We have come to the end of the 2011 distilling season, we are winding down for the Christmas break.
The staff have met in the Bruichladdich shop for end of term speeches, Christmas and birthday cake, Champagne, beer and Bruichladdich.
It's been a good year for us:
The big event was The Laddie 10 launch, a landmark in the renaissance of Bruichladdich that represented the struggle to get this project off the ground. But in the event, the release of the first of the Islay barley Series was perhaps something that meant more to me philosophically than the economic relevance of the Laddie 10. With The Organic, Laddie 10 and Islay Barley - that makes one hell of a statement of intent.
We were courted by a new bank, one that fully recognised the potential of our brand, and with whom it has been a joy to work. Equally, we took on a dynamic new commercial director Douglas Taylor who has brought a bright, energetic enthusiasm and professionalism to the company as we move forward and our own distilled spirits come on line. This new focus, on spirits that we have be working on for the last decade, is what Bruichladdich is all about. That long gestation period from idea to market is now, finally, coming to fruition and the world will now see what we have been amusing ourselves with all this time.
The emphasis towards our own spirit included the Botanist gin which has had a great reception. And this is no fad, no fly-by-night trend; this is an integrally well distilled spirit that demonstrates all the Progressive Hebridean Distiller characteristics that we espouse - traceability, authenticity and provenance - where the quality will hold its own long after the next fad comes along.
The new website has been another long gestation as well as years overdue, but at last we got it out there. It's pretty good if I say so myself, yet it is still not finished, there is plenty more to be added to it over the next few months. Watch this space.
For the first time we have shipped the equivalent of 50,000 12/1 cases of Bruichladdich, exceeding our sales budget by 10%, and 20% over 2010. This is a total team effort, and I feel, a reflection of the growing awareness of Bruichladdich, what we are trying to do, and the intrinsic quality of our spirits.
We distilled 725,000 olas, using 1844 tons of barley, with an average yield (excluding the 60 tons of very low yielding Bere) of exactly 400.3 OLAs per ton. This is a credit both to the great machinery and lay out of the Harvey-built, Bruichladdich distillery, and the men that run it, as it is a testament to the quality of the barley whether it is Islay, Organic or Biodynamic. We hear that some of the uber-efficient Islay distilleries were getting only 375 OLAs per ton this year...
The pioneering anaerobic digestion plant system has been very frustrating. While the quality of gas is now perfect, the main problem has been getting the volume to the right level. Constant adaptions, tinkering and improvements have been necessary, while each improvement takes inordinate time to prove itself; but we are getting there. Who said pioneering our 'Virtuous Circles' was going to be easy? Still, we have won a number of environmental awards for this project to date. Ailsa, Douglas, Adam and Allen have been very patient and hard-working indeed.
The 2011 growing season was awful - one of the worst - yet despite the two big storms and the wind and the rain, the long daylight hours brought the barley to ripeness and the harvest began on the 15th September in equally dodgy weather and ended on the 7th November! Despite all the dipping in and out between rain showers - which turn the ground to mud making it unsuitable for combines - the tonnage harvested was amazingly only 4 tons less than 2010! And that included the damage done by deer and geese which was particularly bad at Octomore this year. 40% of our 2012 distillation requirements will come from Islay and 50% from "Specials" - Bere, Organic and Biodynamic. All the 2011 harvested barley will be used exclusively in 2012 distillation.
We are looking forward to 2012, despite the economic chill winds and the uncertainty in the Eurozone, we are taking on four new people in the sales team and possibly two more elsewhere once budgets have been finalised. We will have the extraordinary Octomore 4:2 "Comus" available in January, arguably the most outrageous spirit we have ever bottled. As we get towards our definitive Bruichladdich line up, we will be reorganising the older end of the bottling scale, with some concept cuvees which will make that end of our product offering more interesting, if not comprehensible. In addition there will be a 10 year old PC, a new Islay Barley Series, an Octomore 10... in other words, plenty to excite in 2012 and onwards.
Today, Budgie, Douglas and Duncan are taking advantage of the Christmas shut down to install new upper and lower water jackets to the condenser of spirit still number 2, replacing the one that blew back in November, but which patched up managed to limp through to the end of the distilling season. Which is a bit how I feel, particularly after a wild weekend of birthday celebrations last week, and the company dinner tonight.
Have a good festive break, and thanks for your support!