Taste Review #87 – Bruichladdich 10 old Vs new
Mmmm, I really struggled with a title for this review. Nothing really seemed to be quite right, and in the end I settled something that to the more delicate of minds isn’t just ‘not quite right’ but more to the fact it’s ‘very wrong’. Initially I had thought of the Rolf Harris song ‘Two Little Boys’, but then given his history was probably an inappropriate choice. With the term ‘Laddie’ being an affectionate and non-predatory nickname for Bruichladdich whiskies, you can see I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Whatever I put resulted in sounding like I had a lifetime membership of the Gary Glitter and Jimmy Saville fan clubs, but I can assure you here that the 10 year olds we are speaking about are definitely whisky.
Bruichladdich isn’t a new distillery. Situated by the shores of Loch Indaal on the west coast of Islay, Bruichladdich has always been a bit of an oddball amongst the Islay distilleries, mainly because of the unpeated nature of its spirit. Peat is used in the distillery for the medium peat Port Charlotte and heavily peated Octomore bottlings, but not for the core Bruichladdich releases. The distillery was built in 1881 by it’s owners the Harvey Brothers. Their ownership came to an end in 1937, and by 1954 it came in to the hands of Distillers Company Ltd, a forerunner of Diageo. However, their ownership was short, and it was offloaded to AB Grant, who also owned the Bladnoch Distillery.
Bruichladdich changed hands again in 1968 when it was bought by Invergordon Distillers, who in turn in 1993 became under Whyte and Mackay. By 1995 Bruichladdich was deemed surplus to requirements and was closed in 1996. In late 2000 it was bought by a private consortium who included Mark Reynier. Coming from a wine background, Mark had also founded the independent whisky bottler Murray McDavid along with 2 others, so perhaps buying a defunct distillery on Islay was the next logical step.
When it was set up, Bruichladdich was a modern distillery, having been purpose built rather than developed from farm steadings. Unfortunately (depending on how you look at it) the distillery had seen very little in modernisation throughout the years. It had been used as a blend fodder factory for much of its prior ownership. Much of the original equipment is still in place, including an open top mash tun, one of a few still in existence. When the distillery was bought, between Jan and May 2001, the distillery equipment was dismantled and given an overhaul then reassembled. It still seems to this day that Bruichladdich is like a working museum, but who can argue with the quality of the liquid?
With a background in wine, you can be sure that Mark was familiar with the concept of ‘terroir’, which is how the local environment, microclimate and soil can all influence the crop of grapes that make wine. Mark had decided to apply this to whisky at Bruichladdich, and has since gone on to apply this to the new distillery he is now involved in at Waterford, Ireland. We will be discussing this at a later date, as that is a minefield of opinions on its own!
The other thing that needed doing at Bruichladdich was an improvement of its wood policy. Much of the existing spirit was re-racked, and a bottling plant was also constructed. However it was in the days of when the distillery had little money that they bought equipment from the Inverleven distillery which was being demolished. Of course, it was also around the time of the Iraqi Supergun, weapons of mass destruction so sailing a barge of distillery equipment past the Holy Loch, where the UK nuclear deterrent was based was always going to result in attention being paid. This came in the form of the US Threat Reduction agency notifying the distillery that one of their webcams was out, so Big Brother was definitely watching! It gave rise to a 19 year old bottling called Whisky Of Mass Distinction (get it?) This was joined by WMD II with the discovery of a Royal Navy ROV, but you can read that story here in my previous review of this whisky.
Mark sold the distillery to Remy Cointreau in 2012, so what direction it will take now will remain to be seen, bearing in mind what gets distilled usually isn’t released for 8-10 years. It doesn’t seem to be much has changed.
As much as I hate the term ‘fanboy’, I have to tell you that I own more Bruichladdich than any other distillery. This ranges from the first 10 year old whisky to be released by the distillery, my bottles being signed by the distiller Jim McEwan through to the latest release, Octomore 11. I like their whisky, especially the heavily peated stuff, which tends to be quite young though this still works. I’ve never come across miniatures of Bruichladdich very often, but a recent acquisition of around 50 miniatures, most of which went back to auction saw 4 Bruichladdich minis – 2x 10, 15 and 17 year olds. I sold all but one of the 10’s so I could taste it at some point. The older style Bruichladdich came from a bulk buy of miniatures so I could get the one I wanted; in this case it was a Glenury Royal. But with my project of comparing old with new, I have something that I can taste and review to see if older was better.
Bruichladdich 10 (old)
Region – Islay Age – 10 yr Strength – 40% Colour – Jonquiripe Corn (0.4) Cask Type – not known Colouring – possibly but on account of colour not likely Chill Filtered – Yes Nose -Solvent. Honey, vanilla, malt, green orchard fruit like a peeled Granny Smith apple, grassy. Palate– quite pleasant and unassuming. Honey flavour continues from the nose and is quite dominating, but wood spices start to take over with a sparkling dryness. No brine note that I would have expected from a coastal distillery. A slight cardboard note though. Apple tart without the cinnamon Finish – Relatively short and uninspired. The palate continues with a mild toffee note which quickly fades. You have to hunt for a brine note but it’s there.
Bruichladdich 10 (modern)
Region – Islay Age – 10 yr Strength – 46% Colour – Pale Gold (0.3) Cask Type – not known Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – bit more solventy, can detect a brine note mixing with the honey. There is definitely a malty, almost readybrek background. Creamy fruit dessert. Palate – definitely more sweet on the arrival, with more presence of wood spices. Ginger, Apple, citrus (lime?) can taste a green Rowntree’s fruit pastille. Slightly floral as well. A strong brine character. Finish – the finish is much more expressive. There is a creamy exotic fruit to it – Pineapple tart.
The more modern bottling was a different kettle of fish. It had some similar characteristics in the nose, but was more forward – possibly the result of the higher ABV. The older sample did make me think that the wood policy at Bruichladdich wasn’t the best. There was just no excitement there at all. It turned out I was right in my assessment as I am writing the conclusions the day after the tasting. I purposely don’t do any or much research prior to tasting, as I don’t want my notes to be influenced by what I have read.
I have to say without a doubt that in this case, older was definitely not better, and the newer sample was much more drinkable, much more fresh and much more aromatic, even though it looked as though the newer bottling looked as though it was the one that had suffered from a small bit of evaporation.
Without a doubt, had the older sample been my first taste of Bruichladdich, I’d have probably not given the distillery much of a thought. While not a bad whisky, it lacked any punch. Of course I only have an idea of the age of the bottle, but the spirit definitely comes from the 90’s. The clue is in the label – the Bruichladdich Distillery Company was founded in July 2000, which would possibly mean this is spirit made from the previous owners. The fact it’s a little bit boring, yet with no major flaws indicates it is not from the new regime.
While writing these notes, I did think about what I could do with the leftovers. With one at 40% and the other at 46%, I decided to make my own Bruichladdich single malt at 43% by mixing the two together. It was still drinkable, but the older spirit definitely held the newer one back. You can now see that the policy of re-racking wasn’t desirable, it was probably necessary.
The older style dram in a full size bottle can still be picked up at auction relatively cheaply. The newer version is similar, with a hammer price of around £50. It was also discontinued a few years back, so perhaps in due course a newer 10 year old expression may re-emerge, though nowadays the Classic Laddie bottling is probably the closest you will get nowadays.
Yours in Spirits
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All Photos – Authors Own