What is ‘terroir’and how does it affect the taste of Whisky?

Terroir is how a particular region’s climate, soils and aspect (terrain) affect the taste of whisky.

At Bruichladdich, we appreciate the centuries of experience and knowledge held by the great vintners.

In the world of fine wine, terroir is a concept that reflects the inter-action of soil, sub-soil, exposure, orientation, climate and micro-climate on the growth of the vine and the harvest of the grape.

The great vineyards revere terroir for the subtle nuances of traceable character, flavour, lineage and integrity it bestows.

Terroir varies according to place. It varies not just at a regional level – but also from farm to farm, from one field to another, from harvest to harvest and from one vintage to the next. Its effect will inevitably vary from plant species to plant species and from crop to crop.

At Bruichladdich, we believe terroir matters. We believe it imparts subtle nuance and variety to sensory experience. It will have an effect on any food or drink. The more complex the flavours inherent in that food or drink, the more profound that effect – and single malt Scotch whisky is the most flavour complex spirit in the world.


We are aware that casual whisky drinkers have, on the whole, not previously considered terroir, just as terroir is not high on the list of concerns for casual wine drinkers.

This is at least partly because industrial producers of both whisky and wine would rather that was the case and is why they concentrate on promoting image rather than espousing more challenging concepts.  At Bruichladdich we produce some of the most thought-provoking spirits in the world.  They will not be for everyone.

We believe however, that the Scotch whisky industry has hidden behind the smokescreen of brand image because that is easier than getting a grip on the esoteric micro-influences that come to play on the development of its fundamental raw material, barley – the most flavour complex cereal in the world.

As soon as we re-opened this distillery in 2001 we placed the concept of terroir at the centre of everything we did and worked towards.  “We believe terroir matters”, is a statement of intent – a central pillar of our philosophy.  It defines who we are, what we do and how we do it.

Where we are now

We label and trace, parcel by parcel, different barley varieties, from different farms, even different fields.

We distil different varieties of conventionally grown barley separately.  These include Optic, Propino, Concerto, Chalice, Publican, Golden Promise and Maris Otter.  There are others.  We also distil organically grown barley, and the ancient Bere Barley.

On Islay, nineteen farmers have grown barley for us, some of which have been distilled separately, some consolidated.  We have varied the programme from year to year to explore a wide range of combinations and permutations.  The great uber-provenance whiskies that are now emerging from our warehouses are the direct result of this work.

Since the resurrection in 2001 the barley we have used has been 100% Scottish. Taking this pledge further we now have a large current portfolio of uber-provenance whiskies that are distilled from the produce of named Islay farms. These are the single malts from ‘Islay Barley’ editions of Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte and Octomore.  We have released Bere Barley whiskies from grain harvested from farms on Orkney and Islay plus organic whiskies from farms on the Scottish mainland.

The future

We believe we are way ahead of the curve. The future is a very exciting prospect indeed.

For the past four years we have been additionally conducting a giant experiment by distilling malt derived from 50, then 100 and now 200 tonne batches of theoretically identical, conventionally grown, barley that has been harvested from three different regions of mainland Scotland, Aberdeen, The Black Isle and Lothian. The results have been fascinating because they are not identical at all.

We are increasingly able to demonstrate that the subtly nuanced characteristics of these different terroirs are retained directly in our maturing whisky stocks, depending on harvest, yield, weather and crop rotation.

As the years have moved forward we have become more organised, more radical and ever more militant in our commitment to the concept of terroir. As a result, our warehouses are now full of whiskies of extraordinary variety and provenance.

We believe we are way ahead of the curve. The future is a very exciting prospect indeed.

Articles on Terroir

Bruichladdich Distillery
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