“Visit Bruichladdich,” directed our Scotch Malt Whisky Society compatriots, a group of elderly Scottish men, who were dispensing advice between sips. We were meeting for the first time for a guided tasting of the winter outturn of the SMWS bottlings. “And do their warehouse tour. You’ll leave on your knees.”
Many of these men were serious enthusiasts, with impressive collections and having visited almost all the distilleries in Scotland (including those that have long since closed), so we patted ourselves on the back for having already booked the very tour they were recommending.
The Bruichladdich warehouse tour is a no-bullshit, advertising-light “tour”. After waiting in the Bruichladdich gift shop where you are amply provided with free samples of their range of whiskies and their Botanist gin, you follow the tour guide directly out to the warehouse and thus bypassing your typical 1-hour mash tun and still walkthrough. At the center of the musty warehouse, there is a small seating area with three large barrels lined up. The 3 selected casks for the tour vary each time, but are all one-of-a-kind selections. Our particular tour went from least peated to most peated, and included:
- a 1992 unpeated cask (the tour guide estimated a bottle of it would retail for 350-500 GPB based on its age);
- a 2004 Port Charlotte finished in dessert French wine;
- and a 2009 Octomore 6.3 (unique in its age of 9 years, unlike the released Octomores which are typically 5 years).
Between the generous drams, our tour guide gave us a brief history about the distillery, beginning with its origins: started by three brothers hailing from a well-known whisky family (Harvey), with one leading the design, the second leading the engineering, and the third leading the financing. The brothers had a falling out but the distillery remained in the hands of the oldest brother until his death, after which Bruichladdich changed hands several times until Whyte and Mackay purchased it and mothballed it (booooo!).
During a bike ride past the shuttered distillery, Mark Reynier became intrigued and wandered in, asking one of the distillery men about it. He was told in not-so-polite terms (one beginning with an “F”) to leave. He nonetheless pursued the distillery aggressively (eventually hiring said man) and purchased the distillery for around $5M for the casks (around $40 per cask) and an additional $2M for the building and other assets. He sold the company for 58M GBP to Remy Cointreau. It’s a bit of a Cinderella story, and double-the-fun because you’re drinking some exclusive cask-strength whisky while listening.
The tasting can last up to an hour but took our little group of four only 20 minutes before we returned (very happily) to the gift shop to peruse the distillery-exclusive bottlings and sample more of their whiskies. We ended up bottling our own distillery exclusive straight of the cask: a sherry-cask finished Port Charlotte, which ended up being one of our favorite acquisitions from the trip. It’s a raisiny smoke bomb – and the antithesis of a whisky wallflower.
The tldr; of the visit? Even if you get exhausted with all of the distillery visits and their transparent self-promotions, definitely go on the Bruichladdich warehouse tour. It’s fast – it’s fun – and for 20 GPB, an incredible deal for the whiskies you’ll get to sample. Unlike other distilleries, Bruichladdich lets the whiskies market themselves.