Our Meet the People series continues with Murray Campbell, Bruichladdich Asia Pacific Brand Ambassador.
Murray Campbell’s mother was born and raised in the village of Bruichladdich and his father is from the west coast town of Oban, so a career in the whisky industry seemed like a natural choice to make. We speak with Murray Campbell about his Ambassador role, emerging trends in the single malt category, life after Jim McEwan‘s retirement and what we can expect next from the Bruichladdich range including Black Art and Octomore.
Can you tell us about your family background and your connection with Bruichladdich?
I was actually born and raised on the west coast of Scotland in a town called Oban. My mother is from Islay and grew up in the village of Bruichladdich, less than 100 meters from the distillery. When my mother was young, there was no 5th and 6th year of high school on Islay. If they wanted to continue their studies, the students on Islay could choose between going to Oban or Campbeltown. Growing up I would visit Islay 3 or 4 times a year to visit my mother’s side of the family.
Your uncle, Duncan McGillivray was the previous General Manager of Bruichladdich before he retired in 2014. How much of an influence did he have on your choice of career?
When Bruichladdich reopened in 2001 it was actually my grandfather on Islay who sent me a Bruichladdich leaflet introducing cask sales (which we unfortunately stopped doing a few years back). Looking at the prices now it was an absolute bargain, but I was only 18 at the time and I decided not to purchase any…..but I’d prefer not to remind myself about that! In the years following, my uncle would often keep me updated with the progress of Bruichladdich in some of our overseas markets. In 2010, we were finally able to attend a whisky event together at Taipei Whisky Live.
What does your role as Bruichladdich Asia Pacific Brand Ambassador involve?
Like all Brand Ambassadors my role is to act as link between the distillery and fans of whisky. I have been based in Taipei since 2013 (a great place to live and geographically very convenient for my travels). I spend around 6 months of the year in Taipei and 6 months in Scotland and the APAC region. Every market I go to is at a different stage when it comes to single malt, which keeps the job challenging and interesting.
In your frequent travels around the region, have you noticed any emerging trends in the single malt category?
As I mentioned, every market I visit is at a different stage of its single malt development. Some of the markets I go to are developing single malt markets, and will follow existing trends as opposed to creating them. Amongst consumers, or at least the consumers who attend our tastings, I have found there is a growing interest in transparency and traceability that perhaps wasn’t there a few years ago, and I believe this interest will only continue to grow in the future.
How is life at the distillery after Jim McEwan’s retirement?
Jim is obviously a legend in our industry with an incredible amount of knowledge and experience and would be a huge loss to any distillery, but he has retired knowing that the future of the distillery could not be in better hands with Adam Hannett and Allan Logan. At Bruichladdich, we’ve always considered ourselves to be custodians of the distillery, so this could be seen as a passing of the torch.
With Head Distiller Adam Hannett on board, are there any major changes being planned?
I wouldn’t expect too much to change in the short term. Adam has been at Bruichladdich for 12 years and worked closely with Jim for many years before his retirement, so in that respect it’s a case of Adam continuing to do what he’s already been doing. It was always going to be someone from within Bruichladdich that would replace Jim, which is very important to us. If we had hired someone from outside there is always the risk that they’re not 100% in line with our philosophy and ways of doing things.
Going forward I see us continuing to focus on making the best whisky we can. Focusing on casks, barley and maintaining quality. Of course we will continue to experiment and innovate as we have always done, but perhaps not to the same extent as we had in the early years. Our warehouses are now full of whiskies of incredible variety, which I’m sure will be bottled when the time is right! There will be a couple of new expressions released this year, one of them being the Black Art 5. This will be the first edition of Black Art that Adam has made himself, which I’m sure he’s been dying to have the chance to do, so I’m very excited to see what he’s come up with.
What innovations is Bruichladdich currently working on?
The regional trials is something we started two years ago, so is very much in the early stages. We are using identical batches of barley that have been harvested from three farms in three different regions of mainland Scotland (Black Isle, Aberdeen and Lothian). Early results show, especially from the new make spirit, that they are not at all identical. The new make spirit is put in to casks and then left to mature in identical warehouse conditions. At this year’s Feis Ile (Islay Festival) in May, we were lucky enough to try the spirit after being in the cask for 2 years, and while the differences were not as distinct as they were in the new make spirit, there were still clearly different. We’re only 2 years in to this experiment, so it will be interesting to see what conclusions can be drawn when we have a more substantial body of information (whisky) to process (drink).
Will we continue to see Black Art and Octomore with Adam Hannett’s signature?
Going forward Adam’s signature will be on all of our releases.
Can you tell us a little about the next Octomore release?
There was the Octomore 7.4 at the start of this year, but that was limited to 12,000 bottles globally and was sold out almost as soon as it was released. There will be a very special Octomore coming out in the coming months, but unfortunately that’s all the info I can share for now!
What does the future hold for Bruichladdich in the next 3-5 years?
In days gone by, our answer would probably have been “we have no idea!”, but Bruichladdich have been around for 15 years and I feel we now have a clearer idea of who we are and what we want to achieve. When we reopened in 2001 we were only producing around 250k litres a year, and in 2013 made the jump from 750k to 1.5mil litres. In another 3-5 years we’ll have a much healthier supply of stocks to work with. At the distillery itself, we will continue to build warehouses on Islay to ensure that all of our stock continues to be matured and bottled on Islay. For us this is crucial, not only for the maturation of the whisky, but to enable us to provide jobs on the island. There are also talks to start our own maltings at the distillery, but this is in the very early stages of planning!
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Photo Credit: Philip Mack, used with permission.