Our capacity for bottling spirit on Islay was augmented earlier this year by the addition of a second automated line in the Harvey Hall, meaning we can now dedicate one bottling line to The Botanist and one to our single malts. Here, supervisor Tina MacLeod, takes a look back to days gone by…
“I only ever came into the distillery as a part time job,” laughs Tina, “Did a bit of cleaning, and then this place just sucks you in!” Her original role was not in bottling at all. “I began just helping with the tidying up and then gradually started doing invoicing, and gradually did a few bits in the shop and wee bits of counting the money at night. And it was just everything, bits and pieces of anything and everything. I was probably down here about 5 in the morning to sort of try and fit it all in, it was just crazy! The only benefit was that Neil McTaggart, who has now retired, would wash my car to keep himself going when he was on night shift!”
When David Barr, then manager of the bottling hall operations, wanted to expand his team, Tina was persuaded over from the ‘other side’ of the quad around which the distillery is built, with the promise of more sustainable hours.
“I had two young children of course, at the time, so I was like, ‘Oh…’ Anyway, the hours were good, and here I still am, fourteen years later, or thirteen years later or whatever it is.”
Those two young children of Tina’s are Ruaridh, well known for his Gaelic singing on the island, and also now working in the bottling hall, and Meghan, who has just done her first season in the Laddieshop.
Tina recalls, “I was in here a year or so before the original Harvey Hall was finished and built, was it May 2003? The orders were coming in before the place was complete, so we started off in Warehouse 10. We were basically balancing on barrels and using wee glue machines, sticking stickers on bottles and stuffing leaflets. We were making everything up by hand.”In the previous Harvey Hall configuration, Tina took care of a small hand-bottling line that was relied on for single casks and contingency situations. She describes how it operated: “So there’d be a person standing doing the filling at that machine, and somebody else bottling. It would then pass along to someone who would shove in a cork, and then somebody else would fit the capsule. Another body would spin the capsule on the bottle and somebody else’d be at the bottom putting a label on. That was a huge big weight of a machine, you had to stamp on it, and that stamped on the label.
“And then it would pass onto a table with boxes on it, and then some more bodies would pack them into tins. In the meantime, somebody else had made up the boxes to put the tins in, and somebody would pack them with the tins and the lids, tape up, load a pallet, and then Dougie [on forklift detail then and now] would be waiting, to put them out the door. So there was quite a few of us…”
Things are a little more automated on the modern bottling lines, but bottling at Bruichladdich is still a very people-focussed process. There are many more folk working with Tina now than there were back in the day.
Things may have changed and the numbers may have grown but there is no substitute for experience. Laddiefans all round the world understand that bottling at the distillery is one of the many things that make this old place so different.