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.
We use three water supplies: the Bruichladdich loch, 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 the barley sugars 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: Dirty Dotty’s 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. Farmer James Brown collects the water daily and takes it the two miles to the distillery. This is used to reduce the spirit strength from cask to bottling strength of 46%.
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. And, by God, we listen.
This is how farming and whisky production used to be generations ago, before two world wars created the need for super-efficient farming and utterly maximised yields – achieved largely through the chemical treatment of land and crop.
We are even now laying down casks of spirit distilled from barley from not just individual farms, but individual fields. A fascinating 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 now we have partnerships with farmers on Islay who are again growing Islay barley for Islay whisky – for the first time for a hundred years. To be 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.