JONATHAN - BOTTLING ON ISLAY
Since 2002, when we started building The Harvey Hall on Islay, we made a commitment to bottle all our whisky at source. It means we keep jobs in the local community and we can always use Islay spring water to reach our desired bottling strengths.
Jonathan Carmichael, our Bottling Hall Manager, has been there from the start, even using his previous experience in the building trade to help convert the dilapidated warehouse which is shaped “almost like a Nissen hut” into the location of today’s busy bottling line.
Producing our three brands of whisky at different peating levels under one roof means our bottling operations have to be agile at the best of times. With the new Bruichladdich bottle, printing and labelling were a challenge. “We have a laser coding machine,” explains Jonathan, “which we use for traceability. Because of the new shape, it’s a very small target area that we have to get this in, so Douglas Clyne, our Head Engineer spent many an hour trying to set the machine to get that right! It’s not as straight-forward as you might think; it’s quite a laborious task trying to get all these settings correct.”
We started “line trials” of The Classic Laddie bottle last year, in 2022. Jonathan describes the standard process for introducing a new size or a new bottle, as we also did in 2018 with Port Charlotte. “Going back to the early stage, we send the drawings to the machine manufacturers so that they can design the change parts, to get it through each machine on the line. Even 5ml of a difference between one bottle and another requires different change parts,” says Jonathan.
Our machinery is all Italian these days (a far cry from the second-hand, fully manual equipment we began with, which Jonathan sums up as “ancient”). With recent supply chain and global component issues, the lead time for these “change parts” has doubled compared to five years ago, to about six months, “so we have to factor in the time constraints as well for new product development. We have to look at things well in advance because of labels, different label types and so forth, and test the machines to see what their capacities are.”
Has the new light-weighted glass caused us any headaches? Jonathan says it’s run through well – the balance has been considered in the design – and they have seen particular benefits in the areas which are still manual, such as loading up the glass at the start and lifting off the full bottles at the end. “It has made the line a lot easier and more efficient, not having the tins… There’s been a lot of gains. Obviously with a lighter bottle you can get more on a pallet. There’s less weight on a pallet, so we’ve been able to adapt our pallet configurations, if you like.” The new, slender footprint, is what has enabled us to fit 19% more bottles on every pallet coming into the distillery, and 60% more bottles on every pallet leaving the distillery. Good news for cutting the CO2 emissions from shipping.
For the bottling hall, the flip side of packaging is waste, and Jonathan sees how our sustainability strategy has brought about real practical change, from the bottom up. “I think we have made strides in the last couple of years, specifically in the materials we use. Almost everything that we handle can be recycled. I don’t know of anything else we could do at the moment that we could better on, if I’m honest... All the operators are consciously thinking of these things, and it’s them that approach us to say, can this be recycled? The guys are taking an interest and a pride in that; they’re looking after their own asset here – Islay. I think Bruichladdich is in a far better place than we were 10 or 15 years ago in that respect.”