Whisky is an industry steeped in traditions, codes and myths; It’s got a romance to it that few industries can match. Perhaps never more present than on our home of Islay, off the west coast of Scotland.
So, when we set out to become pioneers of sustainability in the spirits industry, pushing the boundaries and charting a bold new course for whisky with purpose, you can imagine some of the hurdles we needed to overcome and some of the eyebrows that were raised in the process.
Bruichladdich Distillery was built in 1881. It’s of Victorian design that, whilst beautiful, makes future-proofing an extra shade of tricky if you want to retain its original charm. It means that everything we can do to make the distillery more efficient and sustainable, has to be retrofitted onto or around a 140-year-old building, whilst still adhering to the rules and regulations that mean we can call our spirit “whisky”. And those rules also apply to the raw materials we put through our stills, presenting more tradition we need to be mindful of whilst searching for more sustainable paths forward. Thankfully, we relish these challenges and the chance to be true change-makers in the world of spirits. With that in mind, here’s a brief glance at three of the things we do at Bruichladdich Distillery to be a more sustainable business.
From the very beginning, we’ve been firm believers that the whisky industry and the farming industry should always go hand in hand. It wasn’t so long ago that distillers’ main focus was on yield and economies of scale rather than quality or flavour, which meant buying barley for its profit margin rather than its environmental impact. We sought to change that by only buying Scottish barley and by working closer with farmers to understand their challenges, and see how we could support them as they change and adapt to what their land needs.
So, while the methods we apply in our production are traditional, distilling slowly and by hand, we are adamant that the continual reimagining of our Victorian distillery will help us establish and support a more meaningful local ecosystem.
In the past decade, we’ve been able to release single farm bottlings using barley grown from one farm in one season, something the industry has never previously been able to do. And we recently unveiled the world’s first biodynamic scotch - a delicious whisky from a farm that sequesters 10 times more carbon than it emits.
This is just the beginning. We’ve plenty more unique liquids maturing in our warehouse on Islay that will show the industry and the world that there’s a bright future in producing whisky with purpose.
As you can imagine, producing whisky is an energy-intensive operation. Fortunately, we were lucky enough to secure government funding to pilot hydrogen power for our production. After an initial consultation on “HyLaddie”, as we call it, we got the green light to install a zero-emission hydrogen boiler, which will be the first of its type installed in the UK, and would generate the heat we need to make the steam for distilling our spirits
This current phase of the project is a demo – it’s an engineering and design study. The idea is to create hydrogen on site using our existing electricity supply (certified renewable from our electricity provider). There’s a small element of storage too, so we can prove the concept. We’ll run that for a year and gather data. If it’s successful, we’ll use the data and the experience to enter a Phase 3 which addresses the scaling up and commercialisation.
Perhaps the jewel in the crown of our sustainability work was achieving B Corp status in 2020. It was a long road to meet the rigorous criteria but we’ve been committed since day one to being a more sustainable business, even in the face of the challenges that come from running a Victorian distillery on a remote island. Our initial score was 83.2 out of 200, so we’re definitely on a journey, but we’re so proud of the achievements to date and we’ll always be transparent about the successes and the struggles.
The work we’ve done in the past 21 years has made a huge difference to the island community we call home, the liquid we produce, and the world in which we live. But more than this, we’ve been at the vanguard of sustainability in spirits; showing that you can be a successful distillery whilst putting purpose on an even footing with profit. This is arguably more important for us; we’re just one distillery but if we can make a case for the whole industry to have a deeper positive impact, we can make an incredible difference. AH