For the last year I have been buying and reviewing books related to whisky. This was a process which started purely to get some liver friendly content for this blog. In reality though I have enjoyed the experience much more than I thought I would. Going in, I expected to find a lot of material in one of two camps. The first directed at those not experienced with Whisky but rather looking to travel to Scotland and therefore wanted something light and cheery. Something which was more about promoting Scotland as a brand rather than a non-fiction, purely research focused and almost academic publication which would be the second camp. Actually though there is a wealth of really interesting books and a large contingent come from Birlinn books.
The Whisky Dream by Stuart Rivans is one such book from Birlinn which is no longer in print. The book came to my attention from a very simple tweet by ex Bruichladdich owned Mark Reynier.
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Whisky Dream: Waking a Giant by Stuart Rivans <br>The Bruichladdich story (apparently no longer in print)<a href=”https://t.co/w9sa13Uyu3″>https://t.co/w9sa13Uyu3</a> via <a href=”https://twitter.com/AmazonUK?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@AmazonUK</a></p>— Mark Reynier (@markreynier) <a href=”https://twitter.com/markreynier/status/1214189769518977024?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>January 6, 2020</a></blockquote> https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js
Using the wonderful second hand marketplace on Amazon I was instantly able to get a copy and actually I am very glad I did.
Mark mentioned it of course because the book is about Bruichladdich. It charts the story of how a couple of businessmen from London were able to buy and revive an Islay distillery and make it into something highly marketable, profitable and as we now know sell able. The book was first published in 2008 and therefore stops before the take over by Remy Cointreau which wasn’t something Mark wanted. I am at pains to point this out because the book shows strongly how much of a long term dream this project was for the owners and how much it meant to them personally and the island. It would be easy to jump to the conclusion it was all an act and they sold out at the first opportunity. Indeed, it is widely acknowledge Mark was against the purchase but was outnumbered by the shareholders.
Anyway, back to the book and it shows in great detail the spirit of the people of Islay and has extended commentary from distillery manager Duncan McGillivray who had a lot of the engineering knowledge and ability to restart production. Duncan sadly died recently after a long illness and it was this news which instigated me starting to read this book. His accounts are full of the type of can do spirit you see regularly if you are lucky enough to visit.
Time and again through the entire book you see just how much of a family the Bruichladdich team was in the early days. You can feel the pains and sadness when people had to be made redundant as the business was spending more than it would get from revenue in sales. Something which in our current COVID-19 lockdown status in the UK perhaps some us wish our employers would feel before shedding jobs like sweetie wrappers on Easter Sunday.
As I have said repeatedly here Bruichladdich was the distillery which started by whisky journey. The Laddie Classic was the bottle which for me showed what whisky could be like and got me wanting to try more things from the distillery, from the island and from the country. Why did I pick that bottle from Master of Malt’s website? Purely for the colour of the bottle which reeling me in like a fish on a hook. Which was no accident and the interview with sales director Andrew Gray who was ex-Bowmore like Jim McEwan explains in detail.
To recap then I enjoyed this book and enjoyed the story. I do really mean it was like a story in that it kept me captive and interested throughout with good story telling. For those wishing to research the distillery it is also useful with the accounts in the appendix of who was working there and in what roles in 2008 and who all the distillery managers were from the day it opened to the date the book was written. A really good heart warming story of the good guys coming through in the end with lots of optimism and hope for the future. The only sadness is sitting here in 2020 you know the distillery will be sold, the new Port Charlotte hotel will not be built and the stills will end up in Ireland although they are now owned by Mark to be fair.