In this edition of Whisky Wisdom, we talk to Adam Hannett, Head Distiller at Bruichladdich.
Located on the southwestern tip of the island, Bruichladdich was founded in 1881 and has changed hands many times over the past 130 years.
The distillery was mothballed in 1995 and left dormant for the next five years. In 2000, it was bought by Murray McDavid, and Islay-born Jim McEwan (formerly Bowmore manager) who rebuilt and restarted the distillery. Initially mainly producing unpeated whisky named The Classic Laddie, the distillery introduced two extra makes – heavily peated Port Charlotte and the very smoky Octomore.
In addition to whisky, the distillery also produces the famous Botanist Gin whose botanical mix includes herbs and plants from Islay.
Earlier this year, Bruichladdich launched the first rye whisky to be classed as an Islay Single Grain Scotch Whisky.
Let’s hear more from the man with all the whisky knowledge – over to Adam…
Tell us about your passion for whisky and what your role involves at Bruichladdich?
I grew up on Islay so was surrounded by distilleries, but it wasn’t until I joined Bruichladdich that my passion for whisky really began. I fell in love with the distillery ethos; the idea that everything was made on Islay for Islay, the palpable enthusiasm of the team, and their passion for experimentation, innovation and pushing the boundaries of whisky making. Everything was really exciting. As Head Distiller, beyond overseeing the creation of our single malts and The Botanist gin, it’s my job to ensure that the knowledge I’ve gained working at Bruichladdich is passed on to the next generation – safeguarding the legacy of my own mentors and predecessors.
Why is Islay such a hub for whisky distilleries?
Islay’s whisky history dates all the way back to the early fourteenth century, with Irish monks believed to have come across the island while travelling to mainland Scotland. They found Islay was perfect for whisky production with unlimited supplies of peat for malting, and loch and rivers filled with pure, fresh water. As time passed, Islay’s signature peat became a sought after flavour for blenders – and remains world renowned today. While staying true to the artisanal methods of whisky making, the distillation skills and capabilities of the people on the island have developed over time – and Islay is now home to a collective of exciting distilleries which produce exceptional liquids.
What is the best food accompaniment with the whiskies you produce at Bruichladdich?
At Bruichladdich Distillery we distil four unique spirits under one roof: Bruichladdich, unpeated single malt; Port Charlotte, heavily peated single malt; Octomore, super heavily peated single malt; and The Botanist, the first Islay dry gin. Our aim is to create the most thought-provoking spirits, always in pursuit of flavour, to be enjoyed any way you like. With such a vast portfolio of flavourful spirits it’s impossible to give a definitive food accompaniment – but for me, good company is always the perfect pairing to any dram.
Can you share any exciting plans you have at the distillery for 2023?
We have just launched our exciting new exciting new Islay rye whisky, made primarily from locally grown Islay rye – a first not only for Bruichladdich Distillery, but something brand new for Islay. Passionate about using our business as a force for good, we’ve also been looking at how to significantly reduce our packaging and waste, with another project coming later in the year. And of course Feis Ile is always a highlight in everyone’s calendar. I’m looking forward to welcoming everyone back to the courtyard for a proper Bruichladdich party!
What are your favourite places to visit on Islay on your days off?
Nothing beats a long dog walk on the beach, whatever the weather. We’re lucky to have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world right on our doorstep, with Ardnave home to some of my favourites. I love the peace and quiet, the remoteness, and if there’s no phone signal – even better.
Finally…there are millions of whisky lovers across the globe, but there are even more haters! How do you convert someone who has yet to really enjoy a dram or two?
For me, understanding someone’s flavour preferences is imperative. Once I know what they like – whether that’s light and floral or robust and smoky – I can find a whisky with a similar flavour profile to suit their taste. There’s a dram out there for everyone – they just haven’t found it yet.
You can book a tour at Bruichladdich Distillery, just a short drive from The Machrie, here.