Who are our 27 farming partners?

30th March 2019 / by Jane Carswell

We know our farmers by name and see them as partners, not suppliers.

In order to celebrate the amazing variety of flavours that can be achieved when making whisky, we had to ask where our main ingredient, barley, was coming from. The journey to making our products meaningful as well as delicious starts with the special relationships we have with our farming partners.

Since 2001, we’ve lived this approach of starting again, going back to the beginning, and asking questions rather than just accepting industry norms. Is Scotch whisky really Scotch if the barley comes from Poland, or if you don’t know where the barley comes from because it’s just a commodity? What about an “Islay” whisky – what does that mean? Can you claim to understand or appreciate a whisky if you don’t celebrate or interrogate its ingredients? And are you fully realising the power of a luxury industry like ours, if you are not building relationships and re-investing at the point where it all begins – with barley?

Read more about our current barley growing partnerships below.

Regional Trials

In 2013, we started formalising our investigations into terroir – ie the different influences terroir has on the flavour of the spirit – with single farms in three regions on the mainland. North (The Black Isle), with The Jacks at Kilcoy, East (Aberdeenshire) with Colin Tough at Barnyards of Delgaty, and South (The Lothians) with Tom and Mary Jane Lawrie at Ransfield. Taking one of our single farms growing the same variety on Islay gives us the fourth compass point, the West.

These family farms are using all their locally-tailored experience and expertise to raise malting barley for us, with the idea that there are as few other variables as possible between them in each given year. Their barley is malted separately, distilled separately, with the recyclable waste from distillation (the feints) stored separately for the next reuse. We are maturing the spirit separately, watching how it develops, both horizontally (different farms, same harvest) and vertically (same farm, different harvests). You can find further detail on what we’ve discovered about that so far in this interview with Adam. We have guaranteed to buy their barley for a decade at least, building up a bibliography of stock that serves as a tangible reference collection.

The variety that the farms choose to grow each year is decided in liaison with our Maltsters Bairds and the agricultural supplier Scot Grain – “It’s a real collaboration” says Production Director Allan Logan. The relationship has been maintained all this time by Allan’s annual visits (COVID permitting). The farmers have also visited us at the distillery.
“The exciting thing is where we take it next, after this initial 10 years…” says Allan.

Bere Barley

Bere is a heritage grain that is perfectly adapted to growing in northern climes and on sandy soils. We wouldn’t be making whisky with the unusual Bere if it weren’t for the intellectual and practical labour of the Agronomy Institute of the University of the Highlands and Islands in Orkney. Dr Peter Martin and his colleague John Wishart, with the support of contractor Ian Sinclair and team, have grown Bere in their own fields adjacent to the college since the Institute opened in 2002. The first time they did so, they had to cut it with a reaper-binder because the area was so small! They subsequently supplied Bere seed to us to trial in Islay and to the close circle of farmers local to them in Orkney.

Over the years we’ve had many characters involved in the Bere project across the archipelago that makes up Orkney. In any given year we’d usually take four growers’ harvests to make up the 100 tonnes of Bere that is our target for malting. Magnus Spence – paintballer and trampoliner, farms across the causeway at Northfield, Burray. Sydney Gauld at Quoyberstane, next to the Institute ground in Kirkwall, retired last year, his neighbour Erik has taken up the mantle. He farms cattle too, so has an interest in Bere’s long straw for good bedding after harvest. We’ve had fields which hadn’t been worked for 55+ years on South Ronaldsay growing Bere these last few years; Victoria Moar there at “Heatherbell” is contractor Ian’s daughter.

You can find out more about our relationship with UHI here and read about ongoing research into this fascinating grain.

Regenerative Agriculture

We’re proud to have had farmers who practice regenerative methods in our supply chain since 2003. It was only because we had a close working relationship with our flexible maltsters, Bairds, that we were able to think about the barley and people we wanted to work with first and the processing needed second.

This started with William Rose at Mid Coul Farms in the Highlands of Scotland, 134 miles northeast of here, 8 miles from Bairds Maltings in Inverness. The farm has been in the family for more than a century. They produce renewable energy, sheep and cows, beans, root vegetables, rye and oats and rich pastureland alongside malting barley. We have subsequently worked with three other organic farmers in mainland Scotland to create rich multi-vintages – Neil Scobie, also farming near Inverness at Coulmore, Martin Birse at Pitgaveny in Elgin, and Sir William Roberts of Mains of Tullibardine, near Gleneagles in Perthshire.

We wanted to push further into these methods and the flavours and textures that are produced in the resulting whiskies. So in 2010, we started the hunt for a grower of biodynamic malting barley. There were none. We had to accept looking beyond Scotland, at the rest of the UK. Still none. But the Biodynamic Association suggested a farmer in Wiltshire who might be a good candidate. He was already working biodynamically if he could be persuaded to go through the registration process. “Yes, sure, if I’ve got a market for it!” was Richard Gantlett’s response. “It’s one of the reasons I really love the connection with Bruichladdich,” he says, “Because you encouraged me to be certified, get the proper stamp.” Watch a full interview between our Communications Manager, Christy, and Richard on our Instagram channel here.

Islay Barley

Islay has a reputation, historically, for its fine cattle.Many of the farms on Islay were dairy farms, until the closing of the local creamery in the year 2000. Islay’s land use, according to the European Forum on Nature Conservation and Pasturalism, is 39% “broken moorland, rushy fields and rough pasture”, 13% rich grassland, and 7% “rotational pastures and rich farmland mosaics”. Most of the farmers who supply us run mixed farms. Grazing sheep and beef cattle are part of the mix; as well as pigs, oysters and holiday accommodation too.

Malting barley was something they could diversify into, after we initiated the idea of making an Islay Barley whisky in 2004, with a single farmer. Raymond Stewart was managing a different parcel of land on the island then, but he is growing for us today, at Sunderland farm near Loch Gruinart. He’s recently been exploring lighter tillage. Other farmers we have worked with over the years have retired; new people with the idea to plant 10 acres here or there come forward each year. In 2006, Dunlossit estate and Raymond Fletcher partnered with us and the UHI to trial growing Bere barley on Islay, for 4 years, and they’ve kept on with modern varieties since. From 2007, James Brown at Octomore Farm near Port Charlotte, has grown barley, which we have peated to the extreme, so as to make Octomore (whisky) of Octomore (farm), first released as 6.3 in 2014. Hunter Jackson has grown for us since 2009; he is also the seed merchant for the island and organises the soil sample analysis of the intended barley fields each spring.

In terms of how the Islay Barley grower partnerships have grown, by 2009, we were into double figures, and in 2020, we reached 19. Our local growers combined now supply more than 50% of our entire annual mash bill.

As a business that wants to balance profit and purpose, it is important for us to work closely with our community of supply partners. Having traceability is hugely important to us, but so too is keeping that value in the agricultural community. If you want to learn more about a hopeful future for whisky and agriculture, read our opinion piece published at COP26.

Bruichladdich Distillery
Due to regulations in your own country of residence, you cannot access this website

By entering our website, you agree to our Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy and the use of cookies to enhance your user experience and collect information on the use of our website. For more information about deleting or controlling cookies, visit www.aboutcookies.org.

We encourage you to enjoy our single malts responsibly.