It’ s no lie that I find something endearing about Bruichladdich, and I don’t think I’m alone in that.
The company is such an underdog. It had issues, the casks were bad, and someone came along and through connections and money and a lot of gumption and probably more so money they re-racked the every-loving-hell out of the whiskies, sent out some of the best salespeople, and then made two more versions.
Nothing about Bruichladdich should have worked: Non-peated Islay whisky? Who cares. Wine casks? There’s a reason no one uses those. Multiple finishes? Sign of rougher whiskies. Tons of whiskies that come out and are hard to track or try? Gonna drive the hardcore review nerds (hello there) nuts. Eventually bring out two peated whiskies, when you’ve already made a name for yourself as not peating? And one of them is literally the most peated thing ever and never goes over 10 years?
Yet here they are. And here I am, a reviewer, someone who should be done with them, wanting to review more and more to the point where I’m the second most prolific Bruichladdich reviewer and I strive to try and become number one.
Thus when I realized that I had a few samples about, it was time to dive back into the briney, plucky distillery that probably shouldn’t have worked.
Let’s see how these did, shall we?
Thanks to /u/EvilAFI for sharing this dram and the two Octomores with me.
There was a time where I would have told you if a Black Art release comes out, it’s worth the money. No question, no wrong side, nothing. Just buy it.
That all changed
when the Fire Nation attacked when Black Art 4 was released. While not a bad dram at all, in comparison to 1, 2, 3, (and, if you were as lucky/privileged as I am) High Noon or Blacker Still it didn’t stack up. It was a good Bruichladdich but not up to the value for money.
And that’s a tough thing for me to discuss, because I helped (in a minor way) build up the hype on Black Art and I try to remove price from my scores. When 5 came out and was worse, I was quite annoyed. Frustrated even.
So here we are with Bruichladdich Black Art 06.1. I’m a sad panda. But perhaps 4 and (very much more so) 5 were just me being the snobby snob that I am. Let’s see, shall we?
Price: $350 CAD
Stated Age: 26-years-old
Cask Type: Oak casks
Number of bottles: 18,000
Colour: 5YR 3/6
Nose: Plum jam, strawberry, gravel, raisins, cocoa
Alright, alright, here we go. Nice sherry notes, some earth that’s a bit off, but I’m not hating… Good sherry notes, all in all. As complex as past ones? No, not in the least, but I’m enjoying it.
Taste: Cashew, dry apple, strawberry, pear, mineral, raisin, grape/cinnamon
Okay, bit of fattiness going on with the nuttiness, some interesting fruit/mineral notes. Quite spice heavy given time, has a lot of sherry going on in here.
It’s a sherry bomb. There’s a lot of elements here, but they are (mostly) all sherry. Nothing says Bruichladdich here.
Finish: Lime/lemon, caramel, raisin, fennel, nutmeg, cinnamon
Citrus, spice. Period. Spice, more spice, and some more spice. Spice, spice, spice. Get Sting in a G-string, because we’re at full Dune here.
Conclusion: Spice-Heavy, better than 5, but still not up to the previous standards. I liked the taste, however what it comes down to is this: Is this a really good sherry dram? Yes, 100%. Should it be more? Hell yes. Names matter. Roses would smell less sweet if they were called shit blossoms.
You release this as a standard Bruichladdich 24 Sherry, and people will be okay with it. You could probably lower the price and spend less on black glass. Release it as a Black Art? It’s another weak, less complex version. I think back to trying the older versions, and they were more than a sum of their parts. They were complex. This isn’t, and they need to step up the game again.
Here’s hoping 7 is a return to the level, otherwise these will continue to be “try a sample” bottles, and little more.
Thanks to /u/loloilers for this sample and the next.
Now we have two Micro-Provenance offerings from Bruichladdich. These are single casks that each have had wine cask finishes. They were laid down before the closure in 1994, so these are some of the whiskies that were “saved” with wine casks.
Did it work? I’ve reviewed one before, let’s see how the others did, shall we?
Bruichladdich 20 1991 Micro-Provenance Single Cask 023 Château Lafite Cask
Price: $200 CAD
Cask Type: Bourbon with a Château Lafite ex-red wine cask finish
Cask Number: 023
Colour: 5YR 3/8
Nose: Orange, plum, fennel, apple, cinnamon
Fruity, acidic, some spice. Not gonna lie, kinda simpler than the Black Arts above but a bit rougher. Feel like the wine cask is covering a lot here, maybe some of the apple is the whisky but it’s mostly the cask right here.
Taste: Cocoa, blueberry flavouring, ginger, white chocolate, caramel Alright, here we go, some cocoa, some sweet elements, some heat. Can be rough at times (blueberry doesn’t really pop, is a bit sweet, the white chocolate amps up the sweeter side) however all in all I don’t mind sipping on it.
Finish: Gravel, raisin, ginger, green banana, white chocolate
Really raw on the finish. The earthy/cement like flavour (I used to work as a cement maker), the banana has some rawness, there’s some sweetness but it’s too strong.
Conclusion: Bit raw around the edges, not developed flavours, but certainly tries hard. Never feels like it fits together. However I get the feeling that, like the history says, the ex-bourbon casks weren’t the best, and then the ex-red wine cask took lemons and made lemon-water.
Is lemon-water good? Not when you want lemonade. But it’s better than bad water. It’s better than a lot of bad whiskies. I’d have it as a daily drinker or to show people what a red wine cask could do. But I’m not breaking it out for the Queen.
Bruichladdich 21 1991 Micro-Provenance Single Cask 020 Rivesaltes Cask
Price: $200 CAD
Cask Type: Bourbon cask followed by a Rivesaltes ex-red wine cask finish
Cask Number: 020
Number of bottles: 295
Colour: 7.5YR 6/8
Nose: Homemade cranberry sauce, grass, butter, sulphur
Nice spice and woody/red fruit notes. And more of that. And basically all that.
Given time there’s some butter and the cask influence. Someone keep this away from the sulphur sensitive, otherwise it’ll end up in a bible and we’ll never hear the end of us.
Taste: Cocoa, cranberry, ginger, lemon, caramel, oak
Chocolate, more cranberry, simple fruit, spice, and lemon. It gets really simple here. I’m struggling to find anything beyond a very, very simple Scotch.
Finish: Orange, brown sugar, oak
Short. Painfully short and boring. It starts to entice me with more of the cranberry sauce and then slaps it out of my hand like I’m the fat child with a tub of ice cream. I’m as annoyed.
Conclusion: Not great, frankly they can do a lot better. If the last one was a poor ex-Bourbon cask, then I can only assume this was a paper-mache cask that was beaten like it owed someone money. The red wine cask is working overtime and needs more. Needs way more time. Treat the whisky like white-dog.
Was it all bad? No, there were times that I was fine with it. But just fine.
Again, this is more an argument for red wine casks being a good choice to use ever rather than a well-done Scotch.
Bruichladdich 14 2003 Laddie Crew Micro-Provenance Single Cask Calvados Finish is different from the last two. It’s made after they reopened. We assume the bourbon casks used weren’t so beaten up they require years of help or a finish from an odd cask.
Second, we have a finish that’s a bit of a controversy: A while back Calvados was debated as a cask that Scotch could use. The SWA felt it was too new and different and bad. I’m shortening their side, of course, it wasn’t used historically so they felt it shouldn’t be allowed. There’s since been changes.
Finally, this was released as part of the Laddie Crew line, so it was sold as part of their Laddie Shop as an exclusive.
But how does it taste?
Cask Type: Bourbon / Calvados
Cask number: 10/179-1
Number of bottles: 438
Colour: 5Y 8/8
Nose: Green apple, ginger, pineapple syrup, sour funk
Wow, apple on a Calvados whisky, who would have thought? Guess I’m good.
Oh, there’s more? Cool, cool, cool. Spice, strong tropical/acidic notes, and some sour funk notes. I’m getting there on this one, but expect a lot of acidity.
Taste: Brine, cream, caramel, baked apple, lemon pudding, floral
Salt, creamy… Finally getting some of the Bruichladdich spirit going. Good fruit, acidity added from the Calvados. Goes a bit odd. Starts normal and then starts getting more complex and interesting as time goes on.
Weird. Needs time/water to really be cool.
Finish: Green apple, hay/farmy, navel orange, cereal/honey, lemon pith
So back to the apple, but then farmy and acidic and takes a left turn. You could tell me this was Springbank and I may, for half a second, believe you.
That’s a compliment, by the way. Finish is quite nice, just barely resembles the rest.
Conclusion: Working down on the orange farm, right down to every part of the citrus and the horse poop that grows it. Lovely, interesting, odd dram that does Calvados casks well. There’ve been other whiskies that want that element of Calvados and really screwed it up. They tasted like apples and only apples and whatever.
This had the acidity but it also had some nice sweetness, cereal, and elements that are whisky. Is it perfect? No, it goes simple or odd at times, the taste takes coaxing to come out, and the nose is too tangy. But if I compare it to the other single casks then I’d prefer this every time over them. If you like apples, then this is apple enough for you.
Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Elements of Islay Pl5 is what’s going to start us off for Port Charlotte. I’ve been leaning towards more Port Charlottes, which have been showing nice promise.
That said, promise has started to equate to the whisky world’s tendency to jam up the price like bread in Zimbabwe, so I may need to pair back on enjoying these less I stop enjoying sleeping under shelter.
So this is a 9-year-old twin pair of ex-bourbon casks. Seems like the right place to start, let’s see how it tastes, shall we?
Price: $142.99 CAD
Cask Type: Refill ex-bourbon hogshead for one cask and first-fill ex-bourbon barrel
Number of Bottles: 582
Colour: 5Y 9/6
Nose: Caramel, roast pineapple, brine, daisy, sunflower
Nice tropical/roasty flavour, some brine, some good distinct floral elements. Damn nice. Goes beyond most young peated drams in that there’s more than just smoke.
Taste: Devils on horseback (bacon-wrapped prunes), caramel, salted almond, raisin oatmeal cookie, cilantro
Wow, these were just ex-bourbon casks? Tons of fresh fruit, smoke, and salty notes, good cereal, amazing vegetal notes. Just a flavour country.
Finish: Butter, banana, ash, brine, custard, dry apple, powdered ginger
Finish gets a bit simpler in the complex flavours, though nice fruit, custard, and a rough ginger note going here. I don’t love it as much as the taste, so it’s gonna drop off a bit.
Conclusion: Solid, fun Port Charlotte. I kept looking for issues, or looking for something that was “more”, but at the end of the day I just really, really enjoyed drinking this.
Could the finish be more complex? Yeah. Could the nose be a bit more like the rest and less disjoint? Yeah. But if you were looking for a tasty Scotch, this does it.
Next three Port Charlotte’s are all Valinch picks, meaning they are from the store on Islay. Each has a different finish, and each one was released for different reasons. What type of cask will be the best pairing for Port Charlotte? Because it wouldn’t be a Bruichladdich review without odd casks, right?
Thanks to /u/smoked_herring for this sample.
Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Valinch VGC:01
Price: € 140
Cask type: Viognier Condrieu Cask (White Wine)
Cask number: 2177
Number of bottles: 421
Colour: 10YR 6/8
Nose: Peach pie, black licorice, Brown Betty dessert/Caramelized apple, mulch, papaya, chocolate
Buttery, still has some stone fruit, lots of apple and brown sugar. Sweet, some strong spices, and lovely chocolate and tropical fruit. This just keeps giving and giving.
Taste: Chocolate, Brown Better, oak, white cranberry, caramel, rosemary, mint
Alright there’s a reason we all go nuts over chocolate: It’s complex, tasty, and full of fat and sugar and we demand that. This starts with that, goes to down-home stick-to-your-ribs baking.
Gets a bit less complex on some of the notes, though does a ton of those and amps up this herbal note. The whole thing plays with sweets and savoury notes.
Finish: Pear juice, cashew, sunflower, anise, funk, juniper, manure
Fruity again, nice sweetness, good seed/nutty note, and some funky and almost gin like at the end. If there’s some part of this that is quintessential Port Charlotte, it’s this.
Conclusion: The nose is amazing, the taste is unique, the finish is what you want from a Port Charlotte. The wine cask did some fun stuff here. It kept with the evolved chocolate level that I expected from an older peat dram, and added odd notes from the wine.
This is why I love odd casks and why I love Port Charlotte. I don’t blame them for keeping this back at the shop, if only to have it on slow days.
Thanks to /u/distillasian for sharing this dram.
Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Valinch SYC:01
Price: € 179,00
Cask Type: Second-fill Syrah
Cask number: 13/080 – 17
Number of bottles: 431
Colour: 2.5Y 8/6
Nose: Mineral, sultana, cinnamon toast crunch, cocoa, rubber
Okay, gotta give this time. The first note is pure mineral. Sweeter, rich notes come out next. Maybe the sultana is the wine cask? Don’t really know. I think I’ve gotten that from Port Charlotte though.
Lots of cinnamon/peat influence.
Taste: Safflower oil, sultana, peanut butter, rubber, toasted bread
A bit raw at first, then dives into that raisin, peanut butter… God, I miss drinking peated drams. That roast flavour and some well-developed cereal/bread note is really breaking the mould while making me more peated.
Finish: Butter, anise, roast chestnuts, brine, sugar cookies, tar
Buttery, spice, more roasty notes, brine, and a cookie note.
But where’s the wine influence?
Conclusion: Really nice Port Charlotte… but where’s the wine influence? I get the flavours of the peat, I get the taste of brine and fun interesting sides, however, I don’t know what the wine is doing. Maybe that’s the sultana? Maybe I’m an idiot who gets wine casks wrong (well not the idiot part but the wine cask part is true).
Suffice to say this was another special Port Charlotte. Spice, rubber, peat heads rejoice, this brings that a level higher.
Bruichladdich Port Charlotte 2005 Valinch Feis Ile 2018
Cask type: Second-fill Oloroso Sherry
Cask number: 2087
Number: of bottles:** 956
Colour: 2.5YR 3/8
Nose: Red licorice, cherry pie, navel oranges, caramel, coniferous forest
Strong red fruit/spice, butter, and acidity. Sticks with that but then starts to go more and more of that menthol/pine note. I’m talking full-on The Ritual (fun movie don’t watch it with your kids) here, right down to being lost in the woods. What a wonderful woody note.
Taste: Evergreen, currant, sulphur, roast nuts, black licorice
Continues with the evergreen element but not to the extent of the nose (thank goodness). Good spice, some of the cask element is up in here and we’re going through a mining colony (sulphur).
Look sherry and peat worked. This is roast notes and red fruits. Don’t like that? You may be dead inside.
Finish: Burning a conifer, cinnamon, oysters, peanut If you were in a Scouting/camping organization, you know when you make a fire if you add in some pine needles it’ll smoke like a motherfucker and you’ll have some COVID-cough vibes if you stand in the wrong direction.
Brine here is that next step too. Lovely brine and creamy and I’m in love.
Conclusion: Hold damn this is tasty in all the ways I love. It just worked so, so well. There’s an evergreen backbone that’s bigger than some redwoods. I kinda guessed that sherry mixed with peat would win, but not by this much. This was pulled perfectly. Is it perfect? There may be some odd moments here or there, but I think you’d be nuts to pass this up. It could be more complex at times, it could have more to the taste, and I fully expect more amazing things from Port Charlotte.
And finally, we’re onto the novelty act. Now don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed offerings from Octomore. I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t say that. Though I’m doe-eyed for peat, I’m also, first and foremost, a cranky reviewer who judges himself more than he judges any of you.
So while, yes, a blast of Oreos and bacon (my general notes on Octomore) are fun, it’s not for everyone, and there’s some nuance to it. Much like the best Prog rock bands are the ones that can bring you on a journey, either through sheer amazing music and/or lyrics, so too are the best Octomores the ones that don’t just blast you in the face, but give you a mixture of interesting flavours.
So how did two of the 9 series Octomores do, according to cranky me? Let’s see, shall we?
Bruichladdich Octomore 09.1
Price: $145 CAD
Cask Type: American Oak
Number of bottles: 42,000
PPM: 156 PPM
Colour: 7.5Y 9/8
Nose: Brine, smoke, lemon cookie, basil, mango
Nice smoke, some brine, bit of developed acidity/cereal… Water brings out more tropical/Thai flavours on the nose.
Not getting as much as before. Simple, though the cereal is getting there.
Taste: Lemon, nori, cereal funk, cocoa, smoked butter
More cereal, some funk, some cocoa (about time), smokey butter… It’s not quite as developed as previous entries. Less meatiness. I certainly like the funk but it’s really doing all the work itself. Which most funk can do, just look at Earth, Wind, & Fire, however, after a bit you gotta get some help from someone!
Finish: Smoke, lemon curd, bacon, Oreo, vegetal
And finally, we get close to what I found in other X.1 Octomores, and there’s a vegetal, raw note that’s pulling this crab down into the bucket. Too bad, comes kinda close.
Conclusion: A brash Octomore that doesn’t really give me what I liked from previous years. This just stays brash and gets simpler with time. I’ve grown accustomed to the similarity of these releases but generally enjoying them. If any of them doesn’t break the mould, it’s the X.1 release.
And this seems to be the weakest I’ve come across. I could sit back and mindlessly drink this, however that’s different from the marketing/whiskies that came before it/everything to do with Octomore. It seems in scaling up the quality has dropped, and I’d recommend cutting back to get back to the old expectations.
Bruichladdich Octomore 09.3
Price: $160 CAD
Cask Type: Oak
Barley location: Irene’s Field
Number of bottles: 18,000
Colour: 7.5Y 7/8
Nose: Banana, caramel, manure, strawberry
Ok, interesting fruit note to start. Adds some depth, works with some tart elements. And there are some farmy notes… Great, let’s see how that develops.
And then it doesn’t. Cool, cool… Moving on.
Taste: Strawberry, caramel, cereal, ash, candy corn
Again, interesting fruit note, expect that to pair well with the smoke. And there’s ash, so I hope that develops. And there are some simple sugar notes.
Ok, you get the joke, it really doesn’t go anywhere.
Finish: Cherry, caramel, ash, manure, dry apple, brine
The finish does the same thing the rest does. Everything starts with an interesting idea and doesn’t develop it, like a bunch of marketers and an idea that’ll die of loneliness shared between all of their heads.
Perhaps that was too mean, but I’m mostly annoyed at this.
Conclusion: Bit more going on with some dry aspects, but I’m still not really impressed. The X.3 is, historically, the one I’m interested in. It’s the one that does more peat, that sources from an Islay farm, that can be a different age. And while the marketing only requires the location-based barley component, there are standards that weren’t met here. It’s a lower PPM than normal, it’s not really doing much.
Listen, if you’re going to argue terroir matters, and charge a premium to prove it, we’re going to need a bit more than specs of fruit that could have come from an old sherry cask or perhaps an old Jack Daniel’s cask. This should be more, and never gets going. It’s slightly more interesting than the previous but who cares?
Disappointed, that’s what I am.
Scotch reviews #1226-35, Islay reviews #317-26, Whisky Network reviews #1875-84