All you needed to know about Adam Hannett, Bruichladdich Head Distiller

let’s begin

There is a massive amount of cult status around the Bruichladdich distillery and brand, and rightly so. Resurrected from the dead and brought back to life to service a need from whisky consumers for something authentic and different in its own right. But what about now, a couple of years on from Jim McEwan’s and Mark Renyier’s departure? GreatDrams set about bringing you a little feature for you to get to know the new man in charge of spirit, production and brilliance, Adam Hannett, Bruichladdich Head Distiller.

Humble beginnings.

“Back in those days, in 2004, when I started we would all be very flexible about what we did, so even though I was a tour guide back then, the first few weeks I spent renovating our distillery accommodation, so we stopped making whisky, all the still men, the mashmen, the warehouse boys, everybody was helping, using the skills that they had. Jonathan, the bottling hall manager, was a joiner, so he was able to do a lot of the work on a very small budget”.

Loyalty beyond reason.

“I started working in the warehouse in 2006, when I got an opportunity to do that I grabbed it with both hands, but most of all I listened. I listened to what Jim was saying, what Duncan was saying, to the people who had the experience making whisky because they were not going to be around forever and I watched the way that Allan Logan, who started in 2001, started as a painter and decorator and he had taken the opportunities to learn about making whisky. Basically before me I had seen him progress though the distillery, I followed his example. You work hard, you pay attention and you give more than what you are paid for, then you will go forward.”
“There are a lot of people at Bruichladdich who have been a very big influence. Jim was probably the most important because his passion and his philosophy brought the distillery back from the dead and that instilled the same passion and dedication in me. The way that I approach work, it’s not a job, it’s a way of life. It’s everything, the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning is Bruichladdich, the last thing I think about before I go to sleep is Bruichladdich… and sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night it’s because of something at Bruichladdich.
“The people who are dedicated at Bruichladdich, like Duncan McGillivray, the dedication they had to work was very very impressive and it taught me that that was the way to work. I don’t know any other way, so the people are the most important thing about the distillery. We make whisky with very very old equipment, using very unique ways compared to other companies, but that’s inspired by the people, so it’s the people that are the most important things. So whether that’s Mark or Simon, who originally reopened the distillery, or Jim of Duncan who were making the whisky, or Allan or Budgie, or anyone who is involved. Allan, for me, is a great example, I have seen his path from the very very bottom to the very very top, so because I saw he was able to do that, I believed I was able to do that, so the people are very inspiring”.

A close-knit team.

“We work together very closely. Allan is the production director and he has the overall vision of how the distillery should be running, I then make that happen and together we talk. Allan’s responsibility is to implement the plans that we discuss.. if we come up with ideas, Allan then puts that forward to the powers that be and makes it happen. For example, and I can’t talk too much about it, but we have some very exciting projects that we’ll be doing at the end of the year, that will be very different. Usually scotch whisky is distilled twice, we in the past have made triple and quadrupled distilled whisky, we have some other projects that are top secrets that other distilleries won’t do, but we can do, so we can have these plans and ideas which Allan will make happen. We talk all the time, we discuss what we do, when I’m coming up with new ideas I discuss them with Allan because we understand the ethos and philosophy of the distillery and whether it’s the right thing to do or not.
“When we have an idea for a new product, we will discuss it and then I will go and, say for example a 15 year old, I will go and make it, we’ll discuss it, we’ll taste it and we’ll look at all the options and see if this is something we want to do. If it is, we then need to discuss that as a company at director level. Allan is on the board of directors and they’ll then discuss our proposed products and the direction of the company”.

But what about the Bruichladdich distillery house style?

“It’s a good question because Bruichladdich was not created to be a single malt, the whisky was being produced for blends, so it didn’t have a particular style because nobody ever explored what that style could be, and that’s what Jim did in the early years, whether that was with Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte or Octomore, or whether it was experimenting with other cask types, he was exploring what the style of Bruichladdich could be. So now, 16 years after re-opening the distillery, we’re comfortable that we have a style, but we would never try to be consistent and not explore. So I think our style is to be exploratory, our style is to try new things, but to make a style a whisky, for Bruichladdich we know what cask types make that work, for Port Charlotte, we know what cask types make that work, we understand different relationships with wood, we understand different relationships with the spirit, how to create different styles, where we mature our whisky, it’s all matured on Islay. There are many things we’ve developed over the years that helped us understand what our style is, so my job is to understand that style, but to keep experimenting”.

What is your involvement or viewpoint on newer distilleries?

“It’s interesting because what you tend to find with new distilleries is that they’re all quite small and it’s generally people who are very passionate about whisky who are starting them up. I think the way the market seems to work now is that these small distilleries, the ones that are really good will survive, and they will push the big established brands to do more, you can see that in the market now, people aren’t relying on what they’ve done before, they’re being more experimental, they’re being more interesting because that’s what consumers identify with, at Bru we’ve been doing that since 2001. Over the years we’ve had many people come and work with us, keep in touch with us, who want to come and stay on Islay to make whisky, who have then gone and started up their own distilleries, so we are more like them than we are to the bigger distilleries, but I think having more competition is a good thing, it makes you work harder, it makes you think more, it makes you produce your very very best because there’s more competition.
“We have sixteen or seventeen years of knowledge, of doing things differently to everybody else, which has led a lot of smaller distilleries to be inspired by what we do. For example, Westland Distillery in America, that Remy Cointreau recently bought, Matt Hoffman (head distiller at Westland) had been to Bruichladdich to see what we were up to. I’m not saying we inspired him directly, but part of his inspiration has come from us. While we identify with a lot of these small distilleries, we’re still a major distiller, we still produce a lot of whisky and logistically what we do is very difficult so distilleries of the same size don’t do what we do because it’s very complicated and it demands a lots of effort and time, but we believe it’s worth doing because the spirit we get at the end is more interesting, more exploratory, which means our days are more interesting. It’s not just doing the same thing day after day, so we can identify with the smaller producers, but we can do it on a bigger scale”.

So, is craft a dirty word?!

“You can go to Starbucks and have a craft coffee or go to McDonalds and they’ll give you a craft hamburger, it means nothing nowadays, but the idea that people are trying to communicate is something small and done by hand and all these things, and if they can back that up then fine, but everybody can use that term. It doesn’t really mean what it should mean these days”.

What are you doing differently?

“With things like the Black Art and creating new editions of them, what we’re doing each time, each edition is not the same because we’re taking whisky from different types of casks, different ages, different recipes, and of course I won’t tell anyone what I’m doing with them, but Black Art is a style, what is meant to be a very well distilled whisky and amazing casks. The time the whisky spent in those casks and how it developed the whisky is important and unique. So what we’re seeing with each release is the fact that you can vary that with the options we have. We don’t fill casks and do nothing; we monitor the casks, we change the casks, we work with the whisky to create the very best we can. It means that each whisky is unique because of the path is has taken, so what we see each time is a progression, a difference. If we wanted to do the same thing every time, it would be easy, but it wouldn’t be interesting, we wouldn’t explore the options that are available to us”.

I love Octomore, such a beast, what’s the Head Distiller’s view on it as an entity?

“With Octomore and the different editions, what we’re exploring there is each harvest, each year of distillation. What we have with Octomore is a series of releases where we can see the influence of the barley, the influence of the distiller, the influence of the casks, we can watch that journey, and it’s very interesting, it’s philosophical rather than anything else, because what we’re talking about is unique vintages, not trying to make everything the same, but seeing what nature gives us and seeing how that translates in to a bottle of whisky.

As a newish Head Distiller, do you have your own style yet, or are you perfecting what has gone before?

“When Jim would taste and blend whiskies, he would have his own style, but now this responsibility has been given to me. I have to release whisky when I think it’s ready, so there will be differences between my whiskies and Jim’s whiskies, but I think this is the human part of whisky, it’s a natural product, it should reflect nature and the forces we have over that. It’s natural but there should be a difference between the whiskies Jim made and the whiskies I make. There should still be a certain amount of ideas and our own opinions in the whisky, but that’s interesting for us. A whisky style that is passed down through the generations means the distillers change but the whiskies stay the same, a computer could do that, anyone could do that, it’s not about the distiller”.

I genuinely cannot thank Bruichladdich, Christy and Adam enough for all the insight and fantastic commentary that has led to this feature. Truly appreciated.

Tags: Adam HannettBruichladdichBruichladdich Head Distiller
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My name is Greg, and I’m a brand strategy consultant, writer, speaker, host and judge specialising in premium spirits. My mission is to experience, share and inspire with everything great about whisky, whiskey, gin, beer and fine dining through my writing, my brand building and my whisky tastings.

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