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Sunday 22 May 2011

Road To Islay Day 3: Spent Wees

What a difference a day makes when you’re visiting Islay. From the meteorological nightmare of Saturday, Sunday sees a return to bright sunshine for Bruichladdich’s open day. Surely Jim McEwan must have done a deal with someone to ensure almost perfect conditions for the past 10 years now… perhaps their Black Arts bottlings hint at a slightly darker side to the distillery??

Whatever the case, 12pm arrives and a queue of eager festival goers wait patiently for the gates to swing open and the courtyard is bathed in bright sunshine and the smell of drams weighing heavily in the air.

This year’s festival bottling is different to the previous few. Although there is a regular Valinch in the shop, Bruichladdich have decided to celebrate the launch of the Feis and their new website with 2, 70cl bottlings – a 1998, distilled by Whyte & Mackay in a 2 weeks when the distillery was mothballed and 3 years before the new owners got the keys. The second bottling is a 2001 made using some of the first distillate made by the new owners, released to mark 10 years since the reopening. There are 2000 bottles of each release priced at £50 each. Let’s put the 2 whiskies head to head:

Bruichladdich Reborn – 1998 - 46%

Nose: Light cream soda notes, vanilla ice cream, lemonade and a faint waft of peat. Apparently it is mixture of lightly peated spirit and some with a higher 25ppm.

Palate: Sweet maltiness, leading into a buttery cream toffee note and spicy sugar coated licorice.

Finish: The peat lingers on the palate, but there is a distinct ‘vintage feel’ to this whisky- different to other Bruichladdichs we’ve tried.

Bruichladdich Reborn – 2001 – 46%

Nose: Boiled sweets, candyfloss, a hint of nuttiness and a slightly more pronounced ‘box fresh’ peat- i.e. a bit brighter and direct.

Palate: Sweet sugary tea, creamy cereal and slightly sooty, oaky peat, which coats the tongue

Finish: lingering peat, with a further drying oak note resonating.

Overall: Given time in the glass, both whiskies develop and really open up. If you love sweeter, buttery candy notes, you’ll be delighted by these, but in our opinion, the older vintage probably just tips the scales as our pick of the 2. It’s that bit more developed and pleasing on the palate.

After this mini tete-a-tete, it was time for a bite to eat in the cavernous cooperage, which today doubles as a marketplace- full of local crafts, cakes and...whisky tablet- a weakness of ours and something that no Islay fan can leave without. We also had a little flutter on how many grains of barley were stored in a 70cl bottle - the prize being a bottle of Laphroaig 10yo. Using science (well, actually a pretty random guesstimate) we thought about 2,150. If anyone has a more scientific idea, get in touch!!

As many of you know, Bruichladdich recently installed a new Lomond still, affectionately known as ‘Ugly Betty’, which has been used to produce their Botanist gin- bumper packed with botanicals, some of which are grown on Islay.

This year the open day team have hired the services of 2 mixologists to play around with both the gin and some of their more cocktail friendly whiskies. The lovely Carmen Operetta from NY developed a fabulous fruity punch, which slipped down a treat and offered a welcome break from the usual peat-covered palate that one usually leaves Bruichladdich with. Check out some of Carmen’s other creations here:

Up at the Vatican (one of Bruichladdich’s several warehouses) Jim McEwan invited 3 singers to accompany his brilliant and -in places, irreverent masterclass, but Caskstrength were booked in for an equally fun tasting hosted by the girls from Bruichladdich’s mainland sales team…Beware Jim – you have some serious competition!

The tag team approach between Natalie and Joanne was a highly refreshing approach to the bog standard tasting format and so was their choice of whiskies- at least 3 exclusive drams, yet to be released. Joanne gave a great insight into the history of the Port Charlotte releases and how they were based on the Lochindaal distillery (including a great insight into Islay funerals, which you can see in our video.)

Here’s our thoughts on the highlights:

Bruichladdich Black Arts – 3rd Batch – 22yo – 50.7%

Nose: Unmistakable cask influence here (Jim is still tight lipped about the exact cask type, but we reckon either port, Madeira or a mix of both) Rose wine, strawberry jam and candy strawberry sweet, with hints of dried red apple and spices. But the wood has given this a definite over-oaked note.

Palate: Flat cola, cinnamon, more strawberries and jelly fruit sweets.

Finish: The palate is dominated by oak notes, with a hint of the fruit getting a glimpse at the very end.

Overall: Not the best example of heavily wine influenced whiskies, if we’re honest. The cask has really dominated the spirit here and it was our least favourite dram from the tasting. Still if you’re into big bold oak influence, this might just be your thing…

Port Charlotte – PC9 – 9yo - 40ppm – 65.3% (although it will be reduced at bottling)- 6000 bottles, to be released later this year.

Nose: Lovely delicate vanilla, swathes of soft peat, vanilla cheesecake and copper notes. With water, a slightly earthier note comes through with wet sand, freshly turned earth and a hint of some floral lavender.

Palate: Sweet candy, more of the vanilla cheesecake, rich butter, Werther’s Original candy and a salty, earthy but gentle peat, slowly coating the tongue.

Finish: The peat and earth notes give this a very lengthy finish.

Overall: In keeping with the previous PC releases, this one will be a cracker when it is eventually bottled and released. Keep your eyes peeled for an official release date.

Octomore – Special Feis Ile masterclass sample – 159ppm – 2005 (6yo) Unreleased – 63.9%

(Alas, this is presently unscheduled for an official release, but if there is a god, it will see the inside of a bottle at some point soon…)

Nose: Lemon zest, forest floor notes (musty moss) slightly minty, with fresh apricot, carbolic soap and (obviously) masses of very pronounced peat.

Palate: Initially very creamy, with meringues, whipped cream, followed by vanilla ice cream, a blast of sweet peat and a liberal tongue coating of sea salt. It’s PC, exactly as you’d hope it would be. Superb.

Finish: You’ll be tasting this for days.

Overall: The best dram of the day, by some way. Please release it.

Tonight we're off to try a curry, Islay style and no doubt a few more drams. Tomorrow is Caol Ila day, but also 70MPH winds which, if the whisky doesn't, is sure to blow us off our feet...