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Bruichladdich Distillery dominates the tiny settlement of Bruichladdich and looks out across the main A847 to Loch Indaal and to the village of Bowmore on the loch's far shore. Islay distilleries tend to be white painted with black details and, usually, have the name of the distillery in large black letters on the wall overlooking the sea. One of the (many) joys of Bruichladdich is that it tends to do things its own way. The distillery is attractively white but the details are in the house colour, turquoise, which on a sunny day picks up the colour of the loch it faces.
The distillery is easy to find, being the largest complex of buildings on this shore of the loch: though for those in any doubt, the line of casks spelling out the name in front of an old still gives all the confirmation anyone could need. Visitors to Bruichladdich turn in through the ornate gates in the frontage and park in the courtyard. Here you realise that Bruichladdich has not ignored the island tradition of adorning itself with its own name in large letters: rather it has adapted the tradition, and the name is in turquoise and on a wall overlooking the courtyard.
"Bruichladdich" is not the easiest name to pronounce or spell, either correctly or even consistently incorrectly. It is usually pronounced "Brook Laddie". The name is generally considered to come from the Gaelic for "raised beach", which accurately reflects the location of the distillery and the settlement which shares its name.
Your experience of Bruichladdich starts in the visitor reception and shop, on the shore side of the courtyard around which the distillery is built. Here you can get a feel for the wide range of whiskies produced and marketed by the distillery, and here you will probably also get your first sight of "The Botanist", Bruichladdich's own Islay dry gin, first produced in 2010. Bruichladdich's single malt Scotch whiskies are available at a range of ages, primarily 10, 15, 17 or 20 years, and are very highly rated. They tend to be less heavily peated than other Islay whiskies, though a range of styles are produced.
Meanwhile "The Botanist" is also a product the distillery can be justly proud of, giving all the taste you would expect and want from a good gin, but with an additional range of overtones and undertones which add complexity and sophistication. This is a gin that turns your G&T from something to glug into something to savour.
Like most distilleries, Bruichladdich buys in its malted barley. About half is organically grown on the east coast of Scotland and the other half is grown on Islay. The process starts on site with the stone remover and the milling machine. The latter came originally from Robert Boby Ltd of Bury St Edmonds and is painted in the house colour. Moving on, the mash tun is a truly magnificent piece of heavily engineered equipment which looks like it was made with cast offs from the Forth Rail Bridge: or would, if it did not date back to 1881 and therefore predate the bridge! Unusually it is open topped, which allows a good view of the interior workings. It is fascinating to think that this was the same mash tun that whisky writer Alfred Barnard saw at Bruichladdich when he visited in 1886: though the stirring gear is no longer, as it was in his day, "worked by a powerful steam engine situated in the courtyard."
The six washbacks have a room of their own and are made of Oregon pine. One is, oddly, rather smaller than its siblings, which nicely breaks up the regularity of the room when you view it from that end. You can find out more about Making Malt Whisky from our series of feature pages showing the stages in the process.
The heart of any distillery is the stillroom, and this is certainly the case at Bruichladdich. Here the stillroom is a real supermodel among stillrooms: intriguingly unusual in its layout, and with at least one totally unique feature which we will come back to. Assuming you are following the flow of the production, you enter the stillroom at a mezzanine level and your first view is the one shown in the footer image. The raised area at this end is an ideal place from which to identify the various elements of the distilling process.
The stills at Bruichladdich are unusually tall and narrow-necked, which results in the subtle character of Bruichladdich's whiskies. When Alfred Barnard visited, there were two stills, a wash still and a spirit still. There are now two of each. However, one of the wash stills dates back to 1881 and would have been seen by Alfred Barnard. The spirit still at the time of his visit was replaced by one of the ones you see today in 1971. The second pair of stills was added during an expansion of the distillery in 1975. There are two main spirit safes on view, one of which also dates back to 1881. The unique feature of the stillroom is the presence of "Ugly Betty", the Lomond still in which Bruichladdich distills its gin. This comes complete with its own spirit safe.
The output of the whisky stills slowly turns into Scotch whisky in the bonded warehouses on site, and visitors can enjoy the unique aroma and tranquility of this process as part of their tour. In 2003 Bruichladdich became one of only a handful of Scottish distilleries to have its own bottling plant, so this final part of the process also takes place on site.
Bruichladdich Distillery began life in 1881 when it was established by the Harvey family. It was closed in the early 1930s, but reopened after being purchased by a US company in 1938. The distillery was expanded in 1975 following a change of ownership, but mothballed by its then owners in 1994.
In December 2000 the distillery was purchased by Bruichladdich Distillery Company Ltd., a private company established for the purpose, including Islay investors. It recommenced distilling in 2001, and also began marketing whisky produced before the 1994 closure and purchased with the distillery. Bruichladdich subsequently went from strength to strength, a progression marked by vigorous and often inspired marketing: and by an informality of style and friendly humour visitors will enjoy at the distillery itself. In July 2012 the distillery was purchased by Rémy Cointreau.