400th Review: Bruichladdich Black Art 7.1

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I published my first review back in early October 2015, hoping that a small whisky website would give me a creative outlet to talk about one of my favourite hobbies. In the 5 years since, I’ve managed to review more than 500 drams across 399 blog posts and with this article, I reach my 400th. Such an occasion surely calls for a special dram. Over the years I’ve made no secret of my affection for Bruichladdich, so it will probably come as no surprise to you that I looked in their direction for the subject of this piece.

I turned 40 last November and my wife wanted to get me a nice bottle to help drown my sorrows. I’ve never really been one for spending several hundred pounds on a single bottle but if you can’t splash out for a big birthday, when can you? I’ve always fancied a bottle of Black Art but it’s not something I would ever buy myself, so it appeared to be the right dram for the moment.

Black Art was created whilst Jim McEwan was heading up production at Bruichladdich. Unusually for a distillery normally passionate about transparency and provenance, the recipe used to create this single malt is kept hidden and consumers are asked instead to trust in the skills of the master blender and have faith that they will come up with something exceptional. A celebration of the black art of the blender, if you will.

Since Batch 5.1 Black Art has been designed by Head Distiller Adam Hannett, who took over from Mr McEwan upon his retirement in 2015. Whilst it can’t be easy following in the footsteps of a whisky industry legend, Hannett has been making a pretty good go of it so far, so I was excited to see how Black Art was shaping up under his guidance.

Batches 6.1 and 7.1 were both available at the time I was looking to buy and I knew that 8.1 was due for release soon. I’m a bit of a sucker for sentimentality however, and the fact the 7.1 was distilled in 1994 – the same year the distillery closed down and could so easily have been lost forever – seemed to add extra significance to that bottle. Does that make my choice a logical one? Probably not, but I think it’s OK to be led by heart rather than head sometimes.

I told myself the bottle would be nurtured and enjoyed slowly but I confess I’ve been making my way through it quicker than I had hoped. In my defence, it was opened on my 40th, then a week later the Scotland National Team qualified, via penalty shootout, for the European Championships – the first time they’d reached a major tournament since I was 17. A special dram was required at full time and I reached for the Black Art. A week later my wife turned 40, and a special dram was required. Then we moved into December and on Christmas Eve a dram had to be left out for Mr Claus, only the best would do, of course. Then came Christmas Day and we were allowed to meet with family for the first time in months. A special dram was required for that too. A week later it was Hogmanay, and you can’t bring in the New Year with any old whisky…

Still, whisky is finite. It’s not like I can take it with me when it’s all over, and that could be any day now if my five year old daughter is to be believed – word of advice to anyone about to turn 40 by the way, send the kids away. They will not be sympathetic to the trauma you’re going through. My little one’s reaction to my telling her my age was “That’s soooo old!” Yeah, thanks.

I refuse to get upset at the speed I’m making my way through this though. Whisky is for drinking and long after this bottle has been emptied and chucked in the recycling I’ll remember it. I’ll remember kissing my daughter goodnight on my 40th birthday before settling down on my sofa with a dram of Black Art. I’ll remember settling my nerves with a dram whilst wiping tears from my eyes after David Marshall saved that penalty against Serbia. I’ll remember toasting my wife on her 40th birthday with a dram of Black Art. I’ll remember the Christmas Day in 2020 when I shared a dram of Black Art with my Dad and Sister after nine months apart and I’ll remember New Year’s Eve, when we told the year from hell to fuck off and welcomed 2021 with open arms and a dram of Black Art. The blunt fact of the matter is, those memories are worth so much more to me than a full bottle of whisky on the shelf. Might as well have another then…

Smell: The attack of oak that you’d perhaps expect from a 25 year old malt never really comes. It’s there of course, along with notes of sherry and leather, but it never dominates. There’s almond marzipan, vanilla, walnut, hazelnut, coconut, red berries, caramel and cinnamon. With water there’s even a touch of grist and flour, an impressive feat for a dram of this age.

Taste: Berry fruits on arrival, alongside orange, raisins and sultanas. Next comes spice, with cinnamon, pepper and a wee touch of ginger. Water empowers the spice, whilst bringing out honey and walnut. Well-aged sherry comes through again on the finish, with parma violets and fizzy sweets before a touch of dry, woody oak char.

Value for money: We’re not exactly in bargain-basement territory here, but Glenlivet, Bunnahabhain, Bowmore, Glen Scotia, Balblair, Glenrothes and Highland Park to name but a few all charge well over £300 for their 25 year old bottlings, some north of £400, and you’d pay four figures for a Macallan of that age. Even a 25 year old Chivas Regal will cost you £270. All things considered Bruichladdich aren’t doing too badly here in terms of the age to price ratio.

Score: 91

The only disappointment here is a finish that runs a little short and subtle for my taste but beyond that, the whisky is excellent and a testament to the skill of the blender that such balance has been achieved with such wide-ranging characteristics. I don’t think you can ever call a near £300 consumable “value for money” but the quality is nevertheless at the level you’d expect for such a purchase. The Black Art series is shrouded in mystery and you’ll never know exactly what it is you’re buying, but it seems easier to suspend one’s cynicism and place trust in a distiller that favours the transparent approach with just about every other release. That’s why, when spending this amount of money on whisky, I will always be drawn the distilleries I have history with, and there’s none I’ve loved longer or more deeply than Bruichladdich. Black Art 7.1 is an excellent whisky, I just wish they hadn’t made it so damn drinkable.

Thank you once again for sticking with me through 400 published reviews. Here’s to the future.

Slàinte.

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