A Yellow Submarine

The story of the Yellow Submarine has been full of character and characters right from the beginning.  It started with our friend ‘Demolition Dave’ helping Duncan McGillivray and his gang to demolish the old Inverleven distillery – buying up all the old equipment for scrap and loading it onto barges on the Clyde.  All so Duncan had some spares to keep Bruichladdich running in the days of No Money.  As this odd flotilla was being towed round the Mull of Kintyre and up to Islay, Laddie MD Mark Reynier received an email from the Defence Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA\) in the USA who had been monitoring distillery webcams on the grounds that our processes could have been ‘tweaked’ to produce the dreaded WMD.  'Weapons of Mass Destruction'. 
 
Never one to allow the opportunity for a good story to pass him by, or to get his beloved distillery in the news, Reynier embellished the tale, which soon grew to involve spies and the CIA and visits by weapons inspectors.  All of which made great headline-grabbing copy in the febrile media atmosphere then prevailing around WMD. 
 
One of the stills from Inverleven was dutifully set up outside the old Victorian buildings, and became an iconic sight, with a pair of Duncan’s old wellie boots sticking out of the top to represent those weapons inspectors searching for dangerous chemicals deep in its copper bottomed interior.
 
A special bottling was commissioned (of course) and dubbed the ‘Whisky of Mass Distinction’ (geddit?) and much hilarity ensued.  At least among the Laddies, the rest of the whisky industry having long since given up on the noisily irreverent rebels. 
 
Things were about to get even more eccentric because, shortly afterwards, Islay fisherman John Baker was heading home to Port Ellen when he spotted something awash in the sea off the bow of his boat.  Being a resourceful chap, he attached a rope to said object and towed it into harbour where Gordon Currie lifted it out of the water.  It proved to be a very beautiful yellow submarine. 
 
Very conveniently, the yellow vessel had ‘Ministry of Defence’ and a telephone number stencilled on it, which was of course immediately called.  What happened next was to become the stuff of legend.  He was connected to the Royal Navy.   “I have found your yellow submarine” said John.  “We haven’t lost a yellow submarine” said the Navy. Which was an odd response as the evidence to the contrary was overwhelming. 
 
John and Gordon then loaded the submarine onto a truck and took it to a secret location in Port Ellen (actually fellow fisherman Harold Hastie’s back garden).  The local newspaper was called, then the nationals, and the following day the red-tops were full of pictures of the two friends astride the lethal-looking machine, carrying fishing rods, and asking: “Has anybody lost a yellow submarine?”
 
Hilarious… unless you were the Royal Navy – who did eventually admit to it being theirs.  HMS Blyth, the minesweeper that lost it, eventually came to pick it up, slipping into the harbour at dawn to winch it aboard.  By that time, Bruichladdich had (of course) commissioned another bottling, WMD2, The Yellow Submarine, and a box of lovely liquid was graciously offered, and accepted by the captain as a goodwill gesture.
 
All great fun. But of course Bruichladdich was coming in for ever more criticism from the whisky establishment for pulling these publicity stunts, and for producing bottles to celebrate them.  None of which we cared about at the time – and indeed we still don’t to this day.  Not least because the whisky being used was of the very highest quality.  The Yellow Submarine bottles were filled with 14 year old spirit that is now much sought after.
 
A decade slipped past, and the story of the two WMD bottles and the Yellow Submarine came to personify the maverick attitude of the new company – while also becoming the focus of establishment irritation.
 
It might have all gently floated into history - but then serendipity lent a hand to elevate the story once again. Our original MD Mark Reynier had left the company following our acquisition by Remy Cointreau, and had set up a distillery in Ireland, for which he needed stills.  The iconic copper vessel that had stood outside Bruichladdich with the wellies was dutifully despatched, depriving us of our motif and leaving a bit of a gap in our lives. 
 
Help was at hand.  Our friend John Gamble from Bruichladdich village called up to tell us that “The Yellow Submarine is for sale on eBay!”  The hi-tech vessel that had spent its working life defending the nation is now obsolete – and surplus to requirements.  So we bought it.  It would have been rude not to.
 
So a highlight of Laddieday at Feis Ile 2016 was the re-telling of this story and the raising of our new distillery icon high above the crowd.  Simon Coughlin auctioned off two bottles of the (now 25 year old) spirit raising three thousand pounds for the Islay and Jura Sick Children’s Fund.  Allan Logan and Adam Hannett then passed through the crowds giving those present a dram of this beautiful single malt so that everyone there could share in a little slice of our history… 

Related Articles

Our Whisky

Join us for exclusive news & whiskies