The B on the Bruichladdich logo obviously stands for Bruichladdich, but now it can also stand for “B Corp.”
B Corp has absolutely no impact on the flavour of your whisky, but it can impact on how warmly you feel about the brand. I had previously been a little withering about the green status of Bruichladdich and the speed of change to reach net-zero in comparison to some of the other distillers. However, going green is only one small aspect of what makes a company a force for good or a force for evil.
B Corp status is really taking off around the world, with over 4,700 businesses signed up covering about 400,000 employees in over 80 countries. It is cross industry, and therefore many readers may have encountered the status outside of whisky. There are as many organisations aiming to grant independent certification as corporations looking to virtue signal and sign up. For me, the most important aspect of the B Corp status that elevates it above other certifying bodies is that it requires legal changes in the business’ articles of incorporation to require the business to look for benefits for all stakeholders not just the shareholders.
B Corp requires a detailed assessment of the business in the following areas:
- “Governance: code of ethics; financial information disclosure; whistle-blower policy; mission and engagement
- Workers: career development; health, wellness and safety; tracking satisfaction and engagement
- Environment: environmental management system; recycling materials; water, waste and energy usage
- Community: civic engagement and giving; diversity, equity and inclusion; supply chain management
- Customers: customer feedback or complaint mechanisms; regularly monitoring customer outcomes and wellbeing”
How has Bruichladdich embraced the change? First certified in May 2020, notable aspects of the business that helped them qualify included commitments to their workers that included:
“Living Wage employment, a 5-10% bonus scheme shared for 100% of our staff, annual cost of living adjustments as well we private healthcare, life assurance provisions and 34 days paid annual leave as standard. We’re also a diverse employer with a sound training and development program, including 50%+ female management and an age range of staff spanning from 19 to 75 years of age.”
Straightaway I’m sure most readers would notice benefits here not enjoyed by the majority of working people.
On the sustainability front, Bruichladdich was using residual heat from the stills to heat offices, the visitor centre, and the bottling hall. They also switched to 100% green electricity. This is interesting as it relates to choosing a green energy tariff from the electricity supplier – which any of us can choose to do – however the production process still requires non-renewable energy. There is a target to change this by 2025.
In 2021 the Bruichladdich annual report (a key requirement in the transparency required by B Corp status) highlighted a number of additional initiatives that were introduced including staff wellbeing initiatives, a green hydrogen pilot project, promoting volunteering by staff, increasing donations to environmental initiatives, and introducing the “one tin lighter” option, where customers have to opt in to the additional packaging. This is part of a wider drive to reach zero-landfill status. Interestingly only 46% of customers opted to go without a tin, so perhaps we consumers need to do our bit to help reduce packaging.
The annual report is lengthy reading and that is largely due to the sheer breadth of the areas in which Bruichladdich is actively aiming to improve. These areas extend from agriculture and biodiversity to making hand sanitiser during the initial covid crisis.
Where B Corp status excels is that it pulls together a company’s performance and gives and aggregated score. This allows for higher performance in some areas and for recognition that other areas require focus. In 2021 the Bruichladdich score was 83.2 out of a possible 200 (80 is the minimum to achieve B Corp status). The stringency of the scoring here demonstrates significant headroom for future improvement, but (importantly) appears to talk to the integrity of the overall scoring system.
Bruichladdich talk of a 20-year journey to become a company worthy of certification, which certainly puts the efforts to get this far into in context. It’s also clear that there is a significant commitment to the resources to monitor all the work being done, to ensure that year on year performance is achieved and there is evidence to prove it.
Through 2021 and into 2022, Bruichladdich are committed to further “look into” ways of reducing the carbon footprint of the distillery. This is a slight bugbear of mine, but I acknowledge the local and geographic challenges of island life make this somewhat more difficult than for other distilleries.
Bruichalddich plans to develop a team of mental health first aiders within their employee team, invest in local educational bursaries, and continue to develop plans for a local maltings expected to increase local employment. Bruichladdich will also continue the three-year commitment with Botanic Gardens Conservation International through four international conservation initiatives, working with local farmers and agronomists to improve flavour and yield locally. They’ll continue to invest in the Botanist Foundation (after the gin distilled on site), which works in the UK to improve biodiversity. In addition to that, Bruichladdich will continue to work towards zero-landfill by reducing virgin materials in all packaging and ensure packaging is 100% recyclable. I’m sure we are all hoping that the team find time to distil whisky!
Hopefully this summary helps persuade you that we whisky drinkers are in the privileged position not only to enjoy this expensive spirit, but also having the option to make ethical purchasing decisions. We can avoid the companies that are failing to improve the world around them, failing to look after their employees or local community, and instead support those striving to make a difference. Nc’Nean is the only other single malt distillery currently holding the B Corp status. A slight health warning: Brewdog also hold B Corp status despite multiple exposés on the treatment of employees and the management culture at the brewer.
So what of the Bruichladdich range? Well after the “reawakening” in 2001, we saw lots of experimentation with cask finishes, wine casks, and multiple expressions which was all a bit bewildering. They carved themselves out as an experimental distillery under the watchful eye of Jim McEwan. Much of that experimental approach has been retained under head distiller Adam Hannett, however the range has settled into a more regular set of core expressions and slightly fewer limited editions.
Within the core range there are three distillate steams: Bruichladdich (an unpeated expression) Port Charlotte (the heavily peated expression), and Octomore (the legendary, most highly peated spirit in the world). For this review I picked up some of the Classic Laddie, the entry level Bruichladdich which is presented at 50% ABV and is non-chill filtered and presented with natural colour. It is distilled, matured, and bottled on Islay, which many of the other island distilleries can no longer claim.
Each batch has a unique code on the back of the bottle, which allows drinkers to discover the recipe that went into their product. In this case: 18/427 revealing that this batch was bottled in 2019… although that is also included below the code! More interesting is that this batch is a vatting of 77 casks, four vintages, three barley types and six cask types. It’s predominantly bourbon casks (both first and second fill), with two Pauillac (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot) hogshead first fill, five Ribero del Duero (Tempranillo) hogsheads first fill, one Rivesaltes Sweet hogshead first fill, five Pessac-Leognan (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot) hogshead first fill. These various wine casks make up 16% of the batch, probably providing top-dressing but not the predominant flavour.
Despite the transparency of cask make up the only the youngest of those ages is legally allowed to be identified according to the SWA regulations. In this case the youngest component makes up roughly 46% of the total number of casks. 2011 making the youngest component about 8 years old, in line with similar distilleries NAS output.
Bruichladdich The Classic Laddie Scottish Barley – Review
Batch 18/427. 50% ABV. Around £40 – £50.
On the nose: Crispy malty notes, vanilla, sweet custard-cream biscuits, there is some fruitiness in the background, pears, apple flesh, a little sea breeze. Heavier spices develop, some cinnamon a little smoked paprika, pepper, richer fruits like plum and fresh fig then crushed raspberry, dusty vanilla, pencil shavings and prickly alcohol.
In the mouth: Sweet but drying, salty, custard-creams, really salty, caramel, peppery spirit, zingy sharp fruit like Granny Smith apples, water brings out more fruit and more salt. In the background a more complex funk which delivers over ripe melon, quince, and blood orange. Over time the tell-tale red fruits from the wine take prominence. The finish keeps the over ripe notes which is the best aspect of this whisky before it becomes overcome by the green chili and pepper of the youthful spirit. With time in the glass or the bottle the youthfulness drops away.
This dram needs some time in the glass and the fastidious application of water to get the most out of it, but if you find the sweet spot the complexity is really great. The top-dressing casks help tame the youthful base spirit, given time to open up both the sherry casks and red wine casks add discernible layers to the spirit.
Lead photo author’s own. Other photos courtesy of Bruichladdich.