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A visit to Bruichladdich
I write this latest review having just returned from a trip to the Isle of Islay. Perhaps not the most accessible of places, Islay is a two-hour ferry ride from the mainland but those willing to make the journey are rewarded with an island chock full of distilleries and a multitude of fine establishments in which to enjoy the local produce.
While I enjoyed many a wonderful experience on the island, the highlight, without a doubt, was a trip to Bruichladdich.
Coming to Islay out of season can be complicated. Ferries run on a reduced service and distilleries work shorter hours, but there are some positives too, like the intimate nature of the service one receives. My distillery tour, for example, worked out to be just my own party and the guide which allowed for a very informal and enjoyable discussion as we wandered among the antiquated equipment. The experience was all the better for it and in complete contrast to some of the busier distilleries on the mainland.
The tour took us through each part of the production process, from malting and mashing to fermentation, distillation and maturation. Bruichladdich is a rather self-contained unit and even have their own bottling plant on site. Alas, however, it was out of commission at the time of my visit. I did get to taste the beer frothing away in the washbacks though, something I’d always been curious about in the past and never been able to try.
After visiting the distilleries impressive still room we were led to the warehouse, access to which is often restricted at other visitor experiences. Here though I was able to stand amongst hundreds of casks and breath all the aromas of a traditional dunnage warehouse, marvelling at all the wonders it contained.
My visit concluded with an extensive sampling back at the shop and it is here that Bruichladdich really excel themselves. While I would hate to give the impression that my enjoyment of a tour is defined by how much I’m given to drink at the end of it, the fact remains that Bruichladdich are the most generous pourers I have come across. To be fair, this seems to be a trait of Islay distilleries in general… On the mainland, tours tend to conclude with a quick dram and a nudge toward the gift shop but here things happen much slower. You’re invited, encouraged even, to sit and take your time. The staff clearly take pride in their product and enjoy sharing it with visitors. From a tourist point of view, one enjoys a great day out and the warmest of welcomes as well as the opportunity to try some incredible drams with which to educate the next purchase.
It has to be said however that the quality of whisky on offer at the distillery that day was insanely high and I would have been quite happy to take one of each home with me. Alas, sense (my wife) prevailed and I settled for a single bottle of a direct-from-cask Port Charlotte.
The cask in question was No. 1615: a Grenache Blanc wine cask. The spirit had aged for ten years and was currently sitting at 58.6% alcohol by volume.
Smell: A strange but fascinating combination of fruit and smoke, locked in a battle for your attention. There’s earthy Peat Smoke and Charcoal right with Raisins, Sultanas, Blackcurrant and zesty Lime.
Taste: Lime, Orange, Blackcurrant and Raisins with some Dark Chocolate and Peat Smoke which tries all the while to dominate but is held in check until finally taking control at the finish.
Thoughts: This is a fantastic dram. Much richer than you’d perhaps expect from a white wine cask. Despite the cask being particularly active, however, it feels like the spirit is able to hold its own. In fact, the smoky whisky seems as though it was specifically made to go into this cask. Absolutely magnificent stuff. Massive flavour yet somehow remains balanced. My only wee issue is the 50cl bottle. For £75 I would expect a full bottle. Having said that, in the context of distillery exclusive “fill-your-own” bottlings, £75 is actually on the low side. Bruichladdich makes stunning whisky and I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that this was among the very best I’ve tasted from them.