Community reporting from Islay


Bruichladdich is the largest private employer on Islay, with 86 permanent staff working out of the distillery site. Some of the computer-based, creative, or managerial roles can carry on remotely during this hiatus; others such as bottling or making our spirits, or presenting them to visitors, have had to temporarily cease.  This has released a team of willing and committed individuals who live in settlements on every side of the island to enrol in a volunteer programme to do whatever they can to help the vulnerable and prevent an outbreak on the island.

“We all wish we could do more,”  says Emma Crawford, our Head of HR, who is passing the multitude of offers of help from within the distillery onto the coordinator of the local third sector network to make sure everyone is being deployed where most needed.  We have put our 9 seater buses and the distillery’s electric cars at our volunteers’ disposal.  The distillery also helped to facilitate the production of some Islay Hand Sanitiser when the island’s health professionals were struggling against shortages. “We are conscious every day of how important Islay is to what we do as a company,” explains Emma, “but you really feel the fragility of the island too. As individuals here, it comes completely naturally to even the youngest member of the team, to immediately try to look after the people around them and give something back to the community.”

Everyone has been fully briefed to follow all the Government advice in relation to social distancing and prioritising their journeys. We’re having a fortnightly video call Q and A with our CEO Douglas Taylor and the leadership team and all continuing to receive full pay. 

While we all cope with strange new levels of background anxiety, Spring is coming here.

There are many in the distillery team who have livestock or who are diverting energy into their families and gardens. We also work with an entire cohort of the island’s farmers to grow barley for distilling;  we hope they can continue with their farming year in spite of the challenges 2020 has so far presented.

We plan to use this page to pass on the latest news from our dispersed workforce, so that you can share our experience, Islay-side, hopefully from the safety of your own homes, throughout this period of suspended normality. 

The photo above shows Port Charlotte’s ‘OK rock’, which was first painted by three brothers leaving the island to go and fight in the war, so that their mother could look out from her window and think that they were OK, wherever they were. Only one of the brothers actually returned, but the local community have kept refreshing the paint through all the generations since. Wherever you are in the world, please look after yourselves. We’ll keep being here. And we hope to be able to see you again after all this is passed.

Katie Smith

– 3rd April –


Iain McGuirke, our graphic designer, worked with the Islay Resilience Group to create lanyards and car signs for the network of volunteers. Katie Smith from our Botanist communications team is pictured above sporting her lanyard to go and do the weekly shopping for a lady she has spoken to on the telephone but never met. They have been partnered as she’s facing 12 weeks of self-isolation 18 miles away from the island’s only supermarket, down the single track road to Portnahaven at the extreme tip of the Rhinns. There were several other volunteers fulfilling strangers’ needs; hearing aid batteries crossed the radar of our Bottling Hall’s Gabi Toma for the first time.

People all around the world got in touch with us through our facebook page wanting to help Islay and show they cared, so project manager Robert McEachern encouraged the island’s volunteer coordinator Gill Chasemore to set up a donations page, and posted up a link to it. Less than a week later (what a long week!) and over £5000 has been collected, and counting, thanks to our extended community online. Their generosity even propelled Gill onto the national news – BBC’s Special Corona Virus Daily Update of April 2nd.

Hunter Jackson’s field at Cruach

We have had a better spell of dry weather this week after a wet and stormy first quarter of the year, and between lambing and calving and ploughing, our farmers have remained busy, as other key producers have.

Raymond Tibbs from our guest hosting team photographed this freshly turned field at Cruach, on the opposite shores of Loch Indaal from Bruichladdich.

Meanwhile, there is building work underway at James Brown’s Octomore farm nearby the distillery, which has turned up a piece of history. A stick thermometer with a wooden handle, date uncertain but most likely 19th century, now has pride of place in the new workshop at the farm, where there was a distillery until 1840. After being professionally cleaned locally by Hugh Campbell, the inscription reading W Reeves & Co London and the old fashioned kerning of the numbers is clearly visible.

Joanne Brown, niece of farmer James, has had a 14 year career with Bruichladdich that has taken her all around the world before a return to Islay in a management position. Her home is adjacent to the Octomore fields in Port Charlotte;  she reports that the farmland there is also currently being made ready for this year’s barley planting – with new drains. On the wet west coast, they say every job begins with drainage…

James Brown and the thermometer find

Could corona virus be spread by midgies?

The distillery’s Database and Operations System wizard, Andy Fisher, raised an interesting issue this week, apropos of seeing possibly the first midges of the year in his native Port Ellen. Although midges are a significantly negative presence to anyone who frequents the west coast of Scotland, they haven’t attracted the levels of scientific research that biting insects with devastating infectious potential like the mosquito have. They have been implicated in the spread of diseases among livestock however, so Andy began to investigate [read more in academic journal published by MDPI here >] discovering, to everyone’s relief, that coronavirus is not vector-borne by tics and other biters. “In what might be our first real break with the pandemic, the World Health Organization insists “the new coronavirus CANNOT be transmitted through mosquito bites,” ” he writes.

Distribution of Bruichladdich x Spirited Soaps Islay Hand Sanitiser continued this week. The soap shop’s small works was turning out 125L per day, aiming to supply one bottle for every household in Islay and Jura, after all volunteers were equipped, and emergency and lifeline services had received bulk containers first. To avoid unnecessary journeys and points of contact, the Cooperative in Bowmore have joined the cause, adding trays of the hand sanitiser to their grocery delivery runs.

Thank you to everyone near and far who is helping to keep Islay safe and sane, and to all our contributors for the news and photos above.

Dougie of the Co-op supermarket with the next 180 bottles, pictured Wednesday.

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