Here’s one from the ‘long gone and sorely missed’ category. Not just because it’s obsolete (which it is) or because it’s really good (it is that too), but because it was from the era when Bruichladdich was operating with seeming impunity; untouchable in their blitzkrieg of never-ending new releases. Old, young, finished, natural, peated, unpeated, multi-casked, you-name-it. They did it all. This slew of releases pissed some off (read: collectors and completists), but delighted others (like yours truly). Nowadays Bruichladdich is still a bit of a maverick, but there’s no denying it…times have changed.
The whisky we’re looking at here was not born under the tenure of the current Laddie team, but was distilled in the very late 80s or early 90s, prior to the distillery’s closure and subsequent reopening in 2001. From then on, its adoptive ‘parents’ had different ideas for raising this one to maturity than did its birth ‘parents’ and did an about face with regard to bringing it into its teen years. Let me explain…
When the ownership/management team of Reynier/Coughlin/McEwan and the gang of 30 or so other new owners took over the distillery in 2000 there were apparently some concerns about cask quality of the existing stock. Master Distiller Jim McEwan (hopefully no further introduction needed by this point) worked his way through the warehouses and came to the conclusion that some of the whisky was indeed maturing away in substandard barrels. The story goes that much of the distillery’s existing stock was subsequently re-racked into higher quality barrels. Many of these whiskies found their way into former wine vessels, courtesy of Reynier’s connections in the wine trade from his former life in said industry. I mention this here as I can only assume that this was some of that re-racked spirit.
It’s this latter notion that plays a fairly large part in what constitutes the profile of this 18 year old Bruichladdich. A quirky malt with a very multi-faceted personality. The wine influence is substantial, but in all fairness somehow never seems to really get to the point of ‘in-your-face’ upfrontery. Instead, it sweetens things up a bit and brings some of the darker notes to the fore in what was most likely a fairly mild whisky to begin with. I’d be willing to bet this spirit was formerly mellowing in a rather inactive second or third fill bourbon barrel. Much speculation on my part here, but it’s sort of rational deductive reasoning and based on some relative knowledge of what was happening at Bruichladdich through the past couple of decades.
I think I might have liked this one a tick more if the wine influence was dialed down a bit (i.e. a shorter finishing period). As it stands, this is still a good – almost great – whisky, and I’m one of those who is just glad to have been around through the glory years of Islay’s renegade distillery prior to the Remy buyout. We may never see that sort of freedom and ‘fuck you’ salvo in the industry again.
Nose: Slightly floral. Sugary. Poached pear, a touch of stewed peach and then deeper plummy notes. Honey and sweet wine. A salty, flinty and savoury backbone. Mince pie. Just a touxh of salt licorice.
Palate: A hefty chunk of wine influence here, I’d think. Immediately tannic and redolent of yeast and grape. Fairly deep threads of spice and tangy fruit notes. Plenty of wood singing too. Not the best of finishes, but the arrival is almost entirely high notes.
Thoughts: This is an evening dram. Rich and bold. Not perfectly balanced, but its quirkiness more than makes up for it.
– Reviewed by: Curt
– Photo: Curt