for certain is that Bruichladdich remains a fascinating experiment in independent distilling and a producer of great whiskies.Â So long as they continue down the path of focusing on bottling their own, natural distillate and move away from silly wood technology then the future looks very positive for them.