Mar 122011
 

It is quite possible that Bruichladdich is my favorite distillery.  Though not the force behind my absolute favorite malts, they are responsible for many – and I mean many – that I absolutely adore.   The diversity of spirit produced and expansive cask selection allows for a palette (not to be confused with palate) of broad and stunning spectrum.  Armed with an arsenal of tools (great stills, brilliant wood and exceptionally clean spirit) and an unmatched artistic flare, Bruichladdich has managed to carve out an impressive niche and done so in the purest of fashions.  The distillery drives the local economy and community in way that puts the industry giants to shame (a topic I intentionally steered clear of in this chat).  They bottle at 46% or higher, never chill-filter and continually push the boundaries in searching for the next creative outlet.  And all of this has all been accomplished in a fiercely independent and uniquely Islay manner.

Several months back I spent an hour or so with Mark Reynier, managing director, in his office at the distillery.  We spoke of his path to ownership of the distillery, life on Islay, expressions en route (at the time Mark was writing up the latest Organic notes), reporting in the industry and much, much more.  Since that time Mark and I have shared a few email chats and his opinions and thoughts have always been something I look forward to. 

Undoubtedly one of my favorite industry personalities,

Mark Reynier:

Bruichladdich's Mark Reynier

ATW:  Your trials leading to the purchase Bruichladdich are not secret, but do have more of an impact coming from the source.  Can you share some of the history that led you to Bruichladdich?

MR:  Check out this film made by Crowsnest Films which I think captures it all pretty well: http://www.vimeo.com/15662396

 

ATW:  You take exception to the currently accepted translation of ‘Bruichladdich’.  When last we spoke you gave a much more romantic translation and spoke to how it reflects more closely the character of the distillery and whisky.  What is your take on the true meaning of ‘Bruichladdich’?

MR:  Bruichladdich is listed as one of the fifty most unpronounceable names in Scotland (Scottish Miscellany).

Most Hebridean names derived from either the Gaelic, Norse or Anglicised equivalents denoting a precise geographical location.  Bruichladdich is derived from two Gaelic words brudhach and chladdich.  Brudhach a Chladdaich.  It is usually translated as meaning ‘brae by the shore’.

‘Brae’ is a Lowland Scots word derived from the Old Norse, breiðr, meaning a broad hillside, or ‘a gentle slope to the sea’.  Since names were originally given as specific location markers for navigation, neither meaning is pertinent to this location.

There is a steep bank at Bruichladdich, a raised beach of post-glacial marine deposits; trouble is that it runs for 8 miles along the north side of Lochindaal and so is not terribly precise as a locator, like saying ‘1st Avenue and 1st to 60th street’.

The confusion perhaps comes from Brudhach or bruthach.  According to Dwelly’s 1901 dictionary, is a rather general term in steepness from an ascent, hill-side, brae, to a steep acclivity, and precipice.  Chladach or cladach means a shore, beach, coast, or more specifically, a stony beach.  Interestingly, though obsolete by 1901, it also means a lee shore, a dangerous coast for sailing ships in a prevailing wind.

This specific part of Lochindaal in front of the distillery, is shallow and peppered with exposed rocks up to 50 metres offshore rather than ubiquitous sand of the loch.  With only a metre of tide to cover it, this is a deceptive and dangerous piece of the loch in the prevailing wind to ships either landing or at anchor – even today.  In the days of sail, a lee shore with sharp rocks waiting for an unsuspecting ship would indeed be worthy of specifying it’s location.

We can be  fairly sure that  Brudhach refers to the the raised beach, but specifically ‘a Chladdaich’, at the place of the dangerous rocky shore: Steep Bank at the Rocky Lee Shore would seem a more useful and accurate, if not so romantic, translation.

Brudhach, pronounced ‘brew-ac(h)k’ – with the ‘ack’ heavily aspirated and  Chladdich, here on Islay, is a softer ‘kladd-ie’.  So we get ‘brew-ahk-ah-kladd-ie’, which with the ending of the first word and the beginning of the second, eliding over time became ‘brew-ah-kladdie’, or ‘brook-laddie’ as it became in the nineteenth century.

A view of the distillery from the shores of the loch.

 

ATW:  Your history in the wine spheres have given you a profoundly unique approach to whisky maturation and finishing.  What do you feel has been the most successful marriage of Bruichladdich whisky and wine cask to date?

MR:  The 125 bottling.  1970 vintage in “selection de grains nobles” casks from Olivier Zind Humbrecht, the famous biodynamic wine grower from Alsace.  They had contained Pinot gris grapes from the Clos Jebsal vineyard, late-picked for über sweetness.  The “magic casks”, as Olivier calls them, were made by Dominic Laurent in Burgundy.  The quality of the oak casks was simply exceptional.  Combined with the richness of the wine and the vanilla of the spirit it was sensational.  It is a profound bottling, a landmark I would go so far as to say, though some people just did not get it: the whisky either scored 99% or 70% – there was nothing in between.  We have learnt an enormous amount.  Jim is a cooper by trade, from the age of 15, and I was a wine merchant trawling the cellars and vineyards of France from the age of 18.  Together that makes a powerful combination.  I have been able to introduce types of oak that Jim had only dreamed about.  His unparralleled, hands-on knowledge of whisky and wood means that we have been able to achieve some extraordinary results.  You wait till you see the follow on to Octomore Orpheus, the Ocotmore 4:2, released this autumn… Boy – a real mindXXXX!  Of course the loudest critics at the outset, industry players, have to a man made miraculous Damascene conversions.  But for us this work that takes place on a daily basis is no marketing wheeze, dreamt up by some PR department in London, Paris, Tokyo or New York; it is inquisitiveness.  Besides, we reckon a mix of oaks is more interesting but that’s for another time.

 

ATW:  I can only assume with your experimental nature that the Renegade rum line, and the forthcoming gin (which is exceptional!), are your ideas.  What triggered the decision for an Islay whisky distillery to branch out in these directions, and can we expect more innovations beyond whisky?

MR:  There are many similarities between the rum and Scotch whisky industries.  They are, after all, pretty much owned by the same players.  In my view, the rum industry is in an even more parlous state than the Scotch whisky was when I started to get involved.

Unlike rhum agricole, British rum has always been a by-product of sugar manufacture; it was generally blended away with other rums.  Its success was consequently inextricably linked to the that of sugar and commerce. But most of the Caribbean single estate distilleries, many created in the seventeenth century, have now disappeared leaving a small number of mega-plants.  This situation was created, more or less, by fatal cocktail of post-colonial independence, capitalist amalgamation, and socialist nationalisation.

The odd barrel of these defunct distilleries’ rums still exist, bottling them naturally like our single malts – single estate rum – wasn’t therefore exactly rocket science.  We wanted to demonstrate the individuality rather than conformity.  As well as honouring these estates, we were curious.  There is a dearth of knowledge out there apart from the mega brands.

The same big guys dominate the rum industry as they do whisky: volume is king – the rum equivalent of blended whisky.  I fear the reality is, sadly, that what we have is a last-gasp, end of an era thing. There are, though, one or two small estates doing well, but when you see the old derelict distilleries lying there in ivy-covered ruins it is a damming, desolate sight.  And remember, the single malt category, a tiresome, fiddly sector for those big players, very nearly did not happen at all.  It may be just too late for authentic, single estate rum.  We’ll see.

Botanist gin came about because we are curious about distilling.  For us it is not a question of merely pushing buttons, we like to test our distilling skills, we are intrigued.  With Trestaraig and X4 we have explored triple and quadruple distillation, so with a Lomond still that we had liberated from Inverleven in 2003, we were wondering how to use it. It was an experimental still, the first of its kind and now the last.  

'Ugly Betty', the old Lomond still Reynier speaks of, used to produce Bruichladdich gin.

 

ATW:  Bruichladdich has released a couple of organic expressions to date.  Do you believe the Organic was a success in terms of both flavor profile and as a viable product to move forward with? 

MR:  Yes.  The first was a very limited, flag-in-the-sand bottling at high strength from the 2003 vintage.  The second, perhaps more representative, is a full scale bottling at 46%.  It has extraordinary definition and intensity which some will get, others won’t.  Scottish organic barley now represents almost 50% of our requirements (depending on harvest) with the other 50% + coming from Islay itself.  It is a definitive, unparalleled, tangible proof of our desire to rediscover traceability, authenticity and provenance all of which, we feel, have been surrendered for conformity.  We are going to distil some 100 tons of biodynamically grown barley, as far as we are aware this über organic barley has never been used for whisky.

 

ATW:  At some point in the future to you intend to malt at least a portion of your barley (be it organic or otherwise) on site?

MR:  Possibly, but it is not a priority as it is unlikely to add quality.  Malting is a very precise art which in my view is best left to the experts – and we have a very good relationship with Bairds who bend over backwards to help us with the 26 different farms’s barley that we use, keeping each separate from field to fermentation.

Malting is fine to play about with on a small scale – and we do – but with 2,200 tons (almost 50% organic) it is different. Sure, some play at it for the tourists, but I am unaware of anyone that malts that volume themselves on site for their own use.  We have looked at it, done a little ourselves, and it is certainly something that we could consider in the future; but it would be an economic consideration primarily – all or nothing – not an emotive one.

 

ATW:  Bruichladdich’s flood of expressions is one of the things that has made collectors and connoisseurs both groan and drool.  On the one hand, there are countless new expressions to try.  On the other, there are countless new expressions to buy.  How do you respond to criticism regarding claims there are simply too many expressions?

MR:  No one is forcing anyone to buy them.

 

ATW:  I guess the follow-up question would logically be about a core range.  Though your independent, small batch style doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to the idea of a consistent core line-up, are there thoughts of establishing a more traditional ‘age statement’ type structure at some point or is the goal to get people bought in to the “spirit” of BL as opposed to specific standardized products?

MR:  The distillery was shut between 1994 and 2001 – apart from a period in 1998 – and the older stocks erratic in both ages and volumes.  And with a cost price of December 2000. This influenced our sales strategy which was based, basically, on the independent bottler format – small volume, limited editions.  As we approach our 10 years, our own stocks are coming on line, and we have been able to evolve that strategy which we have been doing over the last three or four years. Our portfolio is now based around 10 specific Bruichladdich subsets from work that we have been doing over this period, each with its own intrinsic raison d’être:

Rocks, Classic, 10, Organic, Islay Grown (out in 2011), 18, Black Art, Infinity, PC, Octomore

As well as the first team line-up there will be one or two special, limited editions like PC 9 &10, Octomore 4, and 4:2, DNA, Micro Provenanace, and of course the odd intriguing vintage or two…

There are, for example, a brace of web and shop-only bottlings we are finalising to celebrate our 10 years of opening the distillery which coincides with our exciting new web site on 31st March.

 

ATW:  The Bruichladdich approach has resulted in an interesting and eclectic collection of whiskies…I have to assume that with this level of experimentation there has been many surprises along the way.  Any huge surprises (or humorous mishaps) you’d care to share with the readers?

MR:  The 125 bottling – grab it if you can find one – sort of encapsulated what we have been doing; for some whisky producers on the Ford production programme, the ‘any colour you like as long as it is black’ brigade, it is abhorrent to have any more than one single distillery bottling; that was how it was when we started – now even the most staid of distilleries has three or four bottlings on the go.  What is wrong with variety?  Choice?

We are not navel gazing, we want to attract new consumers to single malt rather than the died-in-the-wool ‘traditionalist’ (shall we politely say) that complain we have too many syllables let alone bottlings. Our bottlings are unashamedly aimed at sophisticated consumers, wine drinkers, the unblinkered, the inquisitive of mind, those prepared to try real things, to learn, enjoy to savour the flavour.  They want to to know the Scotch was made with Scottish barley, that Islay single malt was made – from barley to barrel to bottle – from Islay barley.  Bruichladdich consumers want integrity, provenance, authenticity.

Humorous mishap? An enormously fat woman falling through the first floor of a warehouse – between the joists no less – almost on top of a freaked-out warehouse worker beneath; unfortunately she was a health and safety officer on holiday.

 

ATW:  Can you speak to the working relationship you and Jim McEwan have?  Obviously you are both individuals with well-developed noses / palates, and I would assume strong opinions.  

MR:  Culturally, and age, you could not get two more different people if you tried: one a metropolitan, small company, privately-educated, wine trade, English upbringing, pragmatic, Catholic, rugby fan; the other an islander, large company, protestant, whisky industry, Rangers supporting, superstitious Celt.  I first met Jim in 1989 outside Bowmore and remember being amazed at the enthusiasm of the man who I recall being even more enthusiastic about his love of whisky than I am about wine.  The next time we met face to face was a decade later in a solicitor’s office in Glasgow on the even of the purchase of the distillery.  I would not deny that it has been challenging at times – that tension would not be there if one didn’t care – and after all, we have absolutely nothing in common.  Nothing, that is, except passion, pride, enthusiasm, eagerness, daring, tasting ability, determination, imagination, inquisitiveness, vision… It took time to understand each other but thanks to my mother being half Scottish (my heart probably rather than my head) and the French and Viking blood of my father it helps.

 

ATW:  Is there any talk of restarting the Bruichladdich Academy again?

MR:  No.  Too much hassle.  We wanted to do it properly, give people the true experience rather than some dumbed-down, vacuous PR exercise.  It was fun do do but the simple reality was that it was too draining, too invasive on everyone – and we have enough on our plate as it is.

 

ATW:  Can you update us on the status of the New Port Charlotte Distillery?

MR:  We have the planning permission but were held up by the environmental permissions.  But since we finally received those, a year of monitoring river levels and flow rates etc… the economy has fallen out of bed and with that uncertainty we feel it would be unwise to proceed with this project, at this time, and compromise what we already have.  

 

ATW:  …and finally (from a couple of us)…

If a distillery owner was turning 50, say next year, would they not want to vat a special malt for that occasion, and if so would they not want loyal fans in Calgary to share a bottle?

MR:  I do not know to whom you refer.

 

Thanks, Mark.  Your time and effort are appreciated.

Watch ATW in the near future for a review of Willow Park’s (Calgary) exclusive Bruichladdich manzanilla 12 year old and a feature on Bruichladdich’s distillery manager, Allan Logan.

Also ‘Laddie on ATW:

An interview with Jim McEwan, Bruichladdich’s master distiller.

The Port Charlotte lineup in a vertical tasting (PC5-PC8).

…and several reviews under ‘Reviews’ on the right side of the page.

Sep 102010
 

From Islay Weblog…

Ardbeg and Bruichladdich Islay Distilleries Up For Sale?

Thursday, September 09 2010

Yesterday evening around nine a message was posted on a Dutch forum titled “Astounishing Islay whisky news from Scotland”. The message was posted by Hans Offringa. Hans Offringa is author of the book “The Legend of Laphroaig” and a respected member of the whisky community. The contents of his message were quite astounishing indeed. The news Hans posted was that Ardbeg Distillery was up for sale and Bruichladdich Distillery had recently been sold, according to a reliable Scottish source.

Immediately Twitter and Facebook were buzzing and several forums wrote about this unusual rumour, because that’s what it was/is. Hans Offringa tried to verify the news with some of his friends in Scotland and I did my wee research and checked with the Ileach. Brian was kind enough to contact Ardbeg and he said “I’ve checked with Ardbeg and they know nothing of which you speak. the source of the rumours may be the fact that Diageo own 35% of Moet Hennessy, who own Glenmorangie, but how that woud impact on the sale of ardbeg, I know not.” Continue reading…

In the meanwhile a Twitter message from Bruich_Sales appeared: “Not true! Bruich is still 100% independent & we are all working hard to hit budet this year and next.” Now that sounds like nothing has happened or will happen in the (near) future which means that Bruichladdich will remain independent and Ardbeg won’t be sold. Now why was this message posted in a Dutch forum in the first place? Of course it’s speculation but where there’s smoke there’s a fire. Like I said above, Hans Offringa is a reliable and respected member of the whisky community so my guess is that something really is brewing. Perhaps it’s something completely different, that I don’t know. In the meanwhile Hans is waiting for news from his friends in Scotland and as soon as anything comes up I will post it on Twitter and update this post. So for now the news is no news and the rumours will remain rumours.

Aug 282010
 

The vast majority of what we at ATW purchase comes from Willow Park Wines And Spirits.  Great selection…helpful staff…and close to home.  Not only do they bring in the best whiskies (and all else), they also put on the best damn events as well.  If you’re local, and care to come out, you won’t regret it.

See ya at some of these:

15 September 2010 “Last Chance Whiskies” (with Andy Dunn)

          Tickets:  $20          Doors:  7:00pm

Come and join Andy Dunn of Gold Medal Marketing for a whisky event like no other!  Taste some limited edition last chance whiskies from – Springbank, Gordon & MacPhail, Cooley Distillery, Bruichladdich and other top whisky producers.  These are rarified whiskies that you don’t want to miss.

30 September 2010 “Bourbon Night”

          Tickets:  $20          Doors:  7:00pm

Willow Park’s first bourbon tasting was a great success.  Join us again as we explore more of the interesting history and depth of flavor that made this Kentucky spirit famous!  A carefully chosen line up of only small batch and single barrel editions will be tasted to experience the diverse flavors that bourbon has to offer.  Hosted by Willow Park Wines & Spirits whisky expert Brice Coates, our guests will enjoy paired appetizers and sample a fantastic selection of rarified bourbons.

6 October 2010 “Murray McDavid & Bruichladdich”

          Tickets:  $20          Doors:  7:00pm

Selected by Jim McEwan, Murray McDavid bottlings come from some of the oldest distilleries around and are considered to be a new take on the world’s best spirits!  They are chosen for their individuality and diversity and we welcome you to come and join us for a memorable and informative evening.

20 October 2010 “Wild Turkey”

          Tickets:  $20          Doors:  7:00pm

With 28 years of experience, Edward Freeman Russell knows a thing or two about bourbon.  As the son of renowned Master Distiller, Jimmy Russell, and the fourth generation Russell to work at the Austin Nichols Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, Eddie is of unmatched pedigree in the bourbon industry.  This class is one of a kind and you don’t want to miss it!

27 October 2010 “GlenDronach” (with Alistair Walker)

          Tickets:  $20          Doors:  7:00pm

In 1826, the GlenDronach Distillery became one of the first licensed distilleries in Scotland.  Since then, GlenDronach has been producing some of the most revered scotch whiskies in the world.  They earned a reputation for producing richly sherried single malt scotch whiskies.  Please join us as Alistair Walker from the GlenDronach and BenRiach Distillery launches a rare 25YO single cask, exclusive to Willow Park Wines & Spirits, and walks us through a number of extraordinary scotch whiskies from the two distilleries.

2 November 2010“Glenrothes at the Rimrock” (with Ronnie Cox)

          Tickets:  $125          Doors:  5:30pm

Join Ronnie Cox of Glenrothes fame in the Rimrock Room of the Palliser Hotel for an evening of sublime whisky and gourmet food.  The four course meal will begin with cocktails at 6:00 and feature Select Glenrothes expressions to accompany the chef’s creations.  Tickets are extremely limited and include valet service.  A night not to be missed or soon forgotten.

3 November 2010 “Whisky Festival”

          Tickets:  $85

Join us for Alberta’s premier scotch event!  A spectacular evening featuring a dazzling array of 100 plus single malts and premium spirits, live Bagpipers, and gourmet catering.  There will be many distillery masters present from all regions of Scotland, including:

Andrew Calder – Sales Director Burns Stewart Distillers

Katherine Crisp – Brand Manager Burns Stewart Distillers

Andrew Gray – Sales Director & Proprietor Bruichladdich

Alistair Walker – Regional Sales Director GlenDronach

John Glaser – Compass Box Founder & Whiskymaker

Mike Harrison – Glenrothes Commercial Manager

Ronnie Cox – Director Glenrothes

Ross EJ Hendry – Brand Manager NA Berry Bros

Alex Bruce – Owner of Adelphi Single Malts

Enjoy the Calgary Highlander Band and Scottish Dancers.  Fabulous hors d’oeuvres from Buzzards, Nicole Gourmet, Wildwood and Willow Park Golf & Country Club are guaranteed to enhance these flavourful whiskies!

10 November 2010 “Winter Warmth – Cask Strength” (with Andy Dunn)

          Tickets:  $20          Doors:  7:00pm

Come taste some whiskies from top producers with Andy Dunn from Gold Medal Marketing.  These are sure to warm your toes on those cold – cold – cold winter nights on the prairies…. Wear your woolies!!!!

19 November 2010 “Exclusive Scotch Seminar”

          Tickets:  $50          Doors:  7:00pm

Willow Park Wines & Spirits invites you to join us for a very special evening of unique, truly superior Scotch Whiskies.  This single malt lovers event will feature single casks exclusive to Willow Park Wines & Spirits, as well as other sought after rarities.  Our guests will enjoy specially paired appetizers while discovering the interesting history and character of these malts.  Our star of the evening will be the Tullibardine 1966, a superior forty-two year old single barrel that Willow Park Wines & Spirits is proud to call our exclusive.  Come join us…

1 December 2010 “Macallan Scotch”

          Tickets:  $20          Doors:  7:00pm

The Macallan is the most respected and revered whisky in the world.  This legendary single malt has more awards and accolades than any other.  Join Brand Ambassador J. Wheelock to unlock the secrets of what makes this iconic luxury brand “the single malt against which all other must be judged”.  Guests will explore a selection of the two principal line-ups from The Macallan and learn more about what being a Master really means.

8 December 2010 “Christmas Whiskies Mini Festival”

          Tickets:  $25          Doors:  7:00pm

Please join Andy Dunn from Gold Medal Marketing, Rob White from Saverio Schiralli Agencies and Jonathan Bray from Purple Valley Imports – three of the most notorious whisky importers!  Check out their whisky recommendations for Christmas gift giving.