Here is my penultimate distillery visit report from our recent visit to Islay. I’ve already gone over my longer visits to Lagavulin, Laphroaig and Bowmore (where I did tours) and to Ardbeg (where we ate lunch) and short stops at Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila. Here now is a brief look at Bruichladdich. We stopped here a little after my tour at Bowmore. We were on our way to Portnahaven, trying to figure out where to have lunch, and stopped at Bruichladdich to see if they might have a cafe (for some reason I’d thought they might). They do not, but I took the opportunity to take a quick look around and take a bunch of photographs. Continue reading
I believe this is the oldest Port Charlotte I’ve yet tried—it was bottled in 2013, just short of its 12th birthday. I’ve liked most of the Port Charlottes I’ve had a fair bit (the PC 8 most of all), with the heavy peat masking more or less effectively—as it does in Octomore as well—the sour milk note I usually get from current era-Bruichladdich’s distillate. This one, a single cask from the German bottler, Malts of Scotland, is a sherry cask to boot, and a sherry hogshead at that. It will be interesting to see how the combination of sherry, heavy peat and a bit of age work with this spirit.
The age also makes me wonder what Bruichladdich’s plans for the Port Charlotte line are. The Port Charlotte 10 was released a couple of years ago: are they going to be releasing and older version of that as well? And is the cask strength PC series going to keep going?
The Laddie 10, first released a few years ago, caused great excitement on arrival as it marked the coming of age of the reopened and rejuvenated Bruichladdich under the Reynier-McEwan regime. There had been limited edition releases of their peated Port Charlotte and Octomore lines along the way but this was the first release of whisky aged to a more traditional 10 years of age and was meant to be the cornerstone of what would become their new core range. This was a secondary cause of celebration for many whisky geeks as it also marked the end of a decade of tomfoolery at Bruichladdich, when to keep the cash-flow going they’d released about 30,000 different “high concept” releases, almost all of which were dodgy old stock jazzed up in wine casks or brightly coloured tins. (Some of these were actually very good, by the way: the Infinity 3, for example.)
Since then, of course, the distillery has been purchased by Remy-Cointreau, Mark Reynier has been forced out and the status of the Laddie 10 has been up in the air: not easy to find in all markets and constant rumours and denials that it’s been discontinued. Continue reading
The Laddie Twenty Two appeared in 2012 alongside the Laddie Sixteen, and following the Laddie Ten, and together the series promised a departure from the wild profusion of Bruichladdich’s releases over the previous decade. Unlike the Laddie 10, which was entirely the spirit distilled and matured by Jim McEwan and co. after the distillery was purchased by Mark Reynier and co., this 22 yo is from stock remaining from the previous owners. Given the generally dodgy nature of much of this inherited stock—some hold that the endless finishes and experiments Reynier, McEwan and co. threw out were due to the need to find a way to make it palatable— it must be put together from some of the very best casks they had. Of course, since its release the distillery has been sold again and Mark Reynier has been pushed out, and the fate of the Laddie Ten is not clear either—and I’m not sure if this 22 yo is a going concern either.
I do know that it’s unpeated (as in the classic Bruichladdich style), entirely from American oak casks (and ex-bourbon at that, I think), that it’s quite expensive and that it was also very well received. Now to see what I think of it—the previous oldest Bruichladdich I’ve had (one of those dodgy cask experiments) was really not to my taste.
Another highly peated whisky from Bruichladdich this week, this time the far more ludicrously peated Octomore 5.1. I believe at 169 ppm this is the most heavily peated of the Octomores yet. Of course, as Jordan Devereaux and other people with actual knowledge of chemistry have pointed out, the ppm rating of barley before distillation is always a more spectacular number than the ppm rating of the matured whisky, and still shape and size can also have tremendous influence on how much of the phenols make into the distillate (Bruichladdich has very tall stills).
Anyway, I don’t mean to give the impression that I know very much about these things. I do know, however, that despite these eye-popping ppm numbers the Octomores have not been particularly outlandishly smoky in the glass and that I’m increasingly sceptical about the point of this series (see my comments in my review of the 6.1; I’ve also reviewed the 2.1, the 4.2 and the Octomore 10.)
Let’s see what this one is like. Continue reading
Here is the fourth release in Bruichladdich’s cask strength series of releases of their heavily peated Port Charlotte whisky, the PC8, “Ar Duthchas”. (The barley for the Port Charlotte line is peated to 40 ppm, putting it in the Lagavulin and Laphroaig range.) It was released in 2009 and represents the last release in the PC series of spirit from the original 2001 distillation, making it 8 years old. That is to say, PC 9 is not a nine year old—I’m not sure what year the spirit used in that and subsequent releases is from.
The series is now up to PC11—I’m not sure if there’s an endgame for the series or if there’s always going to be an ever-older annual cask strength PC release. At any rate, with unopened bottles of the PC7, 9 and 10 on my shelf I’m not in any danger of catching up to them. I’ve previously reviewed (and emptied) the PC6 and I was not a huge fan of that one. This PC8, however, I thoroughly enjoyed and am looking forward to tasting it again.
The bottle is long gone and so this review is from a 6 oz reference sample saved from when the bottle was in its prime. Continue reading
This review is being published simultaneously with Michael Kravitz’s at Diving for Pearls. Michael was the source of the sample. As always, we have not discussed our notes or score ahead of publishing the reviews. Once I’ve woken up and had a cup of tea I’ll post the link to his review here. (And here it is.)
I’m not quite sure where “The Organic” falls in Bruichladdich’s welter of experimental and one-off releases. As per the sample label this was bottled in early 2013–as to whether this is one of the last gasps of the experimental Reynier era at the distillery or if it reflects directions in ongoing production, I don’t know. If you do, please chime in below. And for a proper appreciation of Bruichladdich’s marketing department’s efforts with this whisky, please read this (the blog appears defunct, which is a shame). Continue reading
Bruichladdich’s new 10 yo came online a couple of years ago–the first release of 10 yo spirit distilled and matured by Mark Reynier’s team after they purchased and re-opened Bruichladdich (Reynier himself, alas, has since been pushed out with the purchase of the distillery by Remy-Cointreau). The status of that 10 yo is under a bit of a cloud at present with low availability and not much clear information about its status. I am not too worried about this as I was not quite as excited about my bottle of that whisky as a lot of people were about theirs– but that’s neither here nor there. A year after the new (unpeated) Laddie 10 appeared this 10 yo from their peated Port Charlotte line also showed up, right on schedule.
Unlike the PC5-11 (I think we’re at 11) limited releases this is not at cask strength, and not, as far as I know, the product of any exotic double maturation or vattings. It’s also a fair sight cheaper, retailing in the $50 neighbourhood in the US, which is cool to see: given the prices the experimental PC series goes for it is good to see the distillery keeping faith with customers and not charging a premium for their regular release. (For a very differently priced 10 yo from the distillery see the Octomore 10). Continue reading
This edition of the very highly peated Octomore line from Bruichladdich tops out at a peating level of 167 ppm–though, as always, this is a number measured before distillation and the peat levels in the spirit that makes it into the bottle are not anywhere close to that level or even proportionately higher than malts made from barley with a lower peat ppm count before distillation. At any rate, I enjoyed my bottles of both the 2.1 and the 4.2 (Comus) and didn’t find those to be insanely peated in the glass. Ditto for the 3.1, which I got a taste of at a gathering in March (though I didn’t like it quite as much as the 2.1 or 4.2). Let’s see what the story is with the 6.1 which is also distinguished in that it’s made from Scottish barley.
Octomore 6.1 (57%; from a purchased sample)
Nose: Peat, slightly rubbery and quite sweet. Gets very phenolic very fast and also rather briny–both salty sea air and olive brine. Some oily, almondy notes below all that and some vanilla and cream that begins to come to the fore. With more time and air there’s lemon as well, salty and ashy. With even more time there’s a butyric note. I wonder if water will expand or banish it. Okay, good: water does push it down and brings out more of the salted lemons. Continue reading
“An Turas Mor” means “end of the journey” or something along those lines in Scots Gaelic and was one of Bruichladdich’s releases leading up to the long awaited release of the regular 10 yo in their heavily peated Port Charlotte line. I have a sample of that new Port Charlotte 10 on my shelves and a review of that will likely appear soon as well.
This was opened a few months ago for one of our local group’s monthly tastings–it then sat at the half-full mark for a few months before being featured again in our tasting for March. On both occasions it was the fourth of four malts tasted and followed another less aggressively peated malt. I was interested to see how our group–which tastes everything blind–would rate it right after opening and then after it had sat a while. As it happens, as a group we were all over the map. One cluster rated it about the same on both occasions. Another cluster rated it much higher on the first occasion than on the second. And a third and smaller cluster had it slightly higher on the second occasion. Its aggregate score dipped a few points on the second occasion. I myself had it slightly higher on the first occasion than on the second, finding the palate and finish to have lost a little oomph. It is, however, the case that I am the only one in the group who does not taste blind and so I knew I was drinking the second, “oxidized” half of the bottle. Continue reading
The only proper response to a 10 yo whisky that costs between $250 and $300 is “oh, fuck off!”. But here’s a longer review anyway of the Octomore 10, the “prelude” to the first regular release in Bruichladdich’s line of insanely peated whiskies.
Before it’s even nosed or tasted, three things distinguish this Octomore from the ones that have come before–other than the fact that it costs twice as much as those already expensive forbears: 1) it has the lowest peating level in the series at 80.5 ppm–twice as much as most other peated Islays but half the ppm of the new Octomore 6s; 2) it is bottled at 50% and not an eye-watering cask strength; and 3) it is twice as old as the others in the series, which have all been 5 years old.
But what is it like? Continue reading
This was the first in Bruichladdich’s Black Art series of complicatedly matured malts (bourbon and then, from what I can tell online, every kind of wine cask that head distiller, Jim McEwan could get his hands on). The bottles are striking–black with alchemical images–and the prices are high. As with a lot of the 75,189 whiskies the revived Bruichladdich released to keep the cash flow going while they waited for their own distillate to come online, this is older stock “finished”, or in Bruichladdich/Murray McDavid’s parlance, ACE’d in wine casks. Some would say that this is yet another case of Jim McEwan making silk purses out of sow’s ears; and others might say that the smell of porcine earwax lingers. You can probably guess which way a miserable bastard like me would tend. That said, there are some of McEwan’s experiments that I have absolutely loved–the Infinity 3, for example, and the Octomore Comus–and I like to believe that I keep an open mind; if dodgy old stock softened up in wine casks results in a fine whisky I am happy to drink it.
Bruichladdich 19, 1999-2009, “Black Art” (51.1%; bourbon and wine cask matured; from a sample received in a swap)
Nose: Somewhat closed, which is odd considering the abv is not that high. Then winey notes (lots of red fruit), some raisins and nuts. A little saltier with time. With a little more time there’s some citrus peel. Water suppresses the wine but doesn’t bring out anything new.
Palate: Sweet and rather red winey. Cherry liqueur and plums and just a little bit of smoke. Gets saltier with time and there’s some citrus here too. It’s not bad, but is it whisky? Water improves things a little–the red fruit and wine get dialed back and the saltiness expands.
Finish: Medium. Gets more bitter as it goes (but doesn’t get very bitter) and there’s some soot. The salt and citrus continues on the finish. However, with water, the wine separates at the very end.
Comments: This is not as much of a wine-whisky cocktail as the Glenmorangie Artein, and I do like it more but, on the whole, I am very glad I was not ever intrigued enough by this to buy a bottle. There have been more editions but unless I read very strong reports I am not very motivated to seek them out. So, what are the odds that Jim McEwan and Bruichladdich are going to dial back the wine cask maturation now? Though the reports that the new Octomore 6.2 is (part?) matured in eau de vie casks makes me worry about where they may go next if they do….
Rating: 82 points. (Below 80 without water.)
Thanks to Sku for the sample!
The Octomore Comus consists, I believe, of bourbon cask matured spirit “finished” for an unspecified length of time in sauternes casks. Now, I’m not generally a fan of sweet wine finishes but this is really a very lovely whisky (spoiler alert!). And the frosted glass makes the bottle far more elegant, in my opinion, than the regular opaque black livery of the Octomore line (see my complaints about it here). Peated to 167 ppm, this held the record for highest peating level when released but has since been passed by whatever version of Octomore we’re at now.
If you want a bit of a laugh, or alternatively, if you haven’t rolled your eyes in a while and would like to get in a lot of practice, here’s a video of whisky legend, Islay icon, and Bruichladdich’s head distiller, Jim McEwan talking about the Comus (and no, he doesn’t seem very much more certain of how to pronounce the name than you or I are).
Bruichladdich, as you may know, is one of two Islay distilleries traditionally known for unpeated whisky (Bunnahabhain is the other). This changed after the distillery was purchased and re-opened by Mark Reynier and co. a little over ten years ago (Mark Reynier was pushed out last year after the distillery was purchased by Remy-Cointreau). Head distiller, Jim McEwan put together a number of peated vattings that were part of the roughly 3,750 bottlings that Bruichladdich released over that time to maintain cash flow while they waited for their own unpeated spirit to come online (which it did in 2011). They also started distilling new peated spirit, both the high octane Octomore line (see my review of the 2.1 here), and the more traditionally highly peated Port Charlotte line, the barley for which, I believe is peated to about 40 parts per million (in line with Lagavulin, Ardbeg and Laphroaig). Continue reading