Bruichladdich Organic 2009 – “Barley Exploration Part III”

I scrapped my original intro to this review, I should have called this series “against the grain” or “down with big Ag!” all kidding aside, I don’t mean to come off as preachy, I am just trying to gather my thoughts coherently about these questions that are often on my mind when this type of subject comes up.

Suffice to say that it is easy to become too focused on the big picture and lose sight of all the little steps that contribute to the whole, you can remove some of these and cut corner and “innovate” and still arrive at a result that is similar but upon close inspection isn’t. The taste of whisky is more than just anonymous grain spirit + barrel finishes. Caring about the little steps requires more than good marketing and fancy tales.

2008 harvest distilled in 2009 Organic unpeated barley, 9 years old, matured in ex-bourbon casks.

Nose: Creamy digestive biscuits, cooked barley, lemon curd, whipped cream, cantaloupe, Satsumas. Lime oil, some vanilla and sweetness there is definitely some active first-fill casks at work.

With time a a few drops water a feeling of caraway, yeasty fermenting beer and a bit of ginseng, IPA??

Palate: Oily AF, lemon zest, salty, creamy vanilla and a good dose of oak and something a little charred. Whole whet bread and honey, with a spicy, peppery & “grippy” oak.

you have to take your time with this one, it needs air to reveal the interplay between the spicy, floral, sweet and oily.

Finish: Medium length, still that feeling of heavy cream a bit of juniper/pepper and lime pith & honey, even a slightly earthy side.

The Blab: This is a pretty round and characterful whisky, it has a hint of sharpness (but not harsh) and this young beer like, yeasty, floral hoppy aspect. It’s crazy to think this thing is only 8yrs old, real character not just weirdness, good to drink now but would love to see what it tastes like when it hits 12-14 yrs.

Bruichladdich The Organic 2009

50% ABV

86/100

Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2010 – “Barley Exploration Part II”

It would not have been that long ago that most distilleries would have sourced their barley from within their locality or at the very least their own country to meet their needs. As production of most distilleries grew and consolidation took hold of the industry, efficiency and cost have become the leading factor in the production of spirits for most distilleries.

They will bandy about the origins, history and lore of their locality but very little of that applies anymore. If your barley is grown in France, is malted in Scotland and then trucked to the Isle of Skye to be distilled. The then resulting new make is put in a tanker and shipped to Fife to be aged, can it still truly be called a maritime malt?

There are many in the Scotch whisky industry that will tell you that the barley variety and provenance add little to nothing to the flavour of the whisky. Yet in most other spirit and beverage categories they have doubled down on the importance of terroir (yes an overused word), variety and climate, it is intrinsic to the creation of the DNA of their product.

The truth for these conglomerates is that it just doesn’t fit their mode of operation, it is contrary to the way their businesses are run. Dealing with the minutiae of sourcing, the variability of crop outcome and of production that come with this model is contrary to their structure. They could charge more for the result, certainly that is appealing but it would invariably cost more to produce and require more hands on deck and that they can’t live with. Besides in their mind the average client cares little and if you use the right smoke and mirrors that are lore, legend and scarcity you keep them from looking too closely.

Just food for thought, I’m not saying local is best nor the only way to do things, I am just weary of many talking from both sides of their mouth at once, locality and history is only important when they say it is, much like age.

2009 crop from eight Islay farms from Uxbridge & Optic unpeated barley distilled 2010, 7 years old, majority first-fill Bourbon with some Rivesaltes, Jurançon & Banyuls casks vatted in.

Nose: Waxy lemons, a little struck match, melons, wet hay, loads of barley a little bit of vermouth. There’s a touch of cured ham, an oily almost shoe polish feel but nonetheless that air of freshness.

With time I feel like there’s a kind of slight wine cask type of influence earthy, blackberries, slight touch of olive and aniseed.

Palate: Peppery, oily & spicy. Sweet frosting, loads of musky fruit, salty ham, green coriander seeds a bit of green bell pepper. It really pulls your taste buds in many directions.

Finish: It finishes dry, a bit of cardboard and astringent fruit, cooked barley, caraway and spicy oak.

Blab: A nice whisky, the palate starts off the same as the nose but then it feels as if the wine casks take over. A bit of funk. Astringency and that earthy fruit thing, more a summery kind of whisky. I have preferred others in the series especially the 2007 Rockside farm release.

As with many of these Islay Barley whiskys it is hard to know if what you are tasting is due in part to the locality of the crop or not, it would be great to have comparison whisky of the same age and vatting but from a mainland crop to see the difference. That’s the whisky nerd in me talking.

Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2010

50%/ABV

84/100

Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2008-2017 – “Barley Exploration Part I”

In the summer/fall of 2018, Bruichladdich issued new editions of it’s “provenance” driven whiskys, the 2010 edition of it’s Islay Barley variant, the 2009 Organic barley and the 2008 Bere Barley. Right around the holidays they smartly assembled a new “Wee Laddies” kit of 3 x 20cl bottles, one of each expression. I was able to pick up a set at a very fair price during that time, I figured it was a good way to taste multiple expressions. I would also be able to use those handy 20cl bottles when empty to decant bottles in the danger zone, win-win.

Bere Barley is a varietal that was prized for it’s performance in low ph soils and it’s short growing season, making it ideal for a place like Scotland and specifically Orkney, where the crop for this whisky came from. It also has a high protein and nitrogen content making it difficult to deal with and reducing it’s yield, yet it was prized for it’s flavor and continues to be used by many in the brewing industry for that very reason. Only a few distilleries have experimented with a purely Bere barley whisky, of the ones I know there was Arran, Bruichladdich and Glan Ar Mor.

Distilled in 2008 from the 2007 harvest, unpeated Bere barley, 9 yrs old and vatted from first-fill an re-fill ex-bourbon casks.

Nose: Sharp, citrus peel, pumpernickel, caraway. it’s very fresh on the nose. Then some latex, powdered sugar & marzipan. It reminds me of pot-still Irish whisky in some ways, there is a slight banana note as well.

Palate: Tropical fruits, lots of grain, lemon, astringency and a firm sharpness. It develops into a tangy creamy feeling a bit like those campino candies with a bit of spice on the tail end.

Finish: There is a bit of rye bread and water crackers at first and then a lemony, salty feeling, paraffin and a touch of arugula.

Blab: There’s something irresistible about this whisky. The palate is weird, very different than a lot of what I’ve had. It’s hard to describe. It’s coastal, oily and has almost a lowland vibe to it but then there’s that fresh side also that lifts it up. An interesting whisky it eventually became my favourite of the set.

Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2008

50% ABV

86/100

Bruichladdich Black Arts 6.1 “Arcane Rambler”

Black Arts has become the oldest regular expression of the Bruichladdich portfolio. It is basically composed of 20± year old pre-closure stock that had been matured or finished in various types of casks with a heavy emphasis on wine/sherry/fortified wines. It is then vatted into a secret recipe know only to the head distiller.

This is the second edition that has been crafted by Adam Hannet since he’s taken over the role of master distiller.

Nose: Old books, slight sulfur and dried berries, as it opens up you get grape syrup, fresh oak a bit of pickled ginger & waxed orange rind. There’s an interesting note like a cross between sour cherry and marzipan also present is this background freshness and something akin to peated rosewater?

This edition seems to start off not quite as tight and funky than past ones I’ve tried, there is some sulfur but it’s balanced with a touch of sea spray, it almost feels like that’s the element bringing the freshness.

Palate : Oily, bitter herbs, sweet cured ham & cold coffee. musky fruits like melon, grape skins, fresh pastry, a slight sherry vinegar sharpness and then that aged sherry barrel funk. A Musty Concrete Basement collides with broken jars of mustard fruits and grape jam.

Finish: Sweet, Water biscuits, marinated stone fruits and blackberries with saltwater and a trace of smoke. Cooked jam, a tinge of paraffin and cologne. Loads of yeast and tobacco in finish a good amount of oak and a trace of incense.

Blab: This is big whisky and yet it feels fun, unlike the 4.1 which I reviewed recently which was kind of heavy sulfury and messy. 6.1 has those heavy low end notes but all that is pulled up by this freshness on the nose that other versions don’t exhibit. There is an interplay between the sharp acidic wine elements and the fruit, It’s rather pleasant and prevents the whole affair from becoming too stodgy.

Expensive but I feel like this one is actually worth paying for, great blending a fairly unique profile as well that sticks with you.

Bruichladdich Black Arts 6.1

46.9% ABV
88/100

Bruichladdich Black Art 4.1 / 1990 / 23yrs “Crimson Tide Part III”

The final dram in my “whine” cask exploration series, Bruichladdich’s Black Arts series is the one that has the most marketing malarkey, no one but the Master Blender knows it’s composition (except perhaps the guys dumping the damn barrels), incantations, magic, solstice,druids…wait I started going all Highland Park there for a moment.

Simple premise, Old regime Bruicladdich spirit (20+yrs) + put through the lens of potentially all kind of wine/fortified wine they have a their disposal , so expect some funny business, if you don’t like wine casks in whisky stay far away.

Nose: Sweet, slightly acetic, red wine vinegar, apricots, cocoa powder, red currant jelly, dried prunes. Lots of sherry influence, a bit of leather, Turkish delight and marzipan. Loads of oak, melons, candle wax and fresh cut green branches.

The interplay of both sherry and wine casks is present, good French oak in use but this kind of waxy, green and sharp acidic side is permanently in effect.

Palate: Thin mouth-feel at first , then raspberry jam, thyme, fennel seeds, fresh coriander, a touch of salt and a good drizzle of molasses. In time it steers towards rye bread, roasted almond marzipan, red wine sauce, prunes in Armagnac, some dried mushrooms as well.

Finish: It lingers on the dark sherry elements, molasses, sulfur, prunes, wet oak, cloves and camphor. A bit of Campari in the finish. That quinine and bitter herb feeling. A touch of peat perhaps? There is defintely an earthy side.

Blab: You have to like this style, I personally don’t think the ones I have tasted thus far live up to the hype, I find the nosing it to be the most rewarding along with the tail end of the finish, where it reminds me a bit of Macallan cask strength (the little I have had of that) at that moment.

Side note, I think this is the style of packaging they should have given to Octomore, it’s something out of Black Metal album and totally unsuited to the style of whisky that it contains.

Bruichladdich Black Arts 4.1

49.2% ABV

83/100

Bruichladdich 1990 Micro Provenance Cask Exploration, Château Latour – “Crimson Tide Part II”

Alright the next whisky in my exploration of Wine afflicted Bruichladdich whiskys, this samples was graciously sent by a lovely chap from Calgary.

The vital statistics, this was part of Bruichladdich’s Micro-Provenance series, I think this was the name they gave to their single cask program, they were even once available for sale on the Bruichladdich site which had an amazing odd’s and end’s section where they would liquidate stuff they dug up from their inventory, you could catch gems there…how times have changed.

This is from a series of casks that we’re exclusive to Alberta, all followed the same scheme, ex-bourbon maturation (20+yrs) with finish of a couple of years in wine casks, I think there was, Gaja Barolo, Gaja Bolgheri, Rivesaltes, Brunello, Chateau Lafite & Chateau Latour. They are still plenty available on shelves last I was there.

Nose: Sweet, bramble fruits, red apples skins, spicy oak a touch of cloves and that smell of boiled syrup candies. After much air there is, melon, rose geranium, a touch of cough syrup and a bit of play-doh.

The wine cask has taken over much of the nose, it’s a touch sharp too.

Palate: Oily, sweet & salty fighting for balance, plums, apricots and a feeling of coconut oil. Further sipping brings menthol, a bit of coriander & juniper seeds and something akin stone fruits in cooked lamb fat?

Finish: Sharp, astringent oak, first strawberries & dried ginger, it then morphs into lemon pith and apricot. The finish doesn’t have much staying power.

The Blab: Interesting, the wine is clearly in charge of most of this, The nose while sweet at first it doesn’t like long air exposure, those funky plasticine and off notes show up if you take too long. The palate was great a kind of wild ride between the fruits, the oak and those weird oily/meaty elements, don’t nose too long and spend more time drinking it I guess.

Bruichladdich 1990 Micro-Provenance, Cask Evolution: Chateau Latour

52.4% ABV

83/100

*Photo credit Chris Dawson

Classic Laddie Batch 16/004 “Crimson Tide Part I”

I’m back constant reader, all 3 of you. Many whisky adventures since I last posted but we’ll begin with the following exploration. A couple of months back I won a contest that was put on by fellow whiskygrammer holdmyscotch.

I was well pleased when I received two interesting samples from one of my favorite distilleries, both whiskys had the heavy touch of wine casks about them and it turns out I had the right partner for just such an occasion.

My girlfriend has an oft neglected bottle of The Classic Laddie in the back of her cupboard, it’s not so much that it was a bad bottle but it’s just kind of particular depending on what you’ve been having before. The interesting thing about this particular bottle is that it contains a pretty good percentage of wine casks 42% exactly…we know this because of the oft forgotten but amazing vatting tool that Bruichladdich puts at our disposal.

Bottled in 2016, it is a vatting of 82 casks between ranging in vintages between 2005-2008 42% of them being 1st, 2nd or 3rd fill wine casks.  I had spotted this difference when trying it up against other batches in the past but didn’t know how to frame it as part of a review. The distillery is rather (in) famous for its heavy use of wine and fortified wine casks, I figured this is a good exercise to see if there is any common DNA among 3 wine casked variants.


Nose: Apricots, a bit of struck match, melon, wet oak, red currants, a touch of lanolin. Pickled ginger & menthol. There’s definitely some tension between the fruits and then the cask play. A bit of lamp oil, salty caramel definitely a fusel type note. 

Palate: Oily, sharp, butterscotch candy, sulfur, canned apricots, a grassy and vegetal side. Sunflower oil, dried mango, Celery salt. The sulphur is a back and its like veg cooking water but it’s just hanging in the back.

Finish: Sharp, astringent, sweet and sour, there’s definitely the signs of youth as it’s prickly on the middle of the tongue. The finish lingers. It’s quite long and persistent with lemon pith. 

Notes: It’s got some Bruichladdich hallmarks, melons, super oily and rich. The oak contributes some richness but also this kind of menthol note

This isn’t the most cohesive although I feel the bottle has suffered with time. The nose remains the most pleasant aspect of it.

Classic Laddie batch 16/004

50%abv

81/100