The Whisky Barrel has always enjoyed seeing the light-hearted mystique and often canny single malts released by Bruichladdich distillery over the past decade. Not only have examples such as Port Charlotte and Octomore been clever alchemist creations but they are also a delight to drink.
Along with having a keen eye on the lighter side of distilling and in some respects helping to popularise whiskey to many younger drinkers and welcoming a new era of whiskey tourists to Islay. Bruichladdich’s past has not been plain sailing and this week brought news that ownership of this iconic distillery acquired from Beam Global in 2000 for £6.5million GBP is changing hands once again, under the stewardship of French drinks giants Rémy Cointreau for a whopping £58million GBP. So what will this mean for the progressive Hebridean distiller?
Foreign ownership is not an unusual part of the Scottish Whiskey industry. Even on Islay there are the Japanese owners of Bowmore and French owners of Ardbeg’s parent company. The idea that a Scottish product is creating revenue that ultimately lands in overseas business’ accounts doesn’t sound all too appealing. However, the reality of it is much, much different. Rémy Cointreau have stated that they see this as a move to add to their existing high end and luxurious spirit portfolio. In short, this takeover can be seen as a statement to secure the future of the distillery and more importantly the production of Bruichladdich single malt Scotch whisky. Local jobs and local economies will continue to benefit from the distillery and the consumer will continue to see quality products pouring out of the still. At least, let’s hope so.
But, are there any negative sides to this French revolution? Bruichladdich has the last remaining bottling hall on Islay. Most distilleries have their whiskey shipped across to the mainland and make use of large scale bottling plants to assist the product to the shelf. Bruichladdich have remained true to the days of old where the whiskey production all took place on the one site. This whiskey is truly locally produced. However, with this takeover there is a possibility this may change. The use of bottling plants on the mainland is done as a means of keeping costs low but also help keep up with demand by using modern machinery on a larger scale. Losing this won’t affect the end product but would spell the end of this in-house craft.
In addition to this there is a chance that the small-scale bottlings (6,000 units) that have helped make Bruichladdich stand out may be reduced or cease. Rémy Cointreau are a globally recognised business and with this their focus may be to concentrate on high-end luxury products and thus focus more on the large-scale bottlings at the heart of the Bruichladdich brand.
Having said all that, the appeal of Bruichcladdich comes from these often unique expressions and it may be this that has helped attract such a big name brand to spend a princely £58 million to take ownership. Time will tell what the future for Bruichladdich holds and the takeover is expected in the coming weeks. However, whatever happens, the outgoing shareholders led by Mark Reyner are due a huge amount of credit for putting Bruichladdich in a position where it can be sold for this huge sum of money. Having bought the mothballed distillery back in 2000, Mark and fellow investors, along with the wise nose of Jim McEwan, have brought the distillery back from beyond the brink and have developed it into one of Islay’s and indeed Scotland’s prized assets. So the French revolution may begin but as is the way with the whiskey industry, history and heritage play just as important a part for success as the product itself. Provenance pays dividends.