-> 2007 -> Good and Bad News from Bruichladdich, Islay

Thursday, 07/Jun/2007

Good and Bad News from Bruichladdich, Islay

Picture of the Port Charlotte Distillery standard being raised

This entry is an entry of two halves, a very positive part and a quite worrying part. Let me start with the good news from Islay: Back in February I first raised the possibility of a ninth distillery on Islay, a topic soon picked up by other blogs. As soon as March I was able to follow up with the announcement that Bruichladdich was going to reopen Port Charlotte Distillery. After some initial confusion I also understood more about the future Port Charlotte Distillery warehouses. A bit over a week ago it was time for the next step in the resurgence of the Port Charlotte Distillery on Islay.

One of the big events of last weeks Islay Festival of Malt and Music was the ‘First Cut’ at Port Charlotte, the official beginning of the project to reopen the distillery. On the 27th of May 2007 Lady Caroline Mactaggart, wife of the Bruichladdich chairman, cut the first turf of the new Port Charlotte Distillery Project. Sir John Mactaggart then spoke about the company before raising the Port Charlotte Distillery Standard:

6 years ago today we set out on an adventure. The challenge was for a private company, in a world of multinational distilling groups, to acquire, resurrect and profitably run a dead distillery. And do it from a Hebridean Island.

There are still plenty of hurdles to surmount between this day and the eventual moment when the first spirit runs - the boys have their work cut out - but I have no doubt that in the not too distant future we will gather here again to celebrate that extraordinary moment.

500 locals and visitors were at the event, Ron was one of them and recorded his impressions. The plan is to finally reopen the distillery on the same day in 2009, two years from now.

So far, so good. Great news from Bruichladdich and Port Charlotte, something to really look forward to. Yet at the same time there are also dark clouds on the horizon. In worst case they could even jeopardize the success of the Port Charlotte Distillery project:

Picture of the Keewhit, a double hulled tanker

On the left you can see the Keewhit, a double skin tanker, approaching Bruichladdich pier. It provides the oil supply required by not only Bruichladdich Distillery (and at some point likely Port Charlotte Distillery), but also by the other seven distilleries. There's only one problem: This is a view not seen often enough. It started when the pier at Bruichladdich was rebuilt in 2006 for £3m by Argyll and Bute Council. The project was dogged with a number of problems and local concerns being raised about flaws in the design.

As the new pier was built on the old structure concerns were raised about its stability and a weight restriction was imposed on the pier. The depth at the pier is only 4 metres (5 metres at a spring tide, which only occurs 12 times a year), with the Keewhit having a draft of 4.97m at full load. In other words, it can only land in perfect conditions.

This already led to problems in early December, which reoccured two weeks ago just as the Festival was about to start. Islay was running out of oil for the distilleries to run their stills. Not a good situation for an island that contributes £105m in duty to the Exchequers coffers.

This leads to concerns that reliable oil supply and the viability of the whisky industry on Islay has been placed in jeopardy:

It is feared that Shell have lost interest in delivering such uneconomic loads. The only alternative is road haulage and ferry but this route is already at maximum capacity.

With a move to centralise distillation in new mainland mega-distilleries there are potentially implications for the island’s economy in the event of an industry downturn.

I hope someone finds a solution to sort out this mess and ensure a future whisky production of the best whiskies in the world!

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