Terroir: An arcane French term, much maligned by those for whom it is commercially inconvenient, but a concept with many, many centuries of profound farming experience behind it.
A concept that encompasses the influence and inter-action of soil, sub-soil, exposure, orientation, climate and micro-climate on the growing of a plant - any plant - vine, flower or barley.
In the world of wine, terroir is revered for the subtle nuances of traceable character, flavour, lineage and integrity it bestows. Yet it is little understood and little cherished in the world of single malt whisky. Could it just be that it’s easier to wax lyrical about shortbread and butterscotch “notes” than to get to grips with the esoteric micro-influences on the development of the complex flavour-compounds derived from ripening barley?
We label and trace, parcel by parcel, different barley varieties, different farms, even different fields, or terroirs many of whose characteristics are retained directly in our maturing whisky stocks, depending on harvest, yield, weather and crop rotation.
We use three water supplies: the Bruichladdich loch, "An Torran", two miles above the distillery, is a shallow loch filled by water percolating through the peat, onto the glacial clay band sitting on the bedrock, and then into the loch. Consequently it is brown, amazingly soft and devoid of minerality - ideal for brewing. Piped directly into the distillery this is the vital mashing water used to extract sugars from the barley and which will ultimately become whisky.
The Bruichladdich burn, flowing adjacent to the distillery, is where the cooling water is drawn to run through the condensers before being returned.
Unusually, a third source is used at Bruichladdich: a natural spring. From a fault between the ancient gneiss and green sandstone in a small valley on Octomore farm behind the village of Port Charlotte, emerges this clear water spring, once the water supply to the village. Farmer James Brown collects the water and takes it the two miles to the distillery where it is used to reduce the spirit strength from cask to our usual bottling strength of 50%.
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And then there is our passionate belief in barley itself – the raw material from which all single malt is made. For many whisky producers this is a commodity product, to be bought from wherever happens to be supplying the cheapest tonnage at the time – be that Scotland, Poland or Lithuania.
For us it is a living, organic expression of the land, of the terroir in which it's grown. Our farmers are known to us by first name. They tell us about the soil, the wind, the drainage, the aspect, the micro-climate of every field.
We are even now releasing whiskies distilled from barley from not just individual farms, but individual fields and harvests. A fascinating and ongoing exploration of the influence of terroir on finished spirit. This “micro-provenance” is hardly industrial distilling, but we believe it’s important – land and dram reunited.
And it is a source of great pride to us that we have developed partnerships with farmers on Islay that enable us to produce single malts made from 100% Islay barley. For the first time in recorded history we are able to look out of the distillery window and see the fields of barley that will produce this season's spirit – that is provenance, that is place, that is a spirit that will speak of its origins, its heritage and the many passionate artisans who contributed to its creation.
We label and trace, parcel by parcel, different barley varieties, different farms, even different fields, or terroirs.
Our farmers are known to us by first name. They tell us about the soil, the wind, the drainage, the aspect, the micro-climate of every field.