Going geeky over whisky

Bruichladdich gives its customers a breakdown of each bottle's vatting

Unlike many other whisky distillers, Bruichladdich eschews hyperbole in favour of tangible facts about its whisky.

Bruichladdich (say "brook laddie") is the only major distiller to distil, mature and bottle its whisky on Islay in Scotland.

"A lot of distillers cover things with marketing, but these days, people want to know about the provenance of what they're eating and drinking," says Bruichladdich brand ambassador Murray Campbell.

So, all the bottles of its classic, aquamarine and silver "The Classic Laddie" each have a five-digit code on the back, which when input into its website, tells one everything from the distillation year and the cask types used to how many of each cask were used in that batch and even what barley type was used.

Being a non-age statement (NAS) whisky, it is a blend of whiskies from different casks from various years, with their individual characteristics.

Providing customers with a complete breakdown of the vatting of each bottle may seem excessively detailed, but it is a move towards transparency.

As a small distillery, Bruichladdich makes 1.3 million litres of new make spirit a year. Big-name brands typically make more than 10 million litres a year. Many of the big-name Islay distillers, however, outsource their bottling operations to mainland Scotland, usually Glasgow, instead of doing it themselves on Islay.

Being able to provide information on the provenance of its whiskies also reflects how the company is adapting for the modern consumer.

"If we can give them all this information on every bottle, every other brand should be able to as well," adds Mr Campbell, 33, who was in Singapore recently to launch Bruichladdich's Islay Barley 2009 and Octomore 7.3.

While Bruichladdich is an unpeated single-malt whisky, the distiller also produces a heavily peated whisky, Port Charlotte, and the super-heavily peated whisky, Octomore.

But Bruichladdich is no stranger to going against the grain.

While the distillery itself has been around since 1881, it changed hands many times and closed in 1994. It was bought by a group of private investors in 2000 and reopened a year later.

With limited old stocks to rely on, Bruichladdich started putting out NAS whiskies while the rest of the industry went full steam with aged statements.

Mr Campbell says: "When we reopened in 2001, we still had seven-year-old stock from 1994. So, in 2004, we took a three-year-old whisky and mixed it with a 12- or 13-year-old whisky and didn't put an age on it. Nobody else was doing it at the time."

The current trend away from aged statements sees everyone reversing gears and focusing on NAS - while Bruichladdich is planning to go back to aged statements.

"What we're going to see in the next five years is the result of stock that we made from 2001," he says.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 04, 2016, with the headline 'Going geeky over whisky'. Print Edition | Subscribe