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.
Laphroaig embraced the use of different types of casks with the Quarter Cask release of 2004. A NAS spirit, the Quarter Cask starts aging in the typical ex-bourbon barrels, then transferred to smaller “19th century-style quarter casks” as described on the the carton. The theory is that, with more surface-to-volume area of the smaller cask, the flavors from the oak are more quickly absorbed into the spirit. While that may be so, there is a noticeable mellowness seen only in older whiskies, so I would hold that aging has more to it than surface area. Who knows, maybe you could get a good whisky by dumping the spirit into a vat full of toothpicks for a couple months, but Scotland has that 3-year aging rule for whisky.
BenRiach Curiositas gives you the hint right up front: this is a curiosity, in that it is a Speyside whisky with a peaty element. (The distillery does have a non-peated version which will be the subject of a future review.)
BenRiach does not exactly have a storied history, rather a patchwork one. Established near the end of the 19th century, it produced for about a dozen years and then made no spirit for 65 years. After that, it changed hands between multinationals a couple times before going independent in 2004. The company added Glendronach to its holdings four years later and bought Glenglassaugh in 2013. The BenRiach holding company remained an independent until bought by Brown-Forman in 2016. This is the third of the Brown-Forman distilleries I’ve bought an expression to review. That wasn’t planned as I did not know they were associated, but it’s working into a nice mini-series. For a comparison to another peated dram, I’ll continue with the Glenglassaugh Torfa which was the subject of the previous review.
More Highlands today, but with a twist: peat. Oh, and another twist: 50% ABV. Not cask level but that’s still a hefty ABV. I’m expecting a mouthful of flavor.
Founded in 1875, Glenglassaugh was mothballed from 1986 to 2008, when they were purchased and then and refurbished by the Scaent Group, a holding company with over 25 companies in “various economic sectors.” Glenglassaugh was again purchased in 2013, this time by Benriach; that company was in turn (along with GlenDronach) gobbled up by Brown-Forman in 2016. Brown-Forman appear to be good stewards of their brands; the GlenDronach 12 was a solid performer and I expect the same here.
After spending some time in Speyside, it’s back to the Highlands with GlenDronach. Their carton is quite informative and they stake their claim straight out: they use “the finest Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry casks from Spain” and declare not only is this spirit non-chill filtered but also has “natural cask-emparted colour.” That throws down a marker: no monkey business with colorants. Add the 43% abv and these choices point towards a ‘craft’ oriented production, reinforced with the notation that the spirit is “Distilled, matured and bottled by the proprietors.” (Some whiskies are matured off premises). They even give the address of the distiller, in Forgue on Huntley, Aberdeenshire, with no mention of a large corporation as ultimate owners.