I’m going to take a break today from the descriptions of life behind the scenes at a distillery to chat about the most visible aspect of a distillery: the gift shop. Seriously! Where is the first place you go to find out if you can tour a distillery? Where is the last place you visit? Uh-huh. The gift shop.
Bruichladdich’s gift shop is housed in an old warehouse that dates back well-over 100 years. The shop is run by Mary McGregor, whose family helped build the distillery. Mary is an Islay native, as are most of the distillery’s 60 employees, and her friendly smile is the invitation that tells first time visitors, “Hello! Come meet the Bruichladdich family!” and embraces return patrons with a heartfelt, “Welcome home!”
I really respect how Managing Director Mark Reynier, Production Director Jim McEwan and the other Bruichladdich decision makers put their team together when they resurrected the distillery a few years ago. For the operations side, they brought back the men who had worked at the distillery when it was mothballed in the mid-1990s. Their expertise was invaluable for the distillery to get off to a running start when it reopened.
Management wisely went an extra step when they added to the team by recruiting people like Mary – and yes, recruit is the right word, as they selectively plucked people from around Islay to be part of their venture. In doing so, they delivered to visitors employees who could be representatives of Bruichladdich as well as ambassadors of Islay.
In Mary’s case, she was working at the Museum of Islay Life down the road in Port Charlotte. Her love of people, not to mention her wealth of knowledge about all things Islay, from the distant past to the dynamic present, was as integral to the external image of Bruichladdich as the right barley was to the internal operations. So, she was lured away from the museum.
Even here, in what is perhaps the least likely time of year to visit Islay, with the rain, wind, snow, sleet, cold…you get the picture…Mary and her tour-guides-in-training, Julie and Caran, have greeted people from half a dozen different countries in the past two weeks. They also have onlookers from around the world eyeing Web cams to watch them hard at work and emailing them with questions or with product orders.
At the end of tours here at Bruichladdich and other distilleries, visitors have the chance to sample the whiskies. Perhaps the guests understand the whisky process better after the tour, and maybe they even appreciate the spirit in a new light. But, it’s the big smiles and heartfelt goodbyes guests take home with them that proclaims they’ll always be part of the Bruichladdich family.