There was a time, not so long ago, when we would know where our food and drink came from and what was in it.
It is these insidious dynamics that gave us Watney’s Red Barrel in the 1970s (UK drinkers of a certain age will remember the product only too well, and shudder) and now we have “French” Kronenbourg brewed in Reading in tanks alongside “Australian” Fosters; “Japanese” Kirin brewed in Bedford alongside “Jamaican” Red Stripe and that most “Belgian” of beers, Stella Artois, brewed adjacent to the M4 motorway in South Wales.
Already all the major Islay distilleries ship the bulk of their spirit to the mainland to mature – not in the romantic loch-side warehouses that they evoke in their marketing, but in massive industrial sheds in the Lowlands. “Islay to the core”? Hardly.
The same is true of the rich universe of symbols and mythology with which Scotland and the single malt category is saturated. The reality is that many icons of traditional Scottishness are in fact more recent inventions, what have been called the “misconceptions and exaggerated romanticisation (sic) brought about, in the main, by Victorian 'rediscovery’". This very creative re-engaging with Scottish myth was largely fuelled by George IV’s visit to Edinburgh in 1822, which itself was organised and choreographed by the highly romantic Sir Walter Scott; a man with no small commercial interest in the reinvention of Scottish myth and legend.
Dr Karl Spracklen, of Leeds University says in his academic paper, “Dreaming of Drams: Authenticity in Scottish Whisky Tourism…”:
"Scotland and Scottishness are seen by the tourist as being made authentic through the mediation of the global brand and its relationship to heather, highland kilts, clan tartans, bagpipes, haggis and mountains. There is no other Scotland, no place that offers more authenticity, which we can experience.
"All the tourist sees is the mediation of myth and the mythology of the authentic; unless the tourist is able to view the Experience through the lens of some supposedly ironic, postmodern gaze, in which case the sham of the experience is embraced and loved for its kitsch value. This postmodern gaze, of course, is itself a product of postmodernity and postmodern culture: when all things are fake, the fakes become real."
When all things are fake, the fake becomes real.
In this Disneyfication of single malt Scotch whisky, the origins of the spirit, its heritage, its true story and its connection with place and people are increasingly lost – the marketing spin creates a disconnect with the whisky's roots – cultural, social and geographic.
This is the difference between an industrial product and an artisan, organic whisky
. We look to reinstate this vital link with place. To show the intimate connection between place and time, man, history and land. To express individuality, to explore the complex nuances and possibilities afforded by hands-on, patient, slow, artisan distilling, coopering and maturation.
The same is true of our category-leading support for organic and biodynamic farming. A modern idea? Hardly – this is how all farming was once carried out. Here on Islay, farmers would collect seaweed from the seashore to fertilise the soil; they would know from the phases of the moon and an eye to the Atlantic weather systems when to sow, when to harvest. The spent barley (draff) would feed the cattle, their manure would be spread on the fields, the enriched fields feed the growing barley – a pragmatic, biodynamic and virtuous cycle which we are proud to have reinstated.
We now distil the world’s first biodynamic whisky
from barley cultivated according to Rudolf Steiner's biodynamic principles; crops grown entirely naturally and in tune with the rhythms and esoteric influences and cycles of the moon and planets – simple facts of life that were taken for granted and intimately understood by our forefathers, but that have since become lost to this more "sophisticated" age.
We know all 28 of our farmers by name and by face; they are our partners rather than suppliers and we share with them the vicissitudes of the year in the field as their harvests – our raw ingredient – grow to maturity. And unlike many “Scotch” whiskies our barley is Scottish grown, and now, depending on harvest, around 50% of that barley is grown right here on Islay – we can see it from our distillery windows.
That is what we mean by provenance - the ultimate traceability of all the natural ingredients of our spirit; and who knows, perhaps one day everything might be 100% Islay – grown, distilled, bottled and matured. And now we have our Islay Barley
series; the spirit is the product of a single vintage, from a single farm - the ultimate expression of Islay terroir
We are proud to be progressive, Hebridean distillers.