I find reading bloggers’ accounts of distillery tours to be about as exciting to read as the twitter feed of…well, anyone, really. Narcissistic drivel, most of it. Just tell me if it was a good tour or not: beyond that, if I wanted to know the information contained in the tour, I’d go on the freakin’ tour myself, even if it was going to be a very long while before I made it there. So I’m not going to do that here. Plus, in some cases, as was the case with Bruichladdich, I didn’t get a typical tour. Mary McGregor, the Shop Manager, was kind enough to arrange for me to meet Jim McEwan, Master Distiller and Production Director for Bruichladdich, and Duncan McGillivray, General Manager, and to chat with them for a while as they took turns showing me around the distillery and the warehouses. Both men were incredibly generous with their time, and I am thankful to them both for what was an amazing experience seeing the full operation at Bruichladdich.
Without going into mind-numbing detail, here are a few interesting highlights:
--Bruichladdich has an open mash tun. Very cool and not typical.
--Bruichladdich bottles its whisky on-site. Also very cool and atypical.
--Every Bruichladdich employee is a part owner (that is, owns stock in the privately held company).
--There is a very relaxed and familial feel to the interactions between employees at Bruichladdich: it’s clear that they’re having fun working there.
--Bruichladdich produces gin made from Islay botanicals, and they produce it in a great old still called Ugly Betty. Oh, and it’s far and away the best gin I’ve ever tasted.
--Shop Manager Mary McGregor is da bomb.
--Bruichladdich has a system that treats waste water and the draff from the distilling process with bacteria that cleans the water and produces methane the distillery uses for fuel. This keeps them from having to move waste water by tanker to Port Askaig, thus saving a monster amount of wear and tear on Islay roads and significantly reducing the distillery’s environmental impact.
When I met Duncan McGillivray, he was in coveralls covered in white paint, because he’d been painting a part of the distillery before my arrival. At Bruichladdich, this kind of thing is apparently not uncommon. There are a lot of things that need to be done at the distillery, and just about anyone there can be expected to do those things if need be. But it was very clear to me from the start that Duncan’s heart and soul is housed within the distillery’s walls.
Jim McEwan’s reputation is larger than life, but I found the man himself to be down to earth and very kind. Even in one-on-one interactions, though, his charisma and passion comes through, and the fire in his eyes is undoubtedly that of an industry trailblazer and a visionary. Jim spoke to me of the recently released 10 year-old (it was five days away from release when I visited) and of the Port Charlotte whiskies as his children, with all of the pride and love one would expect to hear in the voice of someone describing his kids. Then again, he also used a military metaphor (which I won’t repeat) in which the two featured prominently. I guess the take-away is that he’s ready to send his own beloved kin into battle, and anyone willing to do that is indeed formidable. Other whisky producers take heed: the Laddies and the PCs are coming of age, and they’re coming for you.
On the issue of producing so many varied expressions, Jim told me what he’s told many others: this is something they had to do to make money while they made up the gap in their production from the years before they took over, when the distillery was shuttered. But he also added another, more interesting angle that speaks much more to the current owners’ ethos: “If you have this amazing kitchen, why would you want to make nothing but ham and eggs?” Mr. McEwan, we here at the Malt Impostor couldn’t agree more: why would you indeed. Plus, John’s a vegetarian.
Stay tuned for tasting notes on specific Bruichladdich expressions in the coming days...