31stJuly. Visiting Islay for me (Anne) was a very special experience. My family on my mother’s side lived and worked on the island from the 1880s to the 1930s. My great grandfather William Harvey, along with two of his brothers, built the Bruichladdich distillery, on the west side of Loch Indaal, and my mother remembers visiting as a little girl. I was last here 25 or so years ago when the distillery was not operational – since then it has been re-opened and gone from strength to strength. We took the bus from Port Ellen round the top of Loch Indaal, with its long stretches of sand and wading birds, to Port Charlotte, a village just along the coast from Bruichladdich, where we visited the museum of Islay Life: they kindly found some old photographs of the distillery building.
Today it looks very similar but without the higher balconied section at one end which was destroyed in a fire, and the window and door frames are now painted in the signature blue of Bruichladdich’s brand. We walked past the war memorial at Bruichladdich which lists Douglas Harvey (my grandmother’s cousin) who was killed in 1917, and arrived at the distillery, where we first went to look at the manager’s house where my great-grandfather lived.
We were greeted warmly and invited in to look around. Originally two houses it is now a single – and very luxurious – guest house for the distillery’s ‘brand ambassadors’ and other visitors. We met Fiona and Margaret busy ironing sheets: they spoke very positively about the revival of the distillery’s fortunes and in particular that the ethos of the company is to involve local people, for instance by re-starting the growing of barley by farmers on Islay for whisky production.
We joined a tour of the distillery where we saw the process of whisky production using much of the original Victorian equipment and tasted some of the different whiskies produced. ‘The Laddie’ is an unpeated whisky, ‘Port Charlotte’ is heavily peated and ‘Octomore’ is super-heavily peated. We tried two delicious cask whiskies not available elsewhere, and – suitably warmed – we were tempted into a purchase. The distillery was the first purpose-built distillery on Islay: other distilleries developed out of farms, whilst Bruichladdich was designed and built with the most modern techniques and equipment of the time – including buildings made from concrete blocks.
After the tour I spoke to Mary McGregor, the private client manager at the distillery, who showed me some of the family artefacts in the possession of the distillery – a leather-bound book containing carbon copies of letters written by William Harvey and an impressive leather travelling bag belonging to Robert Harvey. It was very moving to visit a place which had been so important to my family, and to think of my grandmother Veronica Harvey spending her summer holidays there. It was also good to see the business thriving and operating in a way that has people and community at its centre, promoting local involvement and creating a product which is not only made but stored and bottled on Islay.