Islay Remembers

Islay Campbell works with local contractor Andrew Wood to collect the draff at the end of a mash and take it on to whichever of the island's farms has ordered it for cattle feed.  He grew up around Bruichladdich at a time when there was still a malt kiln in the yard. He remembers how, "We used to go in there in the wintertime when we were kids, get the potatoes from the farmer's field up there and bake them in the fire."

The barley would be carried across to be malted in the kiln from the first floor barns above the Laddieshop via a gangway. Peat was cut, "Away up the moss there," at Conisby, while the main source of heat for the stills was coal or anthracite, which came in by puffer boat and sat in hoppers in the yard where the stillhouse window is now. Afterwards, they'd dump the cinders by barrow just outside the front gates of the distillery. Over time, with the actions of the tide, "that's how that lay-by's at the front of the distillery."

bruichladdich distillery 1950s with kiln and chimney

He earned enough money to buy a leather jacket by doing odd jobs around the distillery in the late 1960s. Through the night, he'd be there in the mashtun shovelling out the spent draff by hand, feeling the heat of it through his wellies - "which was great in the wintertime" -  and hearing stories from the "old boys", Ruaridh MacLeod, Tam Henderson. Or he'd skive off school to be the pulley man, working with Mary McGregor's father and his lazy Clydesdale or old grey tractor in the yard to hoist up the narrow hundred-weight bags of malt to the millhouse hatch. They used a chain that hung the height of the wall, bringing it back down again for the next bag. "I mind my brother, and a few of his boys, they're two years older than me, they were up there or in that other malt barn, with the wheel. Working the barrows, wheeling stuff away. They always got a few more shillings than me. And when it was raining, they were in the dry and I was out in the rain!"

a bruichladdich malt barrow, picture from the RCAHMS archive

He recalls working 4 men abreast to roll the big butts from the filling station at the shore side of the distillery courtyard uphill to warehouse 6 behind the millhouse. "The road wouldn't be tarred at the time, because there wasn't any council houses, it was just the cinders out of the kilns that was put on the road. If one or two people weren't pushing, you felt it."

They had a flat-bed lorry that they could bring into the gates and triangular timber structures called skids, which we still use in the dunnage stows, so as to roll the casks up onto it. The lorry could then take its load of casks to the pier to be shipped away on the puffers, or it would take them up for maturation in warehouse 12 at the top of the brae after it was built late in the 1960s.

Some of the draff was shipped away at that time as well, as "dry grain" "just like crumbs" that had been through a dryer. The machine for drying it sat directly under the mash tun, big enough to obscure half of the holes for casting the draff, which is why the young men had to be there at all hours to shovel it down the other hole. Most of the dry grain went away on the boats, but some locals still came in for draff which was stored in the joiners shop (now our engineers' workshop) and its then lean-to. "Neilly MacLachlen's father who had the croft over there had a horse with a cart, he'd have so many shovel-fulls. It was just like slicing a cake, they put a mark in with a stick and say - Right, that's for Neilly's father, that's for old Neil Campbell Port Charlotte, and Ally Campbell - and they'd all come in to collect it with their wee tractors and horses and carts."

So some things have changed, but in important respects - the connectedness of the distillery and the island, and the relationships with men like Islay that give us access to the distillery's heritage - we're proud to say, things have very much stayed the same. 

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