Donald clearly had the right to his father George’s share of the business. William and Alexander claimed their father John’s third share. But In the days of prima genitor, had John already given it to George, who after all had put in all the hard work?
We don’t know the result of this adjudication. Clearly no satisfactory resolution was reached. A stalemate – ‘it may be your distilling business, but it’s my land’ – Intransigence, envy, bloody mindedness meant the distillery shut down and whisky production ceased in the autumn of 1840, just twenty four years after started.
Within a few months, twenty year old Donald married an older Octomore girl, Ann Campbell, and with his young siblings in tow he seems to have taken the money and run, emigrating to Simcoe County, Ontario. There was nothing left for him at Octomore.
At this time there were twenty-seven Montgomeries living at Octomore out of 175 souls in 30 houses. Small pox had been contained, and together with the mild climate and the relative land fertility (compared to other Hebridean islands) the Island’s population had exploded from 5,000 in 1800 to 15,600 in 1841. Clearly this was unsustainable, the people were living on a knife edge. For the remaining Montgomeries things were about to go from bad to worse.
Farming had always been tough in the Hebrides. With such rapid population growth and the lack of good quality farming land, a monoculture soon developed based on the potato. It yielded the highest amount of sustenance per square yard in the impoverished, sandy soils. And then the potato blight struck in 1846, lasting a decade.
Alexander, with nothing to keep him, emigrated to Ontario in 1848. In 1849, the island’s benevolent landlord Sir Walter Campbell, with greatly reduced farm rental income, went bankrupt. Islay was in administration for four years as no buyer could be found. Eventually Charles Morisson bought the island at a reduced price.
Morisson was keen to regain control of Octomore, now derelict and in ‘great disrepair’ fourteen years after the distillery had closed. Octomore was now home to a ‘mere’ 51 people in 12 houses, a third of population from just a decade earlier. William, now 61, a widower, was ‘starving’. With his three sons and a daughter, they were the only Montgomeries left out of twenty- seven. William refused to relinquish the tenancy claiming he was owed money from Donald and compensation for the distillery. John MacVorran, now a forty year old ‘labourer’, supported the claim. But there was to be one final twist to the tale.
Upon examining the Octomore lease it became clear that after all this time, bitterness and sorrow, the distillery had been illegally built. No permission was sought or given, and according to the terms of the tenancy any buildings erected belonged the landlord any way. There had never been anything to bequeath, nothing to inherit.
Despite this, in 1854 Morrison agreed to a pay off, the sum the equivalent of £9,782 in today’s money, just if William would agree to relinquish the tenancy. He promptly emigrated to Ontario. The Montgomeries had left Islay for good.
We had the idea of distilling the most heavily peated whisky the world has ever seen in 2002. It started out as a philosophical discussion: would the spirit from Bruichladdich’s tall-necked stills be as elegant, fruity and floral if we used an exceptionally heavy peated barley – like the most heavily peated ever? Now we know.
Bruichladdich’s tall, narrow-necked stills produced a remarkably unique spirit: those stills, run so slowly the condensers weren’t even needed, have produced an exceptional Islay hybrid: extraordinarily pure peat aroma on top of an incredibly refined spirit, devoid of the medicinal flavours associated with heavily peated whiskies. A totally new Islay experience.
Now we know the full story of Octomore. We know the distillery was built to use the barley grown on Octomore farm, both John Montgomery’s middle tenancy and the teenager John Macvorran’s lower tenancy. In these fields west of the Port Charlotte to Bruichladdich road, barley was grown for distillation again for the first time since 1839.
For the first time in hundreds of years, Octomore whisky is once again made from Octomore barley.