The coffee grinding machine was dominating the sound in my recording of a conversation with Murray Campbell. We were in a small café in Singapore. Murray was visiting to tour for Bruichladdich whisky tasting events for the region. He was 27, and was newly appointed as the Regional Sales Manager to look after the Asia market. I could hear his exciting tone behind the steaming of espresso machine when he talked about the brand.
The negotiation for the buy over of Bruichladdich by Remy Cointreau was still underway while we met. The future was uncertain for the distillery. Everything Murray did to promote the brand could have just been a waste of effort. Maybe they would decide to pull back from Asia market altogether. Maybe Bruichladdich would no longer be Bruichladdich.
What is Bruichladdich anyway? The distillery has changed ownership and been abandoned several times. No one can even tell what the original Bruichladdich tasted like. It was only restarted again in 2000 while a Bruichladdich believer (I call him a romancer who had a full nostalgia feeling about the distillery) – Mark Reynier bought over the distillery. He put together 60 shareholders to keep the distillery going for 11 years, making a name for the brand again across the world. Having to consider letting go of the distillery would be a big decision and maybe a heart wrecking one.
All the way in Asia, Murray was determined to find a job that was close to home. He wouldn’t have chosen to work for anyone else but Bruichladdich – because of the family tie. With only one aim in mind, Murray approached the brand back in Scotland and gave his proposal to help the distillery reach out to Asia.
You are very young compared to others in the whisky trade, have you always been a whisky aficionado?
I'd been drinking whisky in the pub since I was 18 without really being aware of what particular type of whisky I was drinking, only knowing that I had a liking for the taste. I grew up right above Oban distillery and spent all my childhood holidays visiting my aunties, uncles, cousins and grandparents on Islay without ever being aware of what whisky was. Thinking back on that it does make me feel that this was perhaps an industry I was meant to get involved in one day.
You were very specific when you chose which whisky brand to work with. Why Bruichladdich?
My mother was born and raised on Islay so I’ve always had a close connection to the island. Also my Uncle started at Bruichladdich Distillery in 1974 and has worked there throughout the years the distillery has been operational (Bruichladdich was closed a number of times over the past 30 years). The distillery reopened in 2001 and I kept a close eye on its progress throughout the initial years. In 2009 I was living in Shanghai and contacted the Bruichladdich Sales Director with a proposal to import Bruichladdich in to China, and instead was offered a position to remain in Shanghai and manage our Asian markets, which I gladly accepted!
How was Bruichladdich like when it bought over the distillery in 2001?
The distillery was bought over in 2000 but whisky production didn’t resume until 2001. The distillery had been closed since 1994 so understandably it wasn’t in the best of conditions. A lot of work was required to bring everything back up to working order.
Tell us about the range of expressions.
The purchase of the distillery in 2000 came together with some existing stock that had been maturing in the warehouses. Unfortunately the stock was very inconsistent, with healthy stocks of certain years and very little stock of other years.
This resulted in us releasing a large number of expressions over the first 10 years while we waited for stocks of our own whisky to mature. The goal was always to make a long-term range, but there wasn’t enough of the inherited stock to allow us to do this when we first reopened.
Some of our initial releases were fantastic bottlings of older stock (DNA, Legacy Series,etc.) that unfortunately we will not see again for a good few years. We also released a number of multi-vintage expressions with no age statement (Infinity, Rocks, Laddie Classic, etc). These were a combination of older and younger Bruichladdich single malt whisky vatted together. This allowed our master distiller, Jim McEwan, to blend the rounder, smoother flavours of older whisky, with the vibrancy of the younger whiskies. Funnily enough, more and more brands are now releasing non-age-statement whiskies.
Is there an expression from Bruichladdich that once tasted, can be immediately recognised as the brand’s unique taste?
Because of the sheer number of expressions we have released in the past, it may be difficult for some consumers to identify Bruichladdich’s classic style. This issue will be addressed in the near future as we look to clearly distinguish our unpeated and peated whiskies.
Bruichladdich’s classic style is an unpeated, elegant, floral and fruity whisky, with a maritime influence that can only be found in a whisky that has matured it’s whole life beside the sea.
Find out what happened a year after the take overof Bruichladdich in Part 2 of Murray's interview, which will be released on Friday, 8th November 2013.