Updated 12 August 2022

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Bruichladdich Distillery | Terroir Matters

bruichladdich town sign aqua turquoise tint

How to Pronounce Bruichladdich

How to pronounce Bruichladdich (Brook-laddy) courtesy of Brian Cox

Bruichladdich Whisky

Bruichladdich put out a huge number of whiskies every year, including two Valinch (single cask releases) every month which are only available from the distillery.

All Bruichladdich whiskies are non chill-filtered and do not contain colour enhancers (E150a).

Bruichladdich

While the other two flagship brands are known for their peat, the Bruichladdich label itself is unpeated.  There is a wide range of complex flavour profiles under the Bruichladdich label, including my favourite, Bruichladdich Black Art – a series of very impressive whiskies made from the finest casks Bruichladdich has to offer. Bruichladdich Laddie 8 (duty free exclusive, be sure to grab this next time you're at the airport!!) and Classic Laddie are all superb, easy-drinking, well-balanced whiskies. The Islay Barley range is equally tasty, using grain sourced entirely from Islay.

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photograph of Bruichladdich Islay Barley whisky bottle and tin

Made exclusively with barley grown on Islay, Bruichladdich Islay Barley is matured in 75% first-fill Bourbon barrels and 25% wine casks, giving a fruity, unpeated whisky with rich vanilla and oak spice.

Port Charlotte Heavily Peated

Named after the town of Port Charlotte, two miles south of Bruichladdich, in honour of the now-defunct Lochindaal Distillery.  The Lochindaal Distillery ruins are still visible as you enter Port Charlotte (the vacant lot on the right just after you come over the wee bridge).  Established in 1829, the Lochindaal Distillery was known for its heavily peated spirit, and production ran for 100 years until its closure in 1929. Sadly, only a few crumbling walls and the warehouses remain, though these are put to good use storing Port Charlotte (PC) whisky. At 44ppm, Port Charlotte deserves its Heavily Peated title and is a worthy tribute to a lovely town and an old distillery. Port Charlotte whisky retails at a considerably lower price point than sister-whisky Octomore, and as such, is great value alternative.

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photograph of bottle and tin Port Charlotte ten year old whisky from Islay

While not as heavily peated as sister spirit Octomore, Port Charlotte is still a full on peaty smack around the ears, but without the heavy price tag. The PC 10 Year Old is like a warm peaty hug, and one of our favourite drams.

Octomore

If you’re not sure whether you like peat or not, definitely don’t start here! To be classed as Octomore, it’s got to be over 80ppm, which leaves most ‘heavily peated’ whiskies in the dust. That said, Octomore is one of the few whiskies my dad will drink, peated or otherwise, and it most certainly has a cult following among Bruichladdich Distillery fans.

My personal favourite is the limited edition Octomore OBA: C_0.1. Octomore OBA was a 2016 Feis Ile Masterclass special – Octomore Black Art – it was never intended for release, however, at the insistence of Bruichladdich fans, head distiller Adam Hannett bowed to pressure and released this masterpiece for general (though limited) consumption.

The key to the different numbering you'll see on the bottles

  • x.1 = distilled from 100% Scottish barley, generally matured (certainly in recent years) only in ex-American oak, in varying ratios of different ex-bourbon and ex-Tennessee whiskey casks
  • x.2= distilled from 100% Scottish barley as per x.1 but x.2 are matured in European oak e.g. ex-Amarone, ex-Sauternes, ex-Austrian sweet wines. You'll rarely see x.2 for sale anywhere other than at the airport though, as it's a duty free exclusive release.
  • x.3 = distilled from 100% Islay grown barley. Single estate, single vintage bottlings from barley grown on Octomore Farm by James Brown (who also provides the water for the Distillery). Generally x.3 Octomore is matured in ex-American and ex-European oak (a varied mix that changes with each edition).
  • x.4 = partially matured in virgin oak, producing a tannic, spicey, brutish whisky. Occasionally a totally random Octomore will be released in place of a x.4, such as with the Octomore 9 series, when a 10 year old Octomore was released instead. Most Octomore is released at around 5 years to maximise the heavy peat influence.

Where is Bruichaddich Distillery?

Bruichladdich Distillery is located in the town of Bruichladdich, on the beautiful Isle of Islay (55.7659360, -6.3619070).

Bruichladdich is one of the more accessible distilleries on the island, as the local bus stops right out the front. Note: the buses do not run on Sundays. The Islay bus itinerary can be found at http://www.travelinescotland.com

screenshot of google map of Bruichladdich Distillery

Bruichladdich Distillery Tours, Pricing & Bookings

Bruichladdich Distillery Tour

An expertly guided tour of the distillery, learning about the history of Bruichladdich and how they make the different styles of whisky (unpeated Bruichladdich, heavily peated Port Charlotte, and the super-heavily peated Octomore) and The Botanist Gin (in the lovely Ugly Betty Still). Having a look in in the open-topped mash tun (she's a beauty) and enjoy a tasting (or two) in the shop afterwards. Approximately 90 minutes duration, £10 per person. Children welcome (and free) if accompanied by a paying adult. Online advanced bookings are highly recommended as there are limited places and the distillery is very popular.

Warehouse Experience (Tasting Only)

Sample 3 unique expressions straight from the cask, each hand selected by Bruichladdich's head distiller Adam Hannett. Sample bottles and a complimentary glass to take home are included. Doesn't include a distillery tour - approximately 90 minutes duration, £30 per person. Online advanced bookings are essential as there are limited places and the distillery is very popular. This is an adults only experience (as the Warehouse Experience is a tasting, not a tour).

A visit to the Bruichladdich Shop is a must as there are a large number of distillery only releases available, including single cask Valinch, and these are always an excellent buy.

If you miss out on booking a tour, or would like a sneak peak, check out this fantastic Minecraft Tour of Bruichladdich Distillery, built by the very talented David Hope Jr.

Bruichladdich Distillery Images

Bruichladdich 2003 Cask Islay Single Malt taken during Feis Ile 2017 in warehouse 12

Bruichladdich 2003 Cask - Islay Single Malt

Bruichladdich distillery still room on festival day 2017 full of people and one dog

The Bruichladdich Still Room on Festival Day 2017. There are 2 Wash Stills (left) and 2 Spirit Stills (right). The low wines safe is on the left, and the spirit safe is on the right.

Malted barley sample bins at Bruichladdich distillery

Malted Barley, varying degrees of peat. Port Charlotte Malt was my favourite to eat, but to drink, it has to be the Octomore. Wish they sold this stuff at the distillery as it is incredibly tasty!

mill house sign at bruichladdich distillery

Bruichladdich Mill House, Islay

The barley mill chalk board at Bruichladdich distillery, Islay

The barley mill, Bruichladdich, Islay

The barley mill at Bruichladdich Distillery

The barley mill at Bruichladdich Distillery

Dark grungy pic of Lomond still named Ugly Betty at Bruichladdich distillery use to make The Botanist Gin

Mother of The Botanist Gin, the stunningly beautiful Ugly Betty

Column condensers at Bruichladdich distillery

Column condensers at Bruichladdich distillery.

Bruichladdich distillery wash still and low wines safe

Bruichladdich Wash Still No. 1 (of 2) and Low Wines Safe. Wash still No. 2 is in the background.

Bruichladdich distillery spirit still number 2

Bruichladdich Distillery Spirit Still Number 2 (of 2), built 1975, holds 12,275 litres

Wash still number 2 at bruichladdich distillery

Bruichladdich Distillery Wash Still Number 2 (of 2), built 1975, holds 17,350 litres

bruichladdich distillery and tanker

Bruichladdich Tanker - Progressive Hebridean Distillers

Bruichladdich Distillery History

Bruichladdich Distillery was built in 1881 by the Harvey Brothers dynasty. “Bruichladdich was to be the very antithesis of an Islay farm distillery … a cathedral-like still house that enveloped 6-metre tall stills designed to produce the purest spirit possible. Using concrete, a newly-patented building material, this was a modern, purpose-built distillery, ergonomically laid out around a central courtyard for efficiency, and on a gentle slope … a state-of-the-art Victorian distillery.1

The gentle slope exploited gravity, rather than pumps, to move much of the production liquid between stages. “..the brewing tanks being highest up, mash tuns (2) cooker (3) refrigerator (3) and underback, finally tun room. By this arrangement, the only pumpings required were from tuns (the fermenting vessels) to the wash charger in the still house and pumping the sparges from underback, back to brewing tanks. The draff house was immediately under the mash tun and was emptied from 2 long plugs in the mash tun.”

While the Harvey Brothers had great intentions, and a robust design for their distillery (the third to be owned by the family), internal conflicts between relations, coupled with tough external forces (World War One and fixed pricing), meant Bruichladdich was on unstable ground from its inception. The Harvey family sold Bruichladdich in 1936, and while refurbishment works were completed by 1938, the outbreak of WW2 meant the cessation of distilling from 1940 to 1945. The distillery was sold several times in the Post-War years, undergoing another refurbishment in 1971 (replace the spirit still) and 1975 (increase mash room capacity and add a new pair of wash and spirit stills).  Bruichladdich limped through the 80s and 90s before being closed in 1994/5.

Bruichladdich’s most recent resurrection was in December 2000 when the distillery was purchased by a group of private investors led by wine merchant Mark Reynier for £6.5m. Jim McEwan became Director of Production and spent five months restoring the Victorian machinery and buildings that had been built by the Harvey brothers. Production resumed again on May 29th, 2001.

A subsequent changing of the guard occurred though in 2012, when investors forced a sell out to Rémy Cointreau for £58 million. In 2015 Jim McEwan retired as Head Distiller, and the very capable Adam Hannett took over.

Aside from maltings their barley, Bruichladdich whisky production is 100% Islay, and still very much done ‘how it was’ back in the 1800’s. Whether it’s mashing in their Victorian-era open-top mash tun (the biggest of 3 still in use in Scotland), the saddle-leather belts that drive the 1913 Boby mill, or their use of Douglas Fir washbacks; from birth to bottle, Bruichladdich whisky is made on Islay. They’ve even been sourcing much of their barley from Islay fields in recent years, with several ‘Islay Barley’ releases available.

One of the few areas where they’ve conceded to modern technology is Bruichladdich’s state of the art bottling lines, an essential item for any distillery trying to keep up with demand.

Bruichladdich is one of few remaining Scottish (and Islay) distilleries to still store all their cask at or near the distillery. The number of warehouses is increasing, with new installations sprouting on a nearby hillside, overlooking Loch Indaal. You need a maritime environment to create a maritime dram.

Production and processing water comes from 3  sources, but the source for bottling (whisky and gin) is a natural spring on nearby Octomore farm, owned by farmer James Brown.  James initially hand-pumped the water into barrels/casks before driving it down to Bruichladdich but has since upgraded to a 10,000-litre tanker that fixes to the back of his tractor. The spring water is about as pure as it gets, having filtered down through ancient gneiss rocks, formed some 1.8 billion years ago. Octomore farm also produces some of the Islay barley for Bruichladdich.

What Other Distilleries Are Nearby

References & Further Reading

picture of the front cover of book The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom by Alfred Barnard

One of Amanda's favourite books. Around 1885, Alfred Barnard was secretary of Harper's Weekly Gazette, a journal dedicated to the wine and spirit trade. In order to provide his readers with the history and descriptions of the whisky-making process, Barnard decided to visit all distilleries in Scotland, England and Ireland. Accompanied by friends, he visited and sketched over 150 distilleries. This is a wonderful step back in time and a must have book for a whisky history geek. 

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Front cover image of the book Whiskies Galore : A Tour of Scotland's Island Distilleries by Ian Buxton

Whiskies Galore is not your average whisky book. It is not simply a catalogue of distilleries, but a story of discovery and adventure. Join Ian Buxton on a personal journey across Scotland's islands, combining his expert knowledge of whisky with his fondness for anecdote, as he provides a special treat for all who love Scotland's islands and their drams.

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Book cover of Whisky Island by Andrew Jefford

In Whisky Island, by Andrew Jefford, Islay's fascinating story is uncovered: from its history and stories of the many shipwrecks which litter its shores, to the beautiful wildlife, landscape and topography of the island revealed through intimate descriptions of the austerely beautiful and remote countryside. Interleaved through these different narrative strands comes the story of the whiskies themselves, traced from a distant past of bothies and illegal stills to present-day legality and prosperity. The flavour of each spirit is analysed and the differences between them teased out, as are the stories of the notable men and women who have played such a integral part in their creation.

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Cover image of the book The Island Whisky Trail: Scotland's Hebridean and West Coast Malt Whisky Distilleries by Neil Wilson

Island Whisky Trail by Neil Wilson, features Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Bowmore, Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Jura, Mull, Talisker and Oban. There is also a thorough look at the major role that women played in the history of illicit distilling in the County of Argyll with maps of known sites of distilling and appendices of the distillers and where and when they lived. I found it to be a very informative read.

About the author

Amanda

Amanda is an Australian-born photographer, digital nomad and whisky lover. Her passion for travel and whisky lead her to Islay, where she fell in love with an Ileach (an Islay native). Amanda and Roddy now share their Spirited Adventures.

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