Last week I covered Bruichladdich’s Port Charlotte 10-year and mused about the big talk and heady claims printed on the canister. In that post, I added tidbits about the distillery itself and their approach to spirits-making. This week it’s less talk on the background a bit more focus on the whisky itself.
In contrast to the Port Charlotte’s wordy canister, Octom0re’s metal canister is in contrast quite restrained. The unsaid message here is that they don’t have to say anything about the Octomore besides it being “Super Heavily Peated” Islay single malt, and stating that it was conceived, created, distilled, aged etc. on the island. Like the PC10, it is un-chillfiltered and free of coloring.
If Port Charlotte is their heavily peated branding, you might wonder, what does ‘super heavily peated’ mean? One hint can be found on the canister: “PPM: 167.” That’s parts per million of phenols on the peated malt. What ends up in the bottle depends on the distilling process and maturation, even the type of oak, but PPM is a good benchmark to start with. See this post from scotchwhisky.com for more info. Our nose has to tell us how much of that phenolic potential made it into the bottle.
Bruichladdich (‘brookladdie’) distillery is a small operation that punches far above its weight. It is known for using antique machinery to create unique, terroir-oriented crafty spirits. They also like to tout that their spirits are made without resorting to computers. They state “A whisky made by people not software” right on the carton. Whether that affects the outcome or not I’ll leave to more philosophical writers. Bottom line, you can’t argue with their results. They make damn good whiskies and their tasting room is a joy to visit—no marketing, just comfy couches, lots of swag on the walls and friendly people behind the bar who’ll proudly give you tastes of their spirits.
There is a lot of pride in their presentation. “This Port Charlotte 10-year old is who we are” says the canister. It is “distilled matured and bottled at the source” not “immediately shipped off to the mainland to mature in some undisclosed warehouse.” Ouch, fightin’ words, as some Islay distilleries do exactly that.
We’re off the NAS train for a bit, coming back from the underwhelming Dalmore KA III, back at you with another Bruichladdich. I’ll do a little compare and contrast with the Bruich’ Scottish Barley, AKA Classic Laddie. Note, the Islay malt does have an age statement. On the bottle it states “Distilled in 2009, bottled in 2015. Aged 6 years in oak casks.” So, this has been sitting around in bottles for two years. Similarly, the currently available Islay Barley shown on the Bruich website is from 2010. (Oddly, where the 2009 is redundant stating the time spent in cask, the 2010 bottle is silent on that subject.) So, you wonder, how does a 6-year old stack up to the standards from other distilleries aged 10-12 years? We’ll see below. Let’s see what goes into making this whisky.
First of all we have to recognize Bruichladdich as a distiller with an intense focus on how the whisky is made and from what. Not that other distillers are unfocused–I did visit a number of them this year–but these folks really take terroir to a fanatical level. My Islay Barley’s canister (photo alongside) boasts ‘Uber-provenance’ and names the Islay farms from which they sourced their barley. There is a lot of text about what was happening on the farms the year the barley was grown. It’s worth a read. We also find their credo on the canister, they “believe in Islay…in people..in authenticity provenance and traceability. We believe in slow.”
Regarding ‘slow’: the Bruichladdich people don’t stop at focusing on grain. On their website they describe in detail the old-fashioned equipment and methods used onsite: Oregon pine washbacks, Victorian equipment, little mechanization:
Known alternately as Scottish Barley and The Classic Laddie, this expression from craft-distiller Bruichladdich is a NAS whisky.
I have to admit a fondness for the place after having visited; I like their style. It was our last day on Islay, and after a busy morning walking from Port Ellen to Ardbeg (more on that later!) we decided to head out into the hinterlands for a drive. We took the road out to Port Charlotte, a tiny village at the end of which the A847 went from two lanes to one. That was all for me, I had had a bellyful of driving on tiny little roads and we headed back the way we came. Portnahaven would wait for next trip!
On the way back, we dropped by Bruichladdich. The distillery had been enthusiastically recommended to us by ‘Uncle Charlie,’ our taxi driver for the Bunnahabhain/Caol Isla visits (more on that later as well). I unfortunately has well tired of photography (and the day was spitting rain as well) so I have no photos, sad to say. Except this one, of some local creatures which had just scurried out of our way:
It’s an interesting little place, a whitewashed structure and wall, through which you pass into an intimate little courtyard to park. The tasting room is through a brightly painted (turquoise) door, low-ceilinged, liberally provided with couches on which whisky overs lounged in quiet repose. There was the usual display of t-shirts, jackets and the like, and a wide bar where a kindly woman of mature years welcomed us gaily and immediately offered us a taste. Why, of course, why not? I expected the usual: “Here’s our standard, if you want more sign up for a tour.” But she led us energetically through tastings of four expressions (of which I took the tiniest sips, as I was still driving, grr.) We had the Classic Laddie, the Islay Barley (both unpeated), the Port Charlotte and Octomore (latter two peated). Note: though I growl about NAS whiskies, these all lacked an age statement and yet I enjoyed them all.