Islay Terroir, Barley To Bottle
We respect the past but don't live in its shadow. We believe in innovation and progress, while striving to create intriguing spirit - a spirit with flawless integrity and provenance. We are curious and restless - we never leave well enough alone. Pathfinders where angels fear to tread.
We believe that Islay whisky should have an authenticity derived from where it is distilled and where it is matured... from the philosophies of those who distil it. A sense of place, of terroir that speaks of the land, the barley, the water and the human soul that gave it life.
There are many who would see whisky distilling as an industrial process – a means of standard manufacture and nothing more. We understand distilling to be an ancient art, one that has intrigued the human spirit for centuries. A black art, a mysterious and enigmatic alchemy, that explores the very depths of the distiller’s soul.
OUR BARLEY IS NO MERE COMMODITY. IT IS OUR LIFEBLOOD.
ANDREW JONES, COULL FARM
RAYMOND STEWART, SUNDERLAND FARM
AN TORRAN, THE WATER SOURCE FOR OUR MASH
MARK FRENCH, ROCKSIDE FARM
PORTNAHAVEN, THE END OF THE ROAD, THE RHINNS.
THE VILLAGE OF PORT CHARLOTTE IS TWO MILES FROM THE DISTILLERY, ALONG THE SHORE OF LOCH INDAAL
THE SPENT DRAFF FROM THE MASH, HIGH IN VALUABLE PROTEIN, IS FED BACK TO LOCAL COWS.
ISLAY RAINWATER, AN TORRAN.
Terroir: An arcane French term, much maligned by those for whom it is commercially inconvenient, but a concept with many, many centuries of profound farming experience behind it.
A concept that encompasses the influence and inter-action of soil, sub-soil, exposure, orientation, climate and micro-climate on the growing of a plant - any plant - vine, flower or barley.
In the world of wine, terroir is revered for the subtle nuances of traceable character, flavour, lineage and integrity it bestows. Yet it is little understood and little cherished in the world of single malt whisky. Could it just be that it’s easier to wax lyrical about shortbread and butterscotch “notes” than to get to grips with the esoteric micro-influences on the development of the complex flavour-compounds derived from ripening barley?
We label and trace, parcel by parcel, different barley varieties, different farms, even different fields, or terroirs.
We label and trace, parcel by parcel, different barley varieties, different farms, even different fields, or terroirs many of whose characteristics are retained directly in our maturing whisky stocks, depending on harvest, yield, weather and crop rotation.
We use three water supplies: the Bruichladdich loch, "An Torran", two miles above the distillery, is a shallow loch filled by water percolating through the peat, onto the glacial clay band sitting on the bedrock, and then into the loch. Consequently it is brown, amazingly soft and devoid of minerality - ideal for brewing. Piped directly into the distillery this is the vital mashing water used to extract sugars from the barley and which will ultimately become whisky.
The Bruichladdich burn, flowing adjacent to the distillery, is where the cooling water is drawn to run through the condensers before being returned.
Our farmers are known to us by first name. They tell us about the soil, the wind, the drainage, the aspect, the micro-climate of every field.
Unusually, a third source is used at Bruichladdich: a natural spring. From a fault between the ancient gneiss and green sandstone in a small valley on Octomore farm behind the village of Port Charlotte, emerges this clear water spring, once the water supply to the village. Farmer James Brown collects the water and takes it the two miles to the distillery where it is used to reduce the spirit strength from cask to our usual bottling strength of 50%.
And then there is our passionate belief in barley itself – the raw material from which all single malt is made. For many whisky producers this is a commodity product, to be bought from wherever happens to be supplying the cheapest tonnage at the time – be that Scotland, Poland or Lithuania.
For us it is a living, organic expression of the land, of the terroir in which it's grown. Our farmers are known to us by first name. They tell us about the soil, the wind, the drainage, the aspect, the micro-climate of every field.
We are even now releasing whiskies distilled from barley from not just individual farms, but individual fields and harvests. A fascinating and ongoing exploration of the influence of terroir on finished spirit. This “micro-provenance” is hardly industrial distilling, but we believe it’s important – land and dram reunited.
And it is a source of great pride to us that we have developed partnerships with farmers on Islay that enable us to produce single malts made from 100% Islay barley. For the first time in recorded history we are able to look out of the distillery window and see the fields of barley that will produce this season's spirit – that is provenance, that is place, that is a spirit that will speak of its origins, its heritage and the many passionate artisans who contributed to its creation.