Bruichladdich, scotland’s most interesting distillery, releases old and new bottlings
Bruichladdich is perhaps the most interesting distillery on Islay, which is arguably the most interesting whisky-producing region in all of Scotland. The story of Bruichladdich can be divided neatly in two — before 1994, when the distillery was shut down during the long Scotch whisky decline of the 80s and 90s, and after 2001, when it was purchased and rebuilt with Master Distiller Jim McEwan at the helm.
McEwan’s tenure helped make Bruichladdich one of the most exciting, groundbreaking distilleries in all of Scotland. On one hand, he was releasing old whiskies from the distillery’s original incarnation. And on the other, he was producing young, experimental bottlings like Octomore, a series of the most heavily peated whiskies ever made. McEwan retired in 2015, but his successor, Adam Hannett, has upheld his legacy, releasing thrilling new whiskies both new and old.
So far, 2018 has seen a half-dozen new Bruichladdich expressions. True to form, three are young — less than a decade, which by Scotch single malt standards is positively embryonic — and three, the first releases under the new “Rare Cask" moniker, were laid down in the mid 1980s. Whether you’re a single malt progressive or a staunch traditionalist, there’s plenty here to love.
Bruichladdich The Organic 2009
Bruichladdich has been experimenting with whiskies made from organically grown barley off and on for a few years. The latest, an 8-year-old bottled at 50% alcohol by volume, comes on soft and sweet, with vanilla and honey notes that are more reminiscent of a Speyside malt than an Islay whisky. It’s also quite malty, with hints of hops and a nice peppery bite on the finish. Whether or not you care about organic, this is a delicious whisky.
Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2008
The funny thing about Scotch whisky is that, while it has to be distilled and aged in Scotland, the barley from which it’s made can come from anywhere. For most brands, that means outside Scotland. Bruichladdich, however, thinks terroir plays an undervalued role in whisky, and take pride in using native Scottish barley in their malts. Bere barley is one of Britain’s oldest cultivated grains, going back to at least the 8th century AD, and possibly as far back as 5,000 years ago. Bere doesn’t produce a high yield compared to other barleys, but going on the evidence, it makes terrific whisky.
Bruichladdich’s fifth Bere barley bottling is rich and sweet, with notes of vanilla custard, coconut, and pear giving way to a fruity, medium length finish. It’s bottled at 50% alcohol by volume, but you’d never know from tasting it — this is gentle and smooth all the way down.
Only unpeated whiskies can be called Bruichladdich; all others must go by other names. The most famous of the peated Bruichladdichs are the Octomores, whose phenol counts, by which peatiness is scientifically measured, are orders of magnitude higher than even the second peatiest drams. Miraculously, they don’t taste like you’re drinking an ashtray. Of course, there’s plenty of smoke and peat for Islay devotees, but there’s a lot going on beneath the surface — in this case, notes of clove, creme brulee, and bright citrus are the star attractions. Limited to 12,000 bottles, this is sure to be snapped up quickly by the enthusiastic Octomore fan base.
Bruichladdich Rare Cask Series 1984/32 Bourbon: All In
Drawn from the last 12 surviving casks laid down in 1984 in ex-bourbon barrels and limited to 3,000 bottles, this Rare Cask series is rich and buttery on the tongue, with notes of honey and dark chocolate evolving into sweet candied fruit and toffee, with oak and a bit of citrus on the finish. A beautifully balanced whisky that’s also a vivid time capsule evoking the previous chapter of Bruichladdich’s history. Bottled at 43.7%, water is not needed — this is excellent as-is. Available at US$1,000 (about RM4,162).
Bruichladdich Rare Cask Series 1985/32 Bourbon: Hidden Glory
Limited to 4,200 bottles, this 32-year-old Bruichladdich Rare Cask Series 1985/32 Bourbon: Hidden Glory has had an interesting journey. It was laid down in third-fill ex-bourbon casks, which means less tannin coming from the wood. In 2012, it was re-casked in first-fill bourbon casks, and then in 2017 it was finished in French oak red wine casks. The wine imparts dark fruity notes (think ripe cherries) alongside rich butterscotch and dry oak, with a long, dry, slightly sour finish. A fascinating dram, especially when compared with the 1984.
Bruichladdich Rare Cask Series 1986/30 Sherry: The Magnificent 7
Having spent 30 years entirely in sherry casks (the first 26 in first-fill Oloroso, the last four in Pedro Ximenez), Bruichladdich Rare Cask Series 1986/30 Sherry: The Magnificent 7 is an intense, fruity delight for fans of sherries malts. Raisin, figs, candied orange peel and honey mingle with dry savory flavours — curry, leather, pepper — before sweet and sour come to the fore on the long, smooth finish. A fascinating dram that rewards an evening of sipping, contemplation and concentration. Bottled at a fairly mild 44.8% alcohol by volume, water brings up more delicate floral notes, but the concentrated flavor of the unadulterated whisky is a joy.