Head To Head – Bruichladdich Scottish Barley vs The Laddie Ten
I think I promised this one a long while back. With the moratorium on NAS reviews I had to shelve the concept, but we’ve yanked the gag now and are moving forward unimpeded, right? So…let’s have a go at two Laddies that absolutely merit comparison. For obvious reasons.
Here’s the thing…some distilleries historically have had a more sound rationale than others for avoiding age statements at certain points in time. This is by no means an endorsement of the concept, but merely an acknowledgment that I see why it was done when it was. However…this was all prior to the current spate of endless NAS expressions driving consumer trust into the ground.
Gaps in production and new start-ups are the most obvious reasons for wanting to use NAS as a Band-Aid solution, whereby a mix of old and young stock may have been necessary, or because there simply wasn’t any older stock in existence. I am a little more forgiving of this in retrospect for distilleries such as Ardbeg, Bruichladdich, Glenglassaugh, etc. Nowadays, however, I don’t think we need to be quite so lenient.
Could these brands now give us expressions with a label that reads something like ‘aged 7 years’? Sure. And for some of them it would be a maverick sort of move that would play right into their buck-the-trends rebellious mystique. Bruichladdich would be a prime candidate. I like to think it’s a more mature market out there now. People are willing to accept young whisky, so long as the price is fair.
By now we’re probably all familiar with the story of the grand launch of the Laddie Ten, Sixteen and Twenty Two a couple years back. These were to be the bright, bold (turquoise!) future of the brand. Unfortunately it was only a blink of an eye before demand outstripped supply and these malts were pulled from general release and replaced with an NAS offering under the banner of ‘Scottish Barley’. The alcohol by volume was tweaked upwards a tick (from 46% to 50%, which we appreciated), but the profile took a rather drastic change. In some ways this was a lateral move, but in others it was definitely a step backwards.
The point of this post is not to say AS or NAS is better (because, of course, that argument has never been about quality), it’s merely to stack up an age-stated expression against its NAS replacement, as we discussed doing long ago. The conclusion you draw from there is up to you.
I reviewed these both individually a while back, but stacking them side-by-side helps shine a light on some highs and lows in both. Additionally, this is almost certainly a more contemporary batch of the Scottish Barley than that I reviewed back then. Tellingly, perhaps, the scores are slightly different than when originally posted. Here ya go…
Nose: Some farmy notes and some big familiar buttery Laddie-ness. Definitely some peat in there in spite of the label stating ‘unpeated’. And an earthiness. Mild hints of Springbank, to be honest. A touch of leather. Creamy and rich. Hay fields and far off prairie fire. Creme brulee.
Palate: Still farmy here. Some polished wood. Citric and salty. Savoury pastry. Leaves some over-toasted marshmallow notes and an almost winey tang. Or maybe that’s tea. Lemon and orange attack.
Thoughts: Much more complex than the Scottish Barley. And the old school charm has won me over much more with this visit than I recall in previous tastings (and there were a LOT of them).
Bruichladdich Scottish Barley
Nose: Less on the familiar Laddie, with louder grains and a more biting edge. I think I’d guess Arran blindly. Maybe that’s just ’cause I’m tasting it alongside the heftier Laddie Ten. Fruitier than the that malt, incidentally, but faux fruits…like candy or something. Lemon and orange. A slightly sharp, underdeveloped edge. Raw pastry dough. A little bit floral and a little herbaceousness too.
Palate: Same pastry notes here. Definitely a more biting (read: youthful) attack here than the Laddie Ten. Scones with fruit jam. Lemon and freshly milled grain (or maybe just flour). Grassy and apple-y. Not bad, but…well…youngish. Not too young, mind. We like young malts when they’re this well composed.
Thoughts: This IS a downgrade from the Laddie Ten, no two ways about it. Not a bad whisky, but how ’bout just a ‘here’s a younger version (sans sherry this time, I think) for ya since we don’t have enough ten year old stock’. I’d buy that. Especially for the honesty.
– Images & Words: Curt