We Believe Terroir Matters

‘We believe terroir matters’ is far more than a brand tagline.  Terroir means ‘a sense of place’.  It is: “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 ”.   It illuminates everything we do.  It assumes that the land imparts a unique quality to the grain that grows for us on a particular site. 

As the malting barley is gathered in by our Islay farming partners who have been growing for Bruichladdich, it becomes apparent just how much the crop varies from place to place even within the confines of our island, or an individual farm.  

The 2013 harvest at Octomore Farm is an interesting object lesson in how complex this can be on the ground.  The fields used to grow the barley are rotated after a few years and this year a new one has been planted, one that has never grown malting barley before.  This new field is lower and closer to the shores of Loch Indaal.   The bottom third is quite level, but then it rises up a gentle slope as you climb away from the sea.

Although we had a poor spring, cold and wet, it has been a very good summer with plenty of warmth and sunshine lighting up the long days coupled with regular rainfall to keep things moving.  James Brown sowed late this year, and although the excellent growing conditions saw it saw it make steady progress, his barley was not ready for the combine until last weekend.

The terroir of the Octomore field is quite complicated and the crop on the higher slope, the top two thirds of the field, ripened significantly faster than that on the lower flat ground  So much so that only the top part has been gathered in so far – the grain in the bottom section will have to wait a while…    

If the barley can vary so dramatically from one end of a field to the other, imagine the variations possible as you move from farm to farm?  Or from Islay to the mainland, or from the west of the country to the east?

The whisky industry has historically shown little interest in the provenance of the barley it uses.  The law says that Scotch whisky has to be distilled in Scotland, but it does not even require the barley to be Scottish.  Much of it isn’t.

At Bruichladdich, we use 100% Scottish barley.  Around a quarter of our Scottish barley comes from Islay where farmers have been growing for us since 2004.  Some of that grain has been distilled from island-wide sources, some of it has been distilled in groups of farms, some from single farms and some can be traced to individual fields.  Our current release of Islay Barley, has single field provenance, grown at Rockside during 2006, and was distilled in 2007.

Our aim is to produce the most thought provoking whisky possible.  With spirit from a decade of Scottish and Islay harvests maturing in our warehouses, there are fascinating times ahead.

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