Why do you get the idea to work at a Whisky Distillery? I honestly wouldn’t know, but a whisky freak like me just wants to know everything about Whisky and the process of making Malt Whisky. I have read a lot of books and they come close in describing the process but there is more to it, and that is what I found out during my two training periods at Bruichladdich and Ardbeg. What follows are two reports from my Whisky Classes at Bruichladdich in the spring of 2005, and at the Ardbeg Distillery in 2006 on the beautiful Isle of Islay, which I finished only two weeks ago.
Bruichladdich is a very nice distillery located on the shores of Loch Indaal in the little town of Bruichladdich. The people are very friendly and in fact they are one big family. At Bruichladdich almost all the work is done at the distillery itself, from grinding the barley to bottling the whisky. An interesting detail is that the staff treat the students from the Whisky Academy as their equals which makes working and studying at the distillery very pleasant. The Academy is a new learning project in the Whisky world and at the Bruichladdich Distillery paying attention is very important, there are only 4 days and in these 4 days you learn and work at the whole process of whisky making. Asking questions is never a problem, the more the better they say.
From the grinding of the barley until the filling of the mashtun you can see there is a lot going on. The grinded barley in hot water looks strange and has a peculiar smell, the heat in the mashtun is extreme. Temperatures start at 172 Fahrenheit in the beginning of the process and are then reduced to 149 Fahrenheit, otherwise everything would burn. The water is used four times to get as much ingredients as possible before the next process.
When the process is finished after seven hours it is pumped to the wash backs where it remains for at least 48 hours, longer if the weekend comes in between. Then the most important process starts; producing the spirit. Through the low wines and the stills the real spirit is produced and than the cask filling and maturing starts. The spirit will remain in the casks for at least 5 years, but normally longer to let the whisky fully mature. Bruichladdich recently released their first self made Malt Whisky, the Bruichladdich PC5 evolution. A very nice whisky which will be on sale in a limited edition. Orders can be made through the Laddieshop starting at the first of October.
Another interesting detail at Bruichladdich is the fact that they experiment with higher alcohol percentages. Recently they released a 93% and 70% ABV Malt Whisky. The bottling street had a revamp recently and works perfect. The people at Bruichladdich run the distillery to perfection and everything is well taken care off. I had a great time at Bruichladdich, in fact it was an eye-opener and I learned much about the whole process.
The Ardbeg distillery is located on the east-coast of Islay on the road from Port Ellen to Ardtalla. The people here are all friends and like Bruichladdich one big family. On Monday September 4 I had a conversation with Stuart Thomson, after I was told on Saturday that he announced to leave Ardbeg. Stuart beer delivery Thomson was the chairman of the Ardbeg Committee for the last 5 years. Stuart told me about work at the distillery and the reason for leaving. We had a fine conversation over a cup of coffee and later I started work at the distillery. Here I met a lot of colleagues who I still remembered from my previous time at Ardbeg. Stuart was the talk of the day and they told me they had to return to the distillery on Friday September 1 to hear the news.
I started to work loading a trailer First. Because of a lack of warehouse capacity at Ardbeg they send trailers to the mainland where the whisky matures in warehouses close to the Main Office. After the trailer was loaded I started working in the distillery to find out what it is that makes working at Ardbeg so rewarding. The process is more or less the same than that in other distilleries, but at Ardbeg they use the water from the wash back only twice; first because they only have two stills and second, all the necessary ingredients have been extracted.
Before the spirit enters the casks I have the opportunity to taste it and then the casks are filled and stored in the warehouse. After that we enter the warehouse and tasted the whisky that has been matured for a half year, one year and 2 years. One day later I have the opportunity to taste the new Ardbeg Whiskies, the 3, 5 and 7 years old and the “Almost there”.
If you are lucky you get the chance to taste the older whiskies, a real treat for a whisky enthusiast like myself.