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Bruichladdich distillery enjoys the good life

Bruichladdich Distillery purchase Shore House Croft

In the world of fine wine, terroir is a concept that reflects the interaction between soil, exposure, orientation and climate on the growth of the vine and the harvest of the grape. Long regarded as unimportant in the whisky world, it has been the accepted norm for the industry to focus instead on yield, efficiency and maturation. Since their resurrection in 2001, Bruichladdich Distillery have rejected the notion that these three elements are the crucial factors in creating spirits. They have instead turned their attentions to sourcing the highest quality, and most interesting, raw ingredients – predominantly barley.

Having developed the idea of an ‘Islay terroir’ over the past two decades, Bruichladdich have taken elements of this French philosophy and applied them to their island practices. Having built relationships with 17 Islay farmers and many more throughout Scotland, the 100 strong team have now made some progress in exploring the impact of the grower, climate, barley varietal, location and even lack of pesticides on the flavour of their spirit.

While it has never been the intention to document their conclusions in a scientific manner, the distillery’s comprehensive product range gives an insight into the nuances that may be discovered if boundaries of normal convention are broken.

Regardless of their current progress, Bruichladdich clearly feel that there is more work to do, and that there is always more to learn. It is with great pride then, that they announce they have acquired their own croft.

The thirty acres of Shore House Croft surrounds Bruichladdich Distillery, sprawling to the back and side of the site, away from the coast. Having not been farmed in recent years, the opportunities to develop the land and existing properties are plentiful.

Finalised plans are yet to be shared, however, Bruichladdich’s Production Director Allan Logan has described the move as an opportunity to improve his team’s agricultural knowledge. Special attention is due to be paid to improving sustainable farming practices on Islay. Explaining the details further, Logan states;

This is a great opportunity for Bruichladdich to progress our Islay barley agenda and our exploration of an ‘Islay terroir’. In the very first instance, we’ll conduct soil surveys with local consultant Hunter Jackson, and a biodiversity survey with our professional forager James Donaldson.

Depending on the results, we hope to establish our own trial plots on the croft, where we’ll test the viability of different barley varieties on Islay soil. One day, we may add to the number of different spirits distilled here, and for us, the most interesting place to look is outside of the ‘recommended list’, to heritage varieties. These ‘lost’ varieties currently lack focus in terms of research in the industry, in part due to a lesser commercial incentive.

We would like to further develop our relationships with the James Hutton Institute and the UHI Agronomy Institute to highlight unchartered territories for us as distillers. This all comes back to flavour, we’re not interested in the common-place parameters, so we must customise our own research.

As well as working with these academic institutions, we’d like to share knowledge across our own Remy Cointreau family. With our sister distillers Westland and Domaine des Hautes Glace pioneering different areas within the world whisky scene, we have a unique opportunity to learn from each other and to consult external expertise. If we can collaborate with all these parties, I’m confident we would gain substantial insight into the entire process – from seed, to farm, to glass.

Ultimately, we’re very excited to use this land for agricultural use. The scale is tiny compared to the land currently being farmed by our partners on the island, but if we can do the experimentation in-house, it may benefit the rest of the growing community here.

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