Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Of whisky, warfare and weapons of mass distraction

I'm still laughing at the story of the Bruichladdich Distillery, on the Isle of Islay.

According to Computing UK magazine:

To bolster its standing among the whisky geek community, where no detail is too mundane, Bruichladdich installed webcams around the distillery so that fans could log on to the site and watch the whole process from barley to bottle.

It turned out that it was not just the whisky aficionados watching; so too was the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), a US government agency based in Belvoir, Virginia. It is charged with protecting the US and its allies from the threat of chemical and biological weapons.

The distillery discovered the additional interest after the DTRA emailed to complain that the distillery’s webcam was out of action.

When Bruichladdich asked why the agency was interested in a distillery in a remote Scottish location, the agency said that the process of manufacturing chemical weapons and distilling whisky were very similar so it was using the Bruichladdich web site to train its operatives.

[Mark] Reynier [Managing Director of the distillery] made the most of the opportunity. He released the story to the national press and then launched his own WMD: a whisky of mass distinction. “That was an example of guerrilla marketing at its best,” he says with a grin.

Giggling happily at the story, I had to investigate further. I found the distillery's Webcams here, and spent an enjoyable half-hour watching activities there. I have to confess to a few mouth-watering moments. I also found many video clips of the Bruichladdich distillery on YouTube.

I also did some looking around their Web site. The owner definitely has a sense of humor. The DTRA incident wasn't his only encounter with the military. The story of the Yellow Submarine is highly entertaining:

At dawn on 8th September 2005 HMS Blyth, a Royal Navy mine hunter, slipped in to sleepy Port Ellen on the Hebridean isle of Islay to collect some rather embarrassing lost property of theirs. A submarine.

Local fisherman, John Baker, fishing 7 miles from Bruichladdich, discovered a large drum-like object floating beneath the surface - a hazard to shipping. To his surprise it was a mini-submarine bristling with hi-tech surveillance equipment. There were Ministry of Defence markings.

Having towed it to port, the £500,000 submarine was craned out of the water and positioned on the fisherman’s driveway. The MOD were dutifully alerted.

The MOD at first denied it was theirs, then denied the vessel was missing – then implied the fishermen must have stolen it. The fishermen at first, out of pique, refused to divulge it’s whereabouts. A stalemate ensued.

Local Carl Reavey: “For ten days this state-of-the-art, secret piece of spying kit was floating about the high seas and the Royal Navy couldn’t find it. And it had to be yellow - bright yellow.”

Technically, a Royal Navel vessel cannot be claimed as salvage - but this didn’t stop the speculation in the bars of Islay at how many millions the fishermen would be rewarded. And they say there is no money in fishing anymore.

Bruichladdich Distillery CEO Mark Reynier: “People think Islay is a quiet, sleepy place. How wrong they are! If it’s not the CIA spying on us for WMD via our web cameras, then it must be the MOD snooping about under water up to goodness knows what. Who's next?

“We celebrated the WMD event with a special bottling of our single malt: “WMD – The Weapons Inspectors” that was a great success. So our latest launch (so to speak) had obviously to be 'WMD II – The Yellow Submarine'. And it goes down well too.”

The submarine was loaded in double quick time and the ship departed. The skipper, was pleased to accept a gift of a case of the Bruichladdich “Yellow Submarine”.

As the submarine was loaded aboard, fisherman John Baker asked the Man from the Ministry what the large silver protuberance on the submarine’s belly was. He was startled to learn that it was a depth charge. Fortunately for him - unarmed.

Post script

The somewhat humourless press office of the MOD have suggested there are inaccuracies in our version of events described above: there was no hazard to shipping, a ransom had been demanded for the return of the vessel, there was no accusation of theft, and the coastguard had been alerted to the loss of the submarine.

We believe that a 1 ton submarine floating under the surface for 10 days is a hazard to shipping. There was no ransom demand made by the fishermen. The MOD said: “There is no way that this vessel was where the fishermen said they found it.” And the coastguard were entirely unaware of the loss of the vehicle – when the find was reported by the fishermen to them. One of the finders is even the local submarine liaison officer!

The bottling is a mighty fine dram. Customers for the WMD II have included the submarine manufacturer, Lieutenant Commander Donald Crosby, the skipper that lost the submarine in the first place, and, of course, . . . the MOD.

This incident led to the WMD-II brand of whisky from the distillery.

Mark Reynier tells the story (very amusingly) in this video clip:

Both WMD bottlings are still available from the distillery - and yes, they do export to the USA, although they warn that it's the buyer's responsibility to check import regulations.

It's nice to find a business with a sense of humor!


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

At least they offered to give it back...if that washed up on my section of Florida, I'd've repainted it and kept it! I mean, how cool is that anyway? And the depth charge is just gravy :)

'You've lost a mini-sub and you'd like it back? Bugger off, you should have taken better care of it to begin with!'