A peat bog at the Bruichladdich Distillery, Isle of Islay, 2010
Photo by Philip Sinden
Since Bruichladdich reopened as an independent distillery in 2000, the “progressive Hebridean distilling philosophy” (which emphasizes provenance and authenticity) of its master distiller Jim McEwan made for a series of unique new whiskies that are sold alongside the brand’s stock of older vintages. Shrugging off what managing director Mark Reynier describes as “the tyranny of the ‘age’ statement”, Bruichladdich has created several multi-vintage bottlings that have singular styles. Here we examine three of their newest limited-edition spirits.
Though many of the distilleries scattered around the river Spey on the east coast of Scotland have moved away from using peat in their malting process, on Islay they continue to use the natural fuel to smoke the barley, lending a distinctively rich flavor that carries through to the spirit. In 2008 Bruichladdich released Octomore, the world’s most heavily peated whisky at 131ppm (phenol in parts per million), in a limited run of 2,000 cases that sold out within two hours, and two years later the company unleashed its third bottling, Octomore III, certified at 152ppm (Ardbeg, traditionally the most heavily peated spirit from Islay, comes in at 50ppm).
Using Chalice barley culled from three different organic farms on the east coast of Scotland—those of Mid Coul, Coulmore and Mains of Tullibardine—this multi-vintage whisky, which owes much of its characteristics to the distillery’s 2003 vintage, is remarkable in that every single bottle can be directly traced back to the field from which it came, with each bearing the name of the source farm.
The Bruichladdich team acquired the unique Lomand still–––designed in 1955 as a poly-purpose vessel that could create many different types of whisky––during the dismantling of the Inverleven distillery in 2003. During its restoration they took the opportunity to install a botanical basket in the neck. This modification has become the key to the company’s pioneering gin (it’s the first of this spirit to be produced on Islay) as it holds the 22 local botanicals (mainly petals and leaves, including a rare species of juniper) that, combined with nine others from the mainland, give the product an idiosyncratic flavor.