barley
exploration

Our
Barley
Obsession


When our Victorian distillery was resurrected in 2001, we had a choice to make; fit in with the status quo or reinvent the entire system. Looking back at almost two decades worth of work, we cast our minds back to where our barley obsession began.

The PAST
STARTING FROM SCRATCH

Our fascination with ingredients arguably started long before we re-opened the gates of Bruichladdich at the turn of the millennium. Our principle founders, in Simon Coughlin and Mark Reynier, had built up a life-long experience of dealing with fine wine, and the esoteric concept of terroir.

Having worked in an industry where each campaign, each appellation, each nuance, origin and growing condition was poured over, their entry into Scotch whisky was revelatory. The whisky world, especially at that time, was nothing like wine. It was largely designed to mass produce blended Scotch, where full tankers could be swapped with ease, and products were standardised to look and taste the same in every country for the lowest price possible.

The industry’s departure from ideals of care and connection was stark. Bruichladdich would not conform to zero-traceability or the anonymity of the growing community. We would not prioritise yield over flavour, and we would be driven by curiosity not cost.

No… conforming would never have been an option for the new-age Bruichladdich. We had to dismiss the system and reinvent our own approach to barley.

Those early first steps into our barley exploration have been pivotal for Bruichladdich…

click on thumbnails for full articles

  • 2001

     

    100% Scottish Begins

    Our distillery is resurrected after 7 years of closure. We begin our commitment to provenance by only ever sourcing 100% Scottish barley, with support from our malting partner Bairds.

  • 2003

    Organic Barley First Harvested

    We distil organically grown barley for the first time. Barley raised by William Rose at Mid Coul Farms continues to be a feature in our organic repertoire for years to come.

     

    2003

  • 2004

     

    Islay Barley First Grown

    Islay-barley pioneer Raymond Stewart sows barley for Bruichladdich at Kentraw Farm. It is distilled that same year and is the first Islay grown barley to be distilled in recent times.

  • 2005

    Bere Barley Grown on Islay

    Bruichladdich begin a partnership with the Agronomy Institute in Orkney, where the latter supplies seed to plant 6-row heritage variety named Bere. Islay farmers take on the task until 2009, when is it solely grown on the Orkney islands.

     

    2005

  • 2014

     

    Regional Trials Experiment Initiated

    The same variety of barley is planted in four different regions in Scotland, in the Black Isle near Inverness (north), in Turriff in Aberdeenshire (east) at Ransfield in the Lothians (south), and on our farming partners land on Islay (west). The experiment sees us further our exploration of terroir in whisky.

  • 2017

    Islay Grown Rye

    Andrew Jones at Coull Farm grows Islay rye and we distil it that same year for what we believe is the first time in Islay’s history. Rye may become an interesting rotational crop for us in the future.

     

    2017

  • 2018

     

    Purchase of Shore House Croft

    We purchase 30 acres of unused croft land next to the distillery grounds. The land will be used as an unofficial R&D site, furthering our agricultural expertise in-house.

  • 2019

    Trial Plots Planted

    Sixty different varieties of barley and wheat are planted on our croft land. We plan to plant varieties each year, in the hope of finding a varietal that will be better suited to Scotland’s unique west coast conditions.

     

    2019

  • 2023

     

    Proposed Installation of Maltings

    Subject to planning permission, we will install on-site maltings at Bruichladdich Distillery. It is intended that all Islay Barley, including Bere, organic and Regional Trial batches will be malted here.

  • 2030

    100% Green Energy?

    Bruichladdich is currently exploring several renewable energy sources. The feasibility of tidal, water turbine and biomass technologies or a combination of all three are still being assessed but we hope to make significant progress towards using green energy by 2030.

     

    2030

the PRESENT
SHARING SUCCESS

Since our first foray into barley exploration 18 short years ago, we have slowly built a fascinating catalogue of barley-forward spirits. While they mature in our warehouses, we have fallen into a rhythm of celebrating each new vintage when they are ready to be released. Our exploration of terroir in whisky is far from over, but it has begun to meander into a more holistic approach.

As we reconnected with our primary raw ingredient, we inevitably reconnected with agriculture and the challenges the farming community face, from the minutiae to the macro. With an average of 17 local Islay farmers now providing barley for the distillery each year, we realise that the whisky industry is booming but the farming community is largely left behind.

Barely Growers

Local farms on Islay have diversified from dairy to beef and then to mixed farming, showing agility and resilience. But we are uniquely aware that working from a microcosm, on Scotland’s remote west coast, results in an added challenge to access mainland markets. The conditions of barley growing on Scotland’s west coast are far from ideal, but at least in our case, we offered a diversified a market and brought it to our local community’s doorstep. Could this be replicated into other areas, other crops even, other than barley?

Small but fruitful experiments are underway behind the scenes.

In 2017, we announced that we had grown and distilled Islay rye in partnership with Andrew Jones. The benefits are mutual. Andrew includes an extra crop in his rotation; reducing wind erosion, improving soil structure, conserving moisture and reducing run-off. He sells it directly to us and has a guaranteed market. We distil a deeply flavourful spirit of unparalleled provenance.

This approach to an Islay ecosystem, with a symbiotic relationship between agriculture and distillation, must be the future of whisky in Scotland.

Read more on revolutionary old ideas.

Growing high-provenance
Barley for

Since 2003

Barley Farm Map

the FUTURE
A NECESSARY RESTLESSNESS

Connection has become a key theme throughout our exploration of barley. Connection to the raw ingredient and to a farming community has resulted in what we hope will be an optimistic future for our local ecosystem. In a dream scenario, this early prosperity would influence others within Scotland to look harder at their supply chain and spread value deeper into their own network.

Our recent small steps to become more responsible and sustainable, have made us question the real meaning behind innovation in Scotch. If we are to continue to challenge ourselves, with a restless curiosity, and adapt to today’s challenging environmental conditions, it must be with purpose and intent and benefit for those beyond ourselves. We must develop relationships that support one another if there’s to be progress and a feeling of something new. And if our small nation is to prosper, there must be an interdependency between agriculture, renewable energy and distilling.

We have big dreams for the future but our optimism stems from a journey that has been hard yet rewarding thus far.

Knowing what we know now, we are certain our barley exploration will be ongoing and finite. More importantly, it will extend beyond the world’s most complex cereal into a more profound approach to making single malt whisky.

Bruichladdich

Annual Unpeated Production


OUR NEW VINTAGES


Revolutionary old ideas are introduced to the whisky world in this ‘Barley Exploration Series’. In a unique interpretation of barley’s intellectual potential, we presents the what, where and how of our barley growing in Scotland.

Bruichladdich Distillery
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