The taxi that picked us up was driven by what I can only describe as one of life’s true characters. Full of stories of the island and willing to answer any and all questions. When it came to the point of paying for the journey he asked what we had been charged on the way out, remonstrated that our previous driver had been 'a crook' and charged us £5 less. We gave him the extra as a tip because he had been so damned amusing! As we were arriving at Bruichladdich we realsied that we were about 40 minutes early. We were going to head to the Laddie Bar and pass some time with a dram but our learned driver had a much better idea. He dropped us at Debbie's - a mini-market that he assured us did very tasty toasties.
Walking into Debbie's was an interesting experience. It is a small shop that within its modest square footage seems to service most needs that a person could have. Need alcohol? Debbie's got you. Firewood? Don't insult her! Islay branded t-shirts? Oh, but of course! And then there were the toasties. I was not holding out much hope for the toasties given the fact that they appeared to be being made in the office of a mini-market. How wrong I was! Debbie makes a mean ham and cheese toastie! We sat in an area that was set up to approximate, rather convincingly, a country style livingroom. The Debutante was most exited by the fact that the shop did nice coffee. But we weren't here for coffee.
The Bruichladdich Distillery is amazing. It has been bought out, as is the case with nearly all the distilleries on the island by a large company, in this case Remy Cointreau. Having said that, it still feels like a small family run concern. When you arrive, you are greeted by the inimitable Mary McGregor who runs the Laddie Shop. What she doesn't know about whisky is simply not worth knowing and she always makes sure the folks in the shop are well taken care of.
Our guide took us around the distillery and I will not bore you with the details of the tour - it really is a 'you had to be there' kind of thing. There is one story that I would like to share. Bruichladdich Distillery had been moth-balled a number of times. There was a small skeleton staff of people who were around to care for the stock that was stored and ageing but there was no distilling. At the turn of the Millennium a man named Mark Reynier was visiting the island to visit the distillery, having not done his homework. Upon arrival, he was greeted with a set of heavily padlocked gates and a lifeless set of buildings. Never a man to be deterred, he called to a caretaker that he saw walking across the yard and pleaded to be allowed in, explaining that he had come a long way to see it and that it would mean the world. The exact language used has been lost to antiquity, but what is recorded is that he was denied entry.
The world needs more Mark Reyniers. Instead of putting his tail between his legs and going to lick his wounds at one of the other fine establishments on the island, he started in motion the process that eventually brought the distillery back to life. Calling upon a number of private investors, he turned Bruichladdich into the ’Progressive Hebredian Distiller' that it is today. For this we thank him. If you are reading this with a dram to hand I suggest you raise it to Mr Reynier. I'll wait.
I would be lying if I said this didn't stoke a conversation about how great it would be to pack in our jobs and do the same. Should the opportunity arrive I daresay Peathead and myself would be easy to convince, love our jobs as we might. As will become apparent in a future post, the Debutante really did warm to the notion whisky investment. The notion is, of course, much more romantic than the reality would be but a man can dream. I have talked about The Whisky Vault on the blog before. Rex and Daniel run an exceptional whisky tasting channel but they are also taking the bull by the horns and building a distillery! Check out these magnificent bastards here. Kings among men living the dream. Peathead, Sportsman and Debutante - you know where to reach me!
As you can see from the headline picture the Distillery has quite the range. They really are the most generous hosts that you could ever hope to meet. I worked my way through 4 of them (the Octomore, The Bere Barley, The Port Charlotte and the Classic Laddie, since you asked) before being treated to a measure of each of the valinch casks. These are the focal point of the shop - two casks fitted with taps that you can fill your own bottle. How could I not? One of the casks is Port Charlotte Heavily Peated and the other is The Laddie unpeated. I went for the Laddie but it was close...there was nearly one of each! Had it not been for the fact that there was a small bottle of 1992 Black Art on sale, there certainly would have been! The light floral notes on the Classic Laddie are something special that I have become a spot obsessed with recently. All of these are dialled up to 11 in the valinch! On that, if you haven't had the pleasure of trying the Black Art, you must! Mary was good enough to pour me a dram (quietly) when I said I wanted the bottle. Heaven on earth.
There is a notably clear bottle on the far left of the top picture that can't go unmentioned. The Botanist is the gin made by Bruichladdich and a damned nice gin it is. They use locally foraged botanicals, which gives a really clean and unique flavour profile but I want to introduce you to a very special individual who is responsible for the entire run of The Botanist. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you...Ugly Betty! It will not have escaped anyone's notice that gin has exploded recently and this is a very good way for a distillery to ride through those tricky years when there is new make spirit making the journey to being whisky - a time which otherwise could see a new distillery go through a three-year period not being able to bottle anything of their own distillation. Gin is quick to make and doesn't need to be aged. Despite this, I do argue that gin drinkers are becoming worse than scotch drinkers - goblet glasses, appropriate garnish, bitters, often enough fruit to populate a garden and enough ice to sink the titanic. The soon-to-be-Mrs Cask Blog and Mother Cask Blog will kill me for writing this. Wish me luck.
The tasting ended and it was time for us to leave. The day wasn't over, but I'll leave the rest of it for another post.