A distillery I was adamant I would visit as soon as my Islay trip was confirmed was bruichladdich. It simply ticked far too many boxes for me to be missed out on.
Situated in picturesque Bruichladich, it was rescued from oblivion by a consortium of bidders in 2001 and since then has gone from strength to strength. A tour for £5 a head is very reasonable indeed, given the number of samples offered and the fact it is redeemable against a bottle purchase. More on this later...
Arriving at the distillery the weary traveller is greeted by this retired still, with a jokingly placed pair of wellingtons serving as a warning to drinking on the job...
The visitor's car-park sits in the heart of the distillery and the tour begins and ends in the well-stocked shop (see for yourself!) We're led across the car-park and given a bit of the history by Helen, our knowledgable and enthusiastic tour guide. What follows is the most in-depth, open and enjoyable whisky distillery tour I've been on to date (and I've been on a fair few I can tell thee!). Kicking things off nicely we're told that nowhere is off limits* for us happy-snappers...this sits in stark contrast with many other distilleries where that handy catchall of "health and safety" is evoked for the dis-allowance of photography (the flash can ignite spirit vapours in the air...allegedly).
The first site is the only working example of a Bobby grain mill in existence. Not only is it working but its in use, but unlike at Jura, Helen's voice rises above the din. The grist produced here is transported over the road to the mash-house. Bruichladdich produces three different ranges of whisky and we're able to taste the malt of two of these to compare how the peat changes the flavour. Although some barley is grown locally, its all malted at Inverness due to the high variety of peat specs required by the distillery. They'd love to reintroduce some floor malting but the old malting floor and kiln building is currently occupied the shop!
The mash tun is another antique of a golden age. It is made of wood, open to the elements and has a fixed rake, meaning sparging takes that bit longer. The final water is too low in sugar to be economical in a fermenter and so becomes the first liquor for the next mash. We get the obligatory peek into a fermenter (also wood) and are hit by the overpowering CO2- this is a vigorous one then head into the still house.
The still house contains two each of wash and spirit stills plus a number of employees who soon evade the prying eyes invading their space. There's also another surprise in here (see right-hand side of pic for a hint) but that's for another post!
The stills are pretty tall and filled at quite a low level leading to a light spirit with plenty of finesse. The spirit safes are gleaming and the new-make is pouring through at a reassuring rate. This will be going into casks that won't be touched for at least ten years - a long capital tie up which made the extensive barrel stocks purchased with the distillery a must have.
Get a glimpse of these and the all important tasting in part two of the tour tomorrow!
*Of course, the down-side of this is there's a large amount of distillery porn in this post!