Regional Trials

Ever since our resurrection in 2001, Bruichladdich has insisted on 100% Islay maturation and 100% Scottish-grown barley. Firmly anchored in the philosophical traditions of fine wine rather than the Scotch whisky industry, we place the provenance and traceability of our raw materials at the centre of everything we do.

Our Islay Barley releases are now well known, but for the past four years we have also been exploring the provenance of barley grown on the Scottish mainland. Our “Regional Trials” have set out to demonstrate how terroir matters in natural whisky-making. Just what are the effects of soils, sub-soils, exposure, orientation, climate and micro-climate on the characteristics of the world’s most flavour complex cereal?

Four years ago we started with fifty tonnes of a particular variety of barley - Concerto - grown in each of three regions on the Scottish mainland: Lothian, Aberdeenshire and the Black Isle. We malted each separately, distilled them separately and filled the casks separately, taking the same "cuts" as we do in all our whisky-making. The results were striking enough to prompt our commissioning 100 tonne trials in the second year, while in the third and fourth years we doubled the totals again to 200 tonnes from each region.

Our Masterclass at Feis Ile 2016 saw a dramatic demonstration of progress so far. Adam Hannett shared samples of two year old spirit from Black Isle and Aberdeen, tasting them live with his audience and saying:  “On the nose, they exhibit very different characters. While the Black Isle has pronounced cereal notes, with the Aberdeen spirit the fruit is to the fore with those cereal notes in the background. But they have different emphases, different identities. In time, vanilla from the cask has started to influence the flavour and maybe make it less easy to tell, but even after two years in fresh Bourbon casks we can still detect significant variety.

“This is very much a work in progress. It is important to remember that we are a long way from making value judgements about these differences - we are not saying one is better than the other. We simply find them interesting and challenging for their own sake. To watch that whisky change, to watch that whisky age, and to see those differences, it’s proof to us that what we do and the things that we talk about are real! It’s not a story that we’re making up. If you grow barley in different regions, you get different flavours. This is important to us."

Adam and stillman PG MacCuaig at work in the Bruichladdich still house

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