After Lagavulin, we ate a lovely lunch at the Islay Hotel, where we ended up getting seated beside and chatting with an Australian that had made the trip to Islay on his own. Happily full and ready to go, we were off on the 40-minute drive to Bruichladdich. As this was my wife’s first time driving on this trip, I was understandably nervous and sober enough to care. We made it just fine but there were a few white-knuckle moments. She’s happy to be back in Canada and back driving on the correct (for us) side of the (wider) road once more.
Bruichladdich requires payment at the time of booking, so it was simple to just check in and wait for the tour to start. I was able to wander the very modern rustic shop and the different branded merchandise and rare bottles on offer. Seeing the two casks sitting in the gift shop (a 12 year first fill cask Bruichladdich and an 11-year second fill Syrah cask Port Charlotte), I immediately resolved to get one and luckily for me, the tour entitled me to 5 pounds off my purchase.
I was a little too eager to begin the tour because I accidentally followed a private tour out the door and was promptly told to turn back. The tour began shortly after that thankfully, otherwise, I would have ended up with a few picture frames made from exhausted whisky barrels.
Unfortunately, I don’t remember our guides name however, he was a great guide and very generous with his pours. Once he rounded us all up, he handed us each branded Glencairn Copitas (which we could keep naturally) and provided the driver dram bottles and then lead us the 50 metres to the Warehouse.
Upon walking into the Warehouse, it was evident that this space was actively used to age casks and not just for show. In comparison to Lagavulin’s warehouse in which there was a bit of angel’s share in the air, this was thick with the smell of oak, alcohol vapours, and an ever so slight aroma of chocolate. I would rate this warehouse smell second only to Bunnahabhain (post coming later).
The tasting area is much more spacious and comfortable than Lagavulin’s with old barrel’s set in front of the chairs to act as tables with a branded water jug on each. We had a great view of the three casks that we would get to try. We were told by our guide at the very beginning that (much to his great regret) we would not be able to purchase a bottle from any of the casks we were about to try that afternoon. I probably would have killed someone to purchase a bottle as this may have been the best tasting of the time I spent on Islay. They turned down my offer of assassination though, which is probably for the best.
Our guide was great, very relaxed, personable, and knowledgeable about the distillery and the casks we were drinking from. At one point after getting a volunteer to operate the valinch and to serve everyone, he provided compensation to the lucky German in the form of a pour straight into the mouth. While this tasting was an hour, like Lagavulin, tasting only 3 drams was a welcome change and provided ample time to really appreciate each one. Once the third was poured and we had spent the appropriate amount of time appreciating it, we were allowed to wander the warehouse and to take as many pictures as we wanted. Interesting things I saw included: an entire row of Port Charlotte barrels distilled in 2010 and ageing in Premier Cru Bordeaux Red Wine Casks, Port Charlotte juice distilled in 2016 and ageing in ex-Oloroso casks from a Bodega called F de C, and the piece de resistance Laddie juice distilled in 2007 and ageing in ex-W.L. Weller Casks. I later found out that your average bourbon barrel costs around 150-200 pounds and your average ex-sherry barrel starts at 1,000 pounds. God knows how much these much nicer than average barrels cost.
After the tour, and while I decide on which Distillery Valinch Bottle to get, I was able to try both and get the aforementioned discount. Ultimately, I ended up with the Port Charlotte spurred mostly by the lasting memory of the Port Charlotte I had just had in the Warehouse.
Anyways, enough of my rambling, here is what I tasted:
Bruichladdich 1992 (26 Years Old and unpeated) – 48%
20 years in a First Fill Bourbon Cask and then re-racked into another First Fill Bourbon.
Nose: Very gentle and floral at first (sort of a green very fresh buds), clay sand, mineral.
Water – Much sweeter, brings out the tangerine, Turkish delight (fruit concentrate and powdered sugar).
Taste: Rosewater, cardamom, refreshing minerality, light oak, vanilla latte.
Water – Very salty and brine-y, candied salted lemon, powdered sugar and molasses.
Finish: Tangerine, gentle oak, vanilla, Apple orchard.
Water – Becomes much fruitier and saltier.
Notes: This was so fresh that there were a lot of Oak chunks in my glass courtesy of the valinch. A double maturation in first fill Bourbon Casks might not lead to my favourite profile, but I’ll be damned if the quality of this spirit, maturation, and the casks don’t shine through and smack you in the face.
Port Charlotte 2004 (14 Years Old Bordeaux Premier Cru cask and peated to 40ppm) – 61%
This spent it’s first 8 years in an ex-bourbon and was then re-racked in 2012 in an ex-Bordeaux Cask which apparently averages about 1000€ per empty cask.
Nose: Gentle smouldering leaf fire, wine gummies, sea and salt spray, charred rib-eye (with a good amount of fat marbling), dark berry compote.
Water – Smoke and salt moves to the background and the wine gummies and salt come forward, stronger hickory chips rather than smoke, smoked berry compote, smoke from a hardwood oak fire, tire fire.
Taste: Gentle smouldering leaf fire, wine gummies, salt spray, charred rib-eye (nice marbling), dark berry compote
Water – Smoke and salt tamped down and the wine gummies and salt come forth. More hickory chips rather than smoke Like a smoked berry compote then drier smoke and oak, tire fire.
Finish: Salt, smoke is strongest on the finish, with water the berries are more prominent.
Notes: We can’t buy this and was so sad. Perfect balance of wine, spirit and smoke. One of the best things I have ever tasted.
Octomore 2005 (13 Years Old and finished in an ex-Premier Cru Sauternes Cask) – 62.3%
Nose: Lavender, liquorice, hint of smoke and brine, greenhouse leafy mustiness, molasses, powdered sugar, smoked paprika.
Taste: Intense brine, vague fruitiness, fresh plastic. Really packs a punch.
Finish: Stewed berries, red sweets, bonfire, brine.
Notes: Amazing and the first Octomore I’ve liked. Intense fruitiness and brine with a hint of smoke on the finish. Really overwhelms the taste buds.
Laddie Valinch 38 Colin Toucher – Cask No. 824 2006 (12 Years Old First FIll Bourbon) – 63.9%
Nose: Clotted cream with lemon shavings, fresh cut grass.
Taste: Vanilla, oak, lemon curd.
Finish: Char and oak.
Notes: After the Octomore, notes were sort of hard to come by.
The Distillery Valinch Port Charlotte Cask no. 13/080-17 (11 Years Old Second-fIll Syrah Cask) – 60.2%
Nose: Lemon and butter, grass, salt, mineral, vague berries.
Taste: Grass, salted butter, oak.
Finish: Oak, mineral, peat, Apple skin.
Notes: Similar to the Laddie, it was hard to come up with notes but my gut told me to go with this one.
All in all, this was an amazing time at Bruichladdich. Cramming two warehouse tastings into one day was a bit tough, but that’s life and I’m thankful to have made it to both Bruichladdich and Lagavulin. I think this tasting may have been the tastiest from start to finish of all of the tastings I did.