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Bruichladdich is a rather unique distillery on the island of Islay. Founded in 1881 by the Harvey Brothers of Glasgow, the distillery has led an often tumultuous existence, with more than one closure in its long past. As recently as the early 1990’s the distillery fell silent when owners Whyte & MacKay deemed the site surplus to their requirements. Bruichladdich was mothballed and though a skeleton staff maintained the equipment, it seemed unlikely that it would ever return, until a group of investors led by Mark Reynier bought the site in 2001 for £6.5million.
Under Reynier’s guidance, the distillery found a new path, with creativity and experimentation, along with a strong focus on terroir and provenance at the very heart of the business. New brands were launched, with the creation of the Port Charlotte single malt, followed of course by the super heavily peated Octomore, now arguably one of the most talked about and sought after drams on the market. Then there’s the Botanist gin, created using 22 botanicals foraged from around the island, it is now the distilleries biggest selling brand.
Ownership of Bruichladdich may have moved on once again, this time to Remy Cointreau but to their credit, the French giants appear content to allow the skilled workers onsite to carry on doing what they do best, with minimal interference from above.
For a distillery once so unloved, Bruichladdich now enjoys a devoted following that spans much of the globe. Part of this fandom has manifested in the form of the Facebook group ‘Friends of Bruichladdich’ but what started as a small online meeting place for the most dedicated of fans has now grown into a healthy community of nearly 4000 members.
In 2018, thanks in no small part to the incredible efforts of group admins John McDougall and Derek Mather, Bruichladdich finally agreed, after some persistent persuasion, to sell a cask of aged whisky so that it might be bottled exclusively for group members. Finally, after what seemed an eternity of impatient waiting, the team at the distillery were able to find a slot in their busy production schedule and the cask was bottled, labelled and despatched to Derek at his magnificent Artisan Wishaw restaurant, 18 miles outside Glasgow.
Since I’m fortunate enough to live within travelling distance of Wishaw, I decided not to wait for the bottle to be mailed out and picked it up myself instead. If nothing else, it gave me another opportunity to enjoy Derek’s famous Octomore burger!
Needless to say, my bottle was soon home and within 24 hours, it had been cracked open. Distilled 22/05/2003, the spirit spent 15 years maturing in an ex-sherry cask before being bottled on 15/10/2018 at a whopping 63.1% alcohol by volume.
Smell: Maple Syrup & Tannic Oak, juicy Raisins & Sultanas, Figs, Old Leather and strong Tea, Paprika, Nutmeg. Sea Salt and damp Pebble Beaches…
Taste: Woody – like Old Sherry, Christmas Cake, Strong Tea, Cinnamon & Clove, long dry Oaky finish…
Value for Money: Buying a cask of 15 year old whisky doesn’t come cheap. Add bottling costs etc and the price starts to get a bit silly. At £175, this Bruichladdich certainly stretched the wallet but as a one-off, single cask offering and a damn fine dram to boot, I decided it was a worthwhile purchase.
There aren’t many distilleries I would buy such an expensive whisky from without first tasting it beforehand but such is my faith in Bruichladdich, and so persuasive were the group admins, that I didn’t really think twice about it. Having now enjoyed a few drams from the bottle, I’m certainly not disappointed. Rich in sherry notes and strongly holding on at just the right side of being over-oaked, this is a quite remarkable dram who’s exceptionally high strength delivers a mass of flavour without ever being too hot. An excellent single cask, single malt from an excellent distillery and a nice little luxury treat just in time for the festive period. Cheers!