Robert “Rab” McEachern’s family roots go way back in Islay, although he didn’t move “home” til he was two.
Rab’s mum was a community nurse for 46 years. His dad was a fisherman, a tough job and one that almost cost him his life, when the boat capsized and trapped him in the wheelhouse, off Portnahaven. Young Rab definitely wasn’t tempted to follow into that profession. He left the island at 17 to go to college – a sports course which didn’t hold his attention for long. The lure of home, his friends, and talk of decent jobs at this ‘new’ distillery – the reopened Bruichladdich – brought him back. He walked through the doors here in 2003, joining a Government scheme designed to get young people into work.
Like many he started in the shop but he wanted to get into the warehouse. Aged 18, working beside his cousin, was a lot of fun but ultimately his immaturity showed. It was Jim McEwan, then head distiller and mentor to many, who told the pair they should go and do some growing up. “Jim actually said to me ‘Maybe in 10 years you’ll be sitting in this office and you’ll have sorted yourself out and you’ll be back’. It’s funny the way it worked out, ‘cause it actually took 11 years…” He spent those years mainly on the mainland, working for a bank, as a labourer, caring for his grandparents, and finally joining the police, before returning to Islay to keep the peace among his own.
He returned to Bruichladdich to work as a mashman. Being someone with the gift of the gab, he got poached by the communications team in 2018. And at the start of this month, he was promoted to become the Brand Education and Academy Manager.
When not at work, or with his family of five, he’s a volunteer with the RNLI, the emergency lifeboat crew, despite confessing to having no sea legs and being frequently sea sick. He plays football, is obsessed with Formula one, and does a bit of trail biking with his eldest son. You might recognise Rab from his star turn as Bruichladdich’s answer to “Marty McFly” in our 2021 Festival Time Travellers? He is a self-confessed “massive 80s pop culture geek; hence the massive sleeve tattoo I’m halfway through on my arm.” Delorean and all.
So what of his valinch? When a distillery cask is named for you, you are given the first two bottles – one he will drink and one he’ll keep, part of the collection of special bottles he’s built up (another of his hobbies). He says he’ll be buying a couple more besides; “It tastes good! I’ve tried it!”
For Rab it’s symbolic. “I never expected to be on a bottle. And it came out on the day of my first academy in the new job.”
Robert McEachern’s cask, the Bruichladdich unpeated valinch number 59, was distilled in 2010 and is matured in a Rivesaltes cask, 60.8% Vol. It is available exclusively from the Laddie Shop on Islay, while stocks last.