FolkWorld #45 07/2011
© Walkin' T:-)M

Sip & Sing: Whisky and Wine

(2) Robert Burns
  (1) Bushmills

The Sound of Whisky (3):
Bruichladdich Inspiration

Scottish whisky bard Robin Laing has compiled a CD featuring six songs in praise of Bruichladdich Single Malt, and there is a special, exclusive bottling to go with.

Islay (Ìle in Gaelic) is the southernmost of the Inner Hebridean Islands located off the west coast of Scotland. The beauty of Islay has been praised many times in song and poetry - not to mention instrumental tunes paying homage such as "Islay's Charms" (e.g. recorded by Deaf Shepherd)[21] or the "Islay Ranters" reels (Rory Campbell[10] or Tony McManus[31]).

Sound Files

Scotch Whisky Regions

Recorded history begins with St Columba passing through Islay, and from missionaries and monks it is but a short step to the distillation of aqua vitae. There were more distilleries in the past, today eight distilleries are left on the island.

Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig, the distilleries on the south of the island, produce whiskies with a very strong smoky flavour, ascribed both to the water from which the whisky is made and to the peating levels of the barley. They are also described as having a medicinal flavour, possessing notes of iodine, seaweed and salt.

Caol Ila, on the northern side of the island, produces a strongly peated whisky as well. Bowmore, Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain, however, are substantially lighter in taste. Another distillery, Kilchoman, started production as recently as 2005.

Islay is a centre of whisky tourism, and hosts an annual Festival of Music and Malt every May, known as Fèis Ìle.

Thomas Pattison, who was a native of Islay, published a book in 1890 titled "The Gaelic Bards," featuring Scots Gaelic language poems with translations into English, most by Pattison himself. The best known has been put to a waltz tune; it is called "Moladh na Lanndaidh" (In Praise of Islay).

Chì mi thall ud an Àird Mhòr,
Àit' a' choilich dhuibh 's a' gheòidh.
Àit' mo chridhe is mo ghaoil,
San robh mi aotrom meanmnach.

Hò ro Eileanaich ho gù,
Hò i rithill hò i hù;
Hò ro Eileanaich ho gù,
Gu bheil mo rùn san Lanndaidh.
See afar yon hill Ardmore,
Beating billows wash its shore,
But its beauties bloom no more
For me now far from Islay.

O my dear, my native isle,
Nought from thee my heart can wile,
O my dear, my native isle,
My heart beats true to Islay.

Even better known is a song written by Scottish composer Sir Hugh S. Roberton (1874-1952), "Westering Home" (e.g. listen to its recording of German-Irish band An Rinn).[38]

Westering home and a song in the air
Light in the eye and it's goodbye to care
Laughter o' love and a welcoming there
Isle of my heart my own one.
Tell me o' lands of the Orient gay
Speak o' the riches and joys of Cathay
Ay but it's grand to be wakin' at day
To find yourself nearer to Islay.

Islay has just about 3,000 inhabitants on 620 square kilometres. Its main industry is malt whisky distilling, even tourism is more based on whisky tasting than bird spotting.

The Bruichladdich distillery (pronounced brook-lad-dee) had been built in 1881 by William Harvey and his brothers on the shore of Loch Indaal on the Rinns of Islay, the westernmost part of the island. The Gaelic word is a reference to the raised beach upon which the distillery is sited.

Over the next decades the distillery changed owners several times. In 1994 it was eventually closed down as surplus to requirements, but re-opened as an independent distillery in 2001. The kilns and pipes were dismantled and reassembled, with the original Victorian décor and equipment retained. Most of the original Harvey machinery is still in use today.

The Bruichladdich whiskies are designed by master distiller Jim McEwan (formerly of Bowmore). There have been a wide number of small scale bottlings, generally less peaty and chemical than other Islay whiskies. (Though peated versions do exist under the Port Charlotte sub brand; and Bruichladdich also produces the most heavily peated Single Malt Whisky in the world — Octomore, with 167 ppm phenol in the 2004 vintage.)


Scottish singer/songwriter and whisky bard Robin Laing is enthusiastic about the distillery's output and wrote a couple of Bruichladdich songs over the past ten years. Only recently the distillery has compiled a CD titled "Bruichladdich Inspiration," featuring 6 of Robin's Bruichladdich songs.

"Bruichladdich," originally recorded on "The Water of Life" album (2003), had been Robin's first, rejoicing about the distillery being brought back to life. "A Turquoise Frame of Mind" refers to their main corporate colours and is also supposed to signifying calmness of mind. "Black Art" then refers both to the whisky's packaging and echoing medieval alchemists.

With your strange black art
My defenses fall apart
You can feed upon my heart
I can't resist it
Come the twilight time
I might lose my mind
It's pierced through by signs
That change and twist it
In the deep black night
With no starlight
Owls take to flight
In slow motion
But the Scorpio moon
Will rise above the dunes
And shine on Jim McEwan
Making potions

"We Can't Let Al Qaeda Get Their Hands on This" (originally recorded on "One for the Road", 2007) is mocking an incident that took place in 2003, when US agents mistook the antique distilling equipment displayed through their webcams for weapons of mass destruction.

There's a secret installation on the western seas
Cunningly disguised among the Hebrides
It might seem innocent to those who are naive
But this could bring a super power to its knees.
Now I am a US Internet spy
And I've seen what they're up to with my own eyes
They say it's only whisky but I'm tellin' you,
They tested it on the local folk and I've seen what it can do.

Robin Laing

Robin Laing @ FolkWorld:
FW#1, #1, #5, #5, #13, #24,
#26, #31, #33, #33, #35, #36
The scary thing is it's made from a kind of grass
With biological action to give it critical mass
And if they get it up to 90 ABV
It's going to be an awesome WMD

Just like Iraq they didn't find any. But that was before Uisquebaugh Baul, Robin is musing. This is the name of the four times distilled spirit made at Bruichladdich and bottled at 89.9 abv. Uisquebaugh Baul translates as perilous whisky. Martin Martin, who toured the Hebrides in 1693, relates that more than two spoonfuls of the locally four times distilled spirit would stop your breath and endanger your life.

Uisquebaugh Baul is four times distilled
Some say it cures and some say it kills
Take my advice and make out a will
Before you try Uisquebaugh Baul
The island of Islay has numerous wrecks
Mostly from flinging it over their necks
And now here's a dram that's better than sex
Four times Uisquebaugh Baul

One spoonful your heart's beating fast
Two spoonfuls you're feeling quite gassed
Three spoonfuls you've breathed your last
You're in the past - Oh, What a blast
Uisquebaugh Baul

Eventually, "The Bruichladdich Dram" maintains that life could only be better with the mystical, magical potion from Islay (and maybe a CD or book of Robin's).

When you wake up in the morning and you're just feeling crap
Wi' fits or faints or fevers - don't get into a flap
For tinnitus or shingles or a lack of inner calm
The cure is in a bottle of the Bruichladdich dram
If life isn't quite turning out the way you'd planned
The people that you work with are like the Klu Klux Klan
The kids are bad, the wife is mad and nags ad nauseam
The chances are you need a little Bruichladdich dram
When you're far away from Islay and wishing you were there
There's little point in fretting and pulling out your hair
A book of Whisky Legends and a CD by the Man
Kick off your shoes and pour yourself a Bruichladdich dram

Quite fittingly, Bruichladdich have created a special, exclusive single malt to go with Robin's CD - also called "Bruichladdich Inspiration" - which is a 2003 port hogshead bottled at 55.3% abv. This unique whisky is only available through Robin himself.

So got to one of his concerts, listen to a fine song and have a wee dram. Slàinte mhath!

Tasting Notes:

Bruichladdich 10 yrs

Tasting logo Bruichladdich 10 Years Old Single Malt
Nose: Fresh, clean, flowery. Primroses. Palate: Lightly creamy. Peaches. Summer fruits. Passion fruit. Zesty, almost effervescent. Finish: The flavours meld, with a touch of sharpness. Comment: Not only the liveliness of youth but also the least wood influence. The use of second-fill casks leaves the fruity flavours of Bruichladdich to express themselves more freely.
[Michael Jackson]

Tasting logo Bruichladdich 10 Years Old Single Malt
Nose: Very light and fresh. Floral, with crunchy green apple, verjus, lemon, fresh malt. Palate: Clean, zesty and direct. Apples, lanolin, cream. A perky little number. A port finish version would be pinky and perky. Finish: Feisty and breezy. Comment: Best as a wake-up call at 10 a.m.
[Dave Broom]


Robin Laing: The Whisky Muse Robin Laing: The Whisky River Robin Laing: The Water of Life Robin Laing: One for the Road Robin Laing: Whisky for Breakfast Robin Laing: Bruichladdich Inspiration

Photo Credits: (1) 'Sip & Sing - Whisky & Wine' (by Wise Publications); (2) Scotch Whisky Regions, (3) Bruichladdich Distillery (by Wikipedia); (4) Robin Laing, (5) Bruichladdich 10 Years Old Single Malt (unknown); (6)-(11) Book & CD Cover (by Luath Press & Greentrax Recordings).

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