So it’s the dawn on the first morning on Islay. Bowmore is lovely as could be as the sun begins to shine onto Loch Indaal, but I won’t be staying for too long in Bowmore this morning. A quick hour long bus ride from Islay High School takes us to the pier of Bruichladdich, just minutes away from our destination, and our first distillery tour of this Islay trip, the lovely Bruichladdich Distillery!
If you’re using the Islay bus system to get to Bruichladdich it’s fairly efficient compared to the majority of Islay distilleries as the 451 Portnahaven runs quite frequently compared to busses to Ardbeg or Caol Ila from Bowmore Post Office. I found this out when I missed the first morning bus to Bruichladdich and thereby missed the production tour, so plan ahead and make sure you know where the stops are if you’re using the bus system (especially when the stop for “Islay High School” is actually at the bottom of the hill by south end of Main Street and not in front of the school itself as it’s simply a drop-off for students). But thankfully a new bus came an hour later and we made it in time for the Warehouse Tasting!
Bruichladdich itself is quite lovely looking with white buildings littered with baby blue window frames and benches. The path to the distillery shop is well laid out and that’s where the tours start from. The shop has quite a number of whiskies for sale as well as free samples for those who do a tour their afterwards of almost everything they have. Check-in for tours is easy as you just go in to the front table and let them know that you’ve arrived and you’re done. 30 minutes later and the tasting commenced!
Before we embarked our tour guide Richard prepared some tasting kits for us composed of a Bruichladdich tasting glass and some drivers drams in case we’d rather take the samples to go! So off we went into the warehouse, which lies below a hill where you can see a yellow submarine model as a cheeky reference to a special edition that not many can afford anymore!
Inside is quite dusty like at the Campbeltown distilleries but with more visible red fruitiness in the air. There are dozens of casks of many types laid out (from young Port Charlottes filled this year in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels to a rack of Octomores aging in Chateau d’Yquem casks. So now Richard took us to a tasting area to give a bit of knowledge before the tasting.
So when it comes to Bruichladdich a lot of things are told that are good to know for how the style is developed. Like with some Islay distilleries, peat is sourced from Aberdeenshire in the Scottish Highlands as the distillery prefers the gentler peat to brasher Islay peat. Barley is also imported from the mainland at times, however the Islay Barley program is growing fast for thr distillery to where 50% of all barley used in their whisky is grown on Islay which they use for many single field barley bottlings. Despite Remy Cointreau’s purchase in 2012 they have been good at letting Bruichladdich self-manage to where the distillery continues to grow in production and gain a massive prestige for its diverse styles of Islay whisky.
In order to show that diversity, as well as their newer foundations laid by old owner Mark Reynier and Jim McEwan, Richard brought out 3 casks that ring true to the work those two, as well as the whole team at Bruichladdich headed by current master distiller Adam Hannett, have given into this whisky. So let’s begin…
Bruichladdich 2001 Fresh Bourbon Cask
So we begin with a bourbon cask Bruichladdich to start the tasting off, which sounds good to me as I love their unheated bourbon matured spirit quite a bit! This whisky is also a very special one that is being shared with the lucky few of us as this barrel is some of the last stocks available at the warehouse from the year Bruichladdich re-started distilling in 2001. It was aged in a first fill Jim Beam bourbon barrel for 18 years, since October 2001, and was valinched out for us at this tasting at 56% ABV.
Colour: Dark Gold
Nose: This is super oily and salinic, lots of peanut and almond butters so you know this is a Jim Beam, apple jelly, sea salt, cocoa butter, shea and rich silky caramels
Palate: Massive butter lemon tarts, roast peanuts, chocolate, orange peel, toasted pastries, ginger, tea tannins and light anise
Finish: Medium to Long with sea salt, light brine, lemon loaf, silky caramel and burnt sugars
Really wonderful stuff. The first fill cask is used very well and mingles into the quality of the spirit handsomely.
Port Charlotte 2004 French Red Wine Cask
This Port Charlotte was originally in a bourbon barrel for 8 years before moving into a French red wine cask for 6 years. Sadly the winery origin appeared to have be sanded out so I can’t tell which winery previously owned the barrels that carry this older Port Charlotte in them. I’d imagine it has a lot to do with quelling warehouse tasters from over-speculating future releases or (almost certainly) asking for extra samples. This one was bottled at 53% ABV.
Colour: Light Amber
Nose: Very bright fruitiness, lots of soft tangerines, lemons, papayas, melon, ginger, faint clove, red plum, apple butter, faint seasalt and leather
Palate: Very nice pepperiness, red and black fruit jams, sea salt, tea tannins, orange oil, dry lemon, leather, fresh cut grass
Finish: Long with big ginger, clove, plums, dry lemon, pepper, salt and saline
The nose is nice and complex but the finish on this is very well put together and comes at you like a freight train but a well composed train at good speeds. Absolutely magical stuff.
And last, but certainly not least, we have…
Octomore 2008 6.3 Remnant 10 Year Old Islay Barley
This cask is a further maturation of the much loved 6.3 Remnant that was re-racked into a 2nd fill bourbon for another 4 years after 6 years in a first fill bourbon barrel. It is bottled at 56% ABV.
Colour: Dark Gold
Nose: Very soft at this age, lots of vanilla, creamy caramel, heather honey, cocoa powder, burnt sugars, sweet lemon, brine, light saline, faint peat, cinnamon and light rock salt
Palate: Initially the honey and heather mixes with a lovely soft salty peat, then cocoa butter, raisins, cherry jam, marzipan, green grapes, silky caramel, vanilla bean and buttered toast
Finish: Long with smoky cherry jam, almond butter, shea, lemon curd, apples and vanilla
Massive but very very well composed! The nose is light, not as much so as the Port Charlotte though, but very complex.
All three were excellent drams well worth trying and it really makes the warehouse tasting a very special experience. Although the Bruichladdich wasn’t as old as some others put out in warehouse tastings posted before they were all very unique drams that strike a chord with lovers of this distillery so I would 100% recommend a trip out to Bruichladdich if you love the distillery as its absolutely spectacular stuff with a great distillery team and even better whisky!
However, it also gets better from the distillery shop as they allow you to try some samples (for the price of free as long as you did a tour). What was also nice was that today was the day just after the global launch of the new Octomore 10.X series so each 10.X selection (minus the 10.4 which is due out in January 2020) was available to sample! Thus, I tried a nip of the new 10.3 but sadly I didn’t get any tasting notes down as I was quite burned out on my palate by this time, especially after trying the famed distillery valinches! These are unique bottles available only from the distillery that you can fill and label yourself that cost £75 for a 500ml bottle (minus 5 quid if you had done a tour beforehand!) but both are cask strength and single casks. So let’s see how they were…
Bruichladdich Valinch 48 Ashley MacGregor Cask No. 3288
This single cask represented one of the tour shop workers at Bruichladdich as every member of staff will be getting their own distillery valinch to show each and every member of the Bruichladdich family a thank you for the hard work and to show Bruichladdich fans the faces of those working hard to bring us such fantastic spirits!
Also coincidentally Ms. MacGregor was working the shop when I was there so there was a good laugh she had about having her own face on a bottle of Bruichladdich, especially a single Madeira cask just shy of 12 years old at that! It’s a November 2007 vintages that’s also cask strength at 57.4% ABV. The idea sounds amazing so let’s have a try!
Nose: Very floral, heather honey, apple, light clove and cardamom, rich barley sugars and caramels
Palate: Sweet vanilla, dried red plum, rich Valencia oranges, raisins, full cream, heavy oak, cherries and marzipan
Finish: Medium to Long with cinnamon, clove, gingerbread, oranges and creamy lemons
Very nice and well rounded complexity. The big orange and marzipan notes along with the gingerbread led finish made this really shine for me in how the unpeated Bruichladdich spirit can still be quite unique when paired with excellent cask selection.
And finally we get to the second valinch, and my last whisky at Bruichladdich…
Port Charlotte 2006 VGC:01 Distillery Exclusive Cask No. 2177
Now the second distillery valinch is always a Port Charlotte and this one looked incredible right away. So much so that a few Germans tried to buy a case for themselves! It also looked exceptionally unique as it was aged in a viognier white wine cask from Condrieu AOC in the Northern Rhone for just shy of 13 years, from October 2006 till now, and is bottled at 57.4% ABV. I really enjoy a nice viognier but have never had a single varietal one from the Rhone much less used in a Port Charlotte. So if red wine worked wonders for the spirit then white wine must be something else. Let’s try it!
Nose: Rich salty peat, brine, saline, clove, fennel, lemon, vanilla, hard toffee and raisins
Palate: Rich vanilla and creamy caramel, heavy brine, sea salt, barley sugars, cream, peaches, apricot jam, sweet raisins and massive leathery funk
Finish: Long with massive smoky grape skins, leather, sea salt, tablet, lemon curd, smoked paprika and clove
My god is this funky and interesting. Almost the perfect way to end the experience here at Bruichladdich. Huge massive salty saline filled peat right up into a massively long finish paired with great sweetness and fruitiness. The only qualm that keeps this from greatness is the overbearing cask influence at times but the balance at 12 years old is still very very good, although not as much as the Maltbarn 17 Year bourbon cask Port Charlotte but this one is still very close! A really unique dram and a very fun cask for the bold Islay lovers. Sadly only about 20 bottles remained from this cask (the bottle I reviewed from is #401) so it’s likely long gone by now, but I hear the new 11 year Rioja cask is absolutely stunning so grab that one if it’s still around!
And that’s the first go with Bruichladdich all done! The absolute diversity of the whisky is amazing so definitely give them a look next time you’re on Islay. It can be hard to get to with the bus system and the tight roads but trust me, its absolutely worth it because I will 100% be back someday for more of their tasty goods!
And also for the tasty rolls and coffee at Debbie’s Cafe (Bruichladdich Mini Mart) down the street but you can find that out for yourself!