One of the first bottles of scotch my father ever bought me was a bottle of Bruchladdich that came with a nice whisky glass. I still have the glass and I still have the tin canister that the bottle came in (I use it to hold beer bottle caps, now). I have always had a special place in my whisky heart for Bruichladdich distillery and after this tasting, it’s a bigger place, now.
The tasting was held at Keg n Cork liquor store, in Edmonton (where I work 2-3 days a month) on February 23, 2016. It was a packed house as everyone was keen to meet the ‘new guy’ at Bruichladdich. The new guy is Allan Logan who is taking over after the retirement of scotch legend, Jim McEwan. We learned that Allan Logan isn’t new to the scotch industry, at all. He is the 4th generation of his family to make whisky on Islay. His father worked at Laphroaig and Allan, himself, has spent the last 15 years under the tutelage of McEwan at Bruichladdich.
I am going to just run through a list of the things I learned about Bruichladdich from Logan at the tasting. Then, I will go through each whisky we sampled and a few notes about each. Sometimes the KISS principle is the best principle.
- The distillery was re-opened in May of 2001 with Jim McEwan at the helm.
- They currently have over 200 different cask types aging in their warehouses.
- When Jim McEwan retired last year, he left the distillery with over 60,000 barrels of whisky in the on-site warehouses.
- Bruichladdich makes everything by hand so they don’t use computers or machinery when making whisky. The water they use is actually brought down to the distillery by a tractor from Octomore Farm where the water bubbles naturally out of the ground.
- They are the largest private employer on Islay with 85 workers on site.
- They are currently building up stocks and hope to be able to release the Laddie 10 and even a 16 year expression in the near future.
- Bruichladdich uses an extremely slow, “uncommercial”, distillation process that increases contact with the copper stills and gives time for the sweetness of the barley to come through.
- Bruichladdich used to release several one-off bottlings with unique casks but this had to be stopped, for a while, while the distillery builds up stocks.
- Bruichladdich gets its peat from the Caledonian forest. This leads to different flavours than, say, Laphroaig where the peat is dug from at or below sea level.
- Bruichladdich proves itself on being ‘nonconformist’. Their distillery brochure states, “above all we believe the world needs an antidote to homogeneity and blandness”.
- Every ounce of whisky made at Bruichladdich is matured in casks at Bruichladdich.
- Bruichladdich doesn’t use chill-filtration, or add colouring, in any of it’s whisky. They believe this “lacks authenticity and detracts from the integrity of the spirit.”
- Bruichladdich only uses Scottish barley and has started using only Islay barley in some of its releases.
- Last, but not least, Bruichladdich believes ‘terroir matters.’ Terroir is “a concept that encompasses the influence and interaction of soil, subsoil, exposure, orientation, climate and micro-climate on the growing of a plant.” This is why the Islay barley project is so important to them.
- The Classic Laddie (50% abv/un-peated))
- Rarely will you see Bruichladdich releases below 50% abv. Just another thing to love about these folks! Classic Laddie contains 4 vintages of spirit aged 6-10 years and all of it was aged in bourbon casks. The goal of the distillery with this bottle is to show the character of the distillery.
- I had not tried the Classic Laddie since it replaced the Laddie 10 and I must say, I quite liked it. I could see this being a regular bottle on the shelf. You get the sweetness of a younger whisky but there is also enough maturity that it doesn’t come off as being too young…just enough oak influence, I think.
- Black Arts 4th Edition (49.2%/23 years/un-peated)
- The Black Arts bottlings are Jim McEwans top secret, super experimental, whisky love children. When you try any of the Black Arts whisky, you immediately start guessing what kind of casks he could have possibly used to make such a complex, yet delicious, dram. Edition 4 was Jim’s last and although he may have passed a few secrets onto Allan Logan, he has still challenged the new master distiller to equal or beat what he has created. So the Black Arts bottles will keep coming, but is Mr, Logan and company up to the task of matching such a unique spirit? We’ll see.
- This bottle is quite expensive at $250 but I really think you could spend $250 on much worse things. You won’t find many whiskies like this.
- Port Charlotte Scottish Barley (50%/40ppm)
- Another release that was matured solely in bourbon casks, this scotch was made entirely from Scottish mainland barley. Although it is labelled as heavily peated, this stuff goes nowhere near the Octomore peat levels. I would call this stuff medially peated and I would also call it wonderful. I have a bottle of this on my shelf, as we speak.
- Port Charlotte Isaly Barley (50%/40ppm)
- This is another release in the PC Heavily Peated line only this scotch is made from 100% Islay barley. According to Bruichladdich, “Port Charlotte Islay Barley represents a milestone as the first time, perhaps in the island’s history, a heavily-peated single malt has been distilled using Islay-grown barley.” The first thing I noticed with this whisky is that it noses a lot like Octomore 6.3. Allan explained that this was probably due to both being made from Islay barley. If you like Octomore 6.3 but can’t afford the $150 price tag, this bottle would be a decent alternative.
- Octomore 6.3 (64%/258ppm)
- This whisky is a legend. It is the most peated whisky ever made at 258ppm (they double the malting time to 5 days to get to this level). But, the first thing you might realize is that even Ardbeg 10 tastes and smells smokier and peatier than Octomore 6.3. I’m not saying you don’t feel the 258ppm when drinking 6.3, just that it isn’t the same peat flavours that you get with Ardbeg and Laphraoig. This can probably be attributed to a lot of things but Allan Logan says the slow distillation process and a different style of peat are two important factors. 6.3 was matured in 80% bourbon and 20% red wine casks (not sure what kind of red wine) and I think that 20% also helps offset some of that heavy pettiness. If you haven’t tried Octomore 6.3, yet, i seriously think you should before it’s gone. This stuff has one of the craziest noses in the whisky world and you’ll be impressed as to how a 258ppm scotch can somehow taste balanced. Brilliant dram!
- Octomore 7.1 (59.5%/208ppm)
- The last dram of the night was Octomore 7.1. For more info on what the different numbers mean (7.1, 6.1, 6.3), a quick google search should give you all the info you need. The 7.1 was matured in 100% bourbon casks and made from mainland Scotland barley. The 208 ppm came from the same malting time as 6.3 (5 days) but because eno machines or anything are involved, they get different PPM levels each time they make a batch. The highest ppm barley they have ever made at Bruichladdich is 308 but that has yet to be released. I will be 100% honest…after 6.3, I just found this whisky to be ok. 6.3 is a tough act to follow but I just found the 7.1 to be average. The last whisky of a tasting is always a bad spot and this could be he case, here.
Overall, I learned a ton from Allan Logan at this tasting. He has HUGE shoes to fill taking over for Jim McEwan but I feel like he is up to the task and that Bruichladdich will continue to be mavericks in the whisky world.
For more on Mr. Logan, check out Dave’s (@whisky_yes) interview over at www.distillness.com.
That’s all for now. Our Favourite’s night is coming up on March 11th and looks to be our best lineup, yet!
Feel free to comment below or on Instagram/Twitter @scotchclubYEG.
Until next time…Cheers/Slainte!