The water that is so essential to the distillation of Bruichladdich whiskies comes from three different water sources and serves three different purposes at three different stages.
The first is the water that we add to the grist that is soaked and stirred and steeped in our huge old cast iron mash tun. This is piped from ‘An Torran’, our own reservoir, located around a mile up the gentle hill that lies behind the distillery.
The second point at which we use water, and lots of it, is as the coolant that runs through the condensers in the still house. Although essential for successful distillation, it is not added to the liquid that becomes our precious spirit at any point, and it is drawn from the burn which runs past the distillery and out to sea. The hills are the catchment for the burn, but like most Scottish burns its flow is vary variable. When we have plenty of rain there is no problem, but when we have no rain for a week or so, the burn can quickly reduce to a trickle. Even this is no problem however, because when that happens we can open a sluice up at An Torran to supplement the flow in the burn and keep those condensers running.
How long would we last without rain? The truth is we don’t know at this point in time – but we are likely to find out sooner or later! We have never before attempted our current production levels where we are distilling 24/5 so we are not sure how long the reservoir will feed the burn for. Revelation lies ahead though – because contrary to popular opinion it can be quite dry here for long periods, particularly during the summer. And when that happens, we will just stop for a while. It happens to most distilleries at some point in their lives and we will be no different.
The third point where we need water is in the bottling. Unless the whisky is to be sold at cask strength, we need to ‘let it down’ to the required abv by adding water. For distilleries that bottle on the mainland that usually means the addition of de-ionised water, but at Bruichladdich we bottle on Islay using water from a natural spring on Octomore Farm. This last bubbles naturally out of the ground, is collected in tanks by farmer James Brown and transported to the distillery on a trailer pulled by his tractor.
This spring water has filtered down through the oldest rocks in the whisky world, ancient gneiss formed some 1.8 billion years ago. It was once the water supply for the village of Port Charlotte (the old folk knew what was good for them), but it was superseded in the name of modernity and chemical additives around fifty years ago. There is something truly spiritual about tasting uber-pure water straight from a natural spring. It is very Bruichladdich.