As we approach this year’s harvest on the island and look forward to September’s Micro-Provenance single cask digital tasting, we talk to Head Distiller Adam Hannett as he tastes through the last two releases, Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2010 and Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2009. What’s so special about the Islay Barley series?
AH: “There is a character in that spirit that is particular to Islay, to the Islay-grown barley. And it’s wonderful. Sometimes it’s difficult to put your finger on what exactly it is… There’s definitely that extra bit of citrus, that extra bit of marine, that extra bit of salt that’s coming in there. It might be coming from the barley grown on the West coast there, coming from the salty soil. Might be coming from the maturation by Loch Indaal here behind me. We’re right on the sea. That’s going to affect the flavour.
“When I was growing up, it’d be lovely to be out playing on the beach and just stop, have a little rest, lying back, close your eyes, listen to the skylarks and then the smells you would get as you close your eyes and all your other senses start to take advantage. You can hear that skylark singing, you can smell the smells of the flowers, it’s just… That’s Islay, you know, that’s what it’s reminding me of here. For me that’s just stunning.
“Using Islay grain is very very important. The sense of place that you have when you live in a community like this, when you live in a place like Islay, the sense of belonging you have to this place is incredible; you know it shapes everything you do.
“There are moments that I’ve experienced when you are distilling and you are thinking about the relationship between the barley that was grown and the spirit you’re producing now, the relationship you have with the farmers who are growing that barley for us. Knowing the trials and tribulations that they have every year – when you think of the weather conditions, when you think of the geese nibbling away on the harvest, you think of the storms blowing in and the conditions they are up against… When we get that barley it’s different. For us as distillers, it’s just different to deal with. It doesn’t behave vastly differently from regular Scottish grown barley, but it feels different because it’s from the same place we’re from.
“You recognise that the skill and the craft and the energy and the work that goes into producing this barley you know, it is incredible. To see that first hand, and to experience that in your community and then to have the responsibility to distil that into the best whisky that we can, it keeps you very very honest. It keeps you working very very hard to produce the very best whisky we can.
For me, it doesn’t get any better than this.”