Was Bruichladdich whisky originally peated?


This feature was originally published on 28.06.2013

Was the spirit distilled at Bruichladdich when the brand new distillery first opened in 1881 originally peated, or unpeated? It’s a good question, but unfortunately we do not know the answer for certain, because none of the original spirit or whisky survives and there are no tasting notes to help us.

Blended whisky was the fashionable drink at the end of the 19th century, and the Harvey brothers who built the then uber-modern Bruichladdich wanted a highly flavoured malt to blend with the colossal output of grain whiskies from their two huge Glasgow based distilleries at Yoker and Port Dundas. The purpose of Bruichladdich was to provide the character and body to this bulk whisky with which the Harvey’s planned to dominate the business.

But was this first Laddie malt peated? Peat was of course readily available on Islay, so why then are we not certain that peat would have been used to fire the Laddie malt kilns?
A slight doubt is cast over the question by none other than Alfred Barnard, the celebrated Victorian journalist, soap salesman, and author of perhaps the finest book about Scotch whisky ever written ‘The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom‘.

Barnard visits every one of Islay’s distilleries, each of which merits its own small chapter. He meticulously records many details, and writes that every single one dries its malt using peat – with the exception of Bruichladdich where the method of drying the malt is not mentioned at all. This was probably an oversight. Barnard was probably so overwhelmed by our wonderful location, which he describes as “one of the finest and most healthy spots on Islay”, that he simply forgot to note that peat was being used. We will never know for sure.

We can be sure that peat was being used at Lochindaal Distillery in our neighboring village of Port Charlotte however. Not only does Barnard say it was, we have the picture to prove it. The lovely shot accompanying this piece was taken from Octomore Farm and shows Port Charlotte pre the closure of the distillery in 1929. You can see the huge long peat stacks neatly piled up to the right of the old whisky bonds, which are still there to this day. They are filled with the wonderful peated spirit, distilled at Bruichladdich, that proudly carries the names of this beautiful village and farm, now known to whisky enthusiasts all over the world.

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