Reimagining Scotch Whisky at Bruichladdich
Greg Horton, ReserveBar Spirits Contributor
Pushing boundaries is one of the ways that Bruichladdich describes its own ethos these days. They’re driving modern frontiers in whisky for good reasons, not just to create controversy or stand out in a crowded field. Jason Cousins, National Brand and Education Ambassador for Bruichladdich, talks about how the whisky in the bottle cleaves to the tradition of Scotch production, but outside the bottle, and even the blue bottle itself, challenges the traditions and assumptions about Scotch.
“We’re going back to traditional Scotch production in some ways,” Cousins said. “Modern distilleries can often be run by one person on a tablet or laptop, and you’ll sometimes see more people in the gift shop than on the production floor. We’re committed to doing things differently.”
Doing things differently includes working with local farmers to source all of their barley from Islay. Not only does it support and build a microeconomy on the island, but it also creates a layer of protection against supply chain disruptions. These partnerships are one of the ways Bruichladdich has committed to full transparency about their products and processes. Cousins simply calls it “the right thing to do.”
“The distilleries all created microeconomics – the towns all rose up around the distilleries,” Cousins said. “The farmers have always been part of that microeconomy, but modern, automated distilleries hurt the microeconomies by taking jobs away from the community. We’re proud to work with 20 local farms, and we’re proud that we’re able to name the families we support and work with through this process.”
The B Corp Certification
The use of local farms also cuts down on the amount of environmental damage associated with shipping products from long distances. Environmental responsibility – being good stewards of the island’s resources – is core to Bruichladdich’s new identity. As part of their ethos of pushing boundaries and embracing a broader understanding of corporate responsibility, Bruichladdich pursued and earned a B Corp certification, the first Scotch producer to do so.
Functioning under the observation that there is no “Planet B,” B Lab was formed in 2006 with the idea that “a different kind of economy was not only possible, but necessary — and that business could lead the way towards a new, stakeholder-driven model.” Guided by a commitment to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion, the organization developed standards and a certification process to encourage conscientious corporations to participate in regenerative business practices that benefit people and the planet.
The distillery received their certification on May 4, 2020, but many of the criteria included in the B Corp requirements for sustainability were already best practices at the distillery before they even began the quest for certification.
“We’ve been centered around ethos and principles since we reopened,” Cousins said. “The process is very difficult, and it was our COVID project in 2020 to get the certification. We scored 85 of 100 – a strong score – and we’ll continue to strive towards higher scores during the recertification process every three years.”
The Way Forward, Globally
Corporate accountability and transparency are necessary for human thriving, and that’s the energy that drives B Corps. The effects of ignoring responsibility are plain on an island the size of Islay. The population dropped from approximately 13,000 to 3,500 as automated distilling and sourcing from off-island drove young people off the island to find jobs.
Bruichladdich believes that the solution is reinvesting in the island, creating stakeholders among the locals, and improving the microeconomy, and as they somewhat cheekily and accurately put it, “We also make whisky.”
Verbiage on their website also offers insight into processes driven by a higher ethos than profit: “This means adhering to the highest standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency, and accountability, or in other words, balancing profit and purpose.” One of their projects is to decarbonize production by 2025. They’re also building their own malting facility on the island and moving to green hydrogen technology in all their operations – they also produce Octomore and Port Charlotte single malt Scotch whiskies as well as The Botanist Gin.
The Bruichladdich process is one of incremental but inevitable change. The blueprint touches on four key pillars from grain to glass.
- Supporting the community and island;
- Moving toward clean energy and zero carbon emissions;
- Agriculture and biodiversity – as epitomized in their biodynamic distillery, and;
- Reducing the environmental impact of packaging and reducing or repurposing waste.
Cousins said Bruichladdich fans typically fall into one of two camps when it comes to the B Corp criteria and certification – at least as embodied in the principles. “There are definitely some markets that are very tuned into this, and we see their eyes light up when we talk about it,” he said. “With others, we have to educate them, but then it resonates with them to the point they take note and become more involved.”
The beauty of Bruichladdich’s commitment to the B Corp certification process is that becoming better corporate citizens with a genuine concern for the planet and people has in no way led to a decrease in the quality of their products. The blue bottle still contains a lovely, balanced, approachable Scotch, and it’s good to know the people behind it care as much for the planet, people, and quality – of life and whisky – as they do for profit.
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