Honouring Duncan McGillivray


Earlier this week Bruichladdich, and indeed Islay, lost one of its favourite sons, Duncan McGillivray. He was an engineer, improviser,  vintage car, tractor and boat enthusiast, coastguard, master of quick wit, one to be relied on and equally inspired by, a mentor to more than one generation, and a greatly loved man.

His career at Bruichladdich spanned more than 40 years, starting as a trainee stillman in 1974, before becoming the brewer in 1977. He was made redundant in 1994 when the distillery was mothballed, but when Bruichladdich was resurrected by new owners in 2001, he was the key character that would bring the fallen giant back to its feet. After seven years of neglect, it could have taken years to get Bruichladdich’s Victorian equipment running again. He managed it in just five months. He was an icon, with a quick sense of the ridiculous and all of us here are feeling Duncan’s loss and the power of his legacy. He will be sadly missed.

Simon Coughlin, his friend, Bruichladdich founding member, and now Head of Whisky for Remy Cointreau writes:

“It is impossible to capture in a few words the enormous impact that Duncan had on Bruichladdich Distillery and the wider Islay community.

“His influence and association with the distillery go back almost 50 years and, put simply, the resurrection of Bruichladdich and much of the success that has followed would not have been possible without the dedication of Duncan. Selfless, hard-working, gentle, determined and funny…and that’s just for starters. Everyone at Bruichladdich and those that enjoy any of our spirits can raise a glass today to thank this wonderful man.

“Looking back to 2001, the Bruichladdich re-birth seemed a dream too far; this was a time when distilleries where still being closed, a far cry from today. If it was not for the patience of Duncan and his unwavering commitment to the cause (even if he thought we were mad sometimes!) we would not be here today.

“There are too many stories for this moment, but my first memory this morning on hearing the sad news, was of a trip with Duncan to Italy to look over our new bottling equipment back in 2006. The night before the visit we were taken to a local restaurant and as neither of us spoke Italian we just said to bring anything they suggested. I remember Duncan digging in with great gusto and he enjoyed everything, only to tell me later he had no idea what any of it was but it was bloody good…

“We miss you already dear Duncan, thank you on behalf of the Bruichladdich family worldwide and we will always be there for Susan. You are close to our hearts today.”


Duncan McGillivray and Simon Coughlin pictured 2010

“He knew every nut and bolt, every weight, measure, and pressure…”

Douglas Taylor, CEO, shares one of his memories:

“Like a proud father and with a glint in his eye, Duncan gave me my first taste of this distillery, one morning back in May 2011.

“While others may have been responsible for the philosophical resurrection of this project, It was clear Duncan was the brainchild and architect behind the distillery’s physical resurrection.
He knew every nut and bolt, every weight, measure, and pressure, what had been done and what needed doing. I can hear him saying, “This tank was from a dairy, these handrails and lights came from a warehouse in Lockerbie, there was no roof on that building, and let me tell you how we emptied an old distillery in Dumbarton, destined for demolition, and sailed it up the coast to Islay…”
“By the end of that warm day in May, we had talked shop and toured every nook. Generous with his time, he loved to share. By the end of the evening, we had caught a bucket of mackerel, visited his in-laws, and fired up the collection of vintage tractors that were tucked away in the garage. Quite possibly one of my favourite days with one of the most inspiring humans I’ve had the good fortune to know.
“Duncan was the man behind our machine, and without him life would be very different. We salute you.”

Allan Logan, Production Director adds, “I had the pleasure to work alongside Duncan for 13 years. He was more than a colleague to me, he was my mentor and a friend who I hugely respected. I cannot thank him enough for everything I learnt from him.

“His can-do attitude is a what made him a great leader – it was Duncan’s positive mindset that got us through every situation as a team. If he believed something could be done, then we all trusted him and followed him. And he was never wrong. He was a generous, proud, funny man, and always had such great stories to tell that even though we’d already heard them, we always enjoyed hearing his stories again.

“Duncan, we will never ever forget you, and what you have done for this distillery and community will always remain part of your legacy.

“The word legend is generally overstated these days, however in this case I honestly believe you are a true example of a legend. It was a pleasure for all of us to know you. Rest well Duncan.”

Dave Broom, whisky journalist, writes: “The first time I met Duncan in Bruichladdich’s shuttered days it was the size of his hands which struck me the most. I was soon to learn that the size of his heart was even greater. He was the unsung hero of the distillery’s revival. When others thought that the project should happen, Duncan’s hands ensured that it could. He knew every inch of the place, the meaning of every clunk and hiss, the depths of his knowledge limitless. He ensured that spirit ran once more, that life returned, and did so in his uncomplaining fashion, cracking jokes, telling stories, that smile always on his lips. No job was too difficult, he was never too busy to stand and yarn and answer daft questions, a man who had time for others. I hope he knew how much he was loved and will be missed.”

Many other people around the world have contacted us since hearing this sad news, holding Duncan in high and warm regard from the contact they’d had. Anyone wishing to send their memories, or messages to the family, can email mary.mcgregor@bruichladdich.com so that we can include them in a book of condolence.  The family request that any donations be made to Gortanvogie Home on Islay, who were so good to Duncan in his last days battling PSP. Go to this Just Giving page to contribute in Duncan’s memory.

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