Welcome to the second instalment of our Bruichladdich adventure. In this article we interview Jim McEwan, Master Distiller at Bruichladdich and hear his views and stories from an amazing 52 years in the whisky business.…
Welcome to the first in a series of notes about Bruichladdich. We visited the distillery in August and were bowled over by the passion everyone there has for the whisky and the brand – it is like one big family. Therefore we’ve decided to devote a few posts to telling a bit of the story of Bruichladdich through the people that work there. In the near future we will publish our interview with Jim, and following that our discussion with Adam and Allan. First though we wanted to give you an overview of the distillery through the eyes of a tour guide, and who better than Michelle?…
One of my earliest football memories is from Italia 90. I remember standing in the kitchen, hiding behind the door so my younger brother wouldn’t know I was up watching the match, willing England to do the impossible and knock out West Germany. As the game progressed I moved to the lounge – it was too late for my brother to be up then – and was then inconsolable as Waddle lifted the kick higher and higher. This year has brought similar heartache – I’m a Liverpool fan. From so much promise to that slip, I’m delighted we’ve made so much progress but can only hanker after what might have been. And so with inevitable disappointment we head towards Brazil hoping Roy’s kids can finally stop us talking about 1966 and all that.. will we make it past the Italians’? Will Suarez stage a masterful recovery? Will we score a goal?
There is light at the end of the tunnel though, some optimism to look forward to. Ardbeg are releasing their annual ‘Ardbeg Day’ bottle on Saturday 31 May and this time they come over all Brazilian and themed it after the greatest show on earth. Auriverdes, meaning green (the Ardbeg bottle) and gold (the whisky), is the name of the release and we were fortunate enough to try it several weeks ago. This whisky has been matured in American oak which have custom toasted cask ends designed specifically for this whisky. The casks ends are designed to give a darker coffee flavour to contrast the vanilla you would expect from the American oak. The whisky, as you would expect from such a release, is naturally coloured, un-chillfiltered and bottled at 49.9%.
Nose: Lots of dry peat and classic ardbeg notes. The fresh coffee from the casks ends comes through strongly and mixes in with cocoa and rum and raisin ice-cream. Takes us back to cutting the peat with Dougie
Palate: Initial hints of jasmine before you are hit with thick black smoke and peat. A very sooty whisky with lots of heat – think beach BBQ, smoked fish and charred steak. Finally there is a hint of Albas Oil and ground coffee
Finish: The spirit lightens at the death bring up some floral notes and a final bite of peat
We have some incredibly fond memories of Ardbeg; from walking up to the loch on a Ardbeg hike, to Mike winning a massive bottle of Ardbog, to just sitting in front of the whitewashed walls and enjoying a dram with friends. As such we were incredibly excited by this release and it is a good, no very good whisky that will sell fantastically well. Personally though, I preferred the character of Ardbog – and part of that is in the Islay memories. That doesn’t take anything away from this dram – you’ll buy it because it’s Ardbeg and because it’s tasty, and you won’t be disappointed with it. And as you drink it lets hope you can lift it high as Gerrard crosses to Sturridge to slot in the winning goal on June 13 bringing some redemption for Liverpool and England!
Tomatin is a bit of a guilty Highland pleasure to be honest. Since walking through the entire range a couple of years ago we have become big fans of this distillery. They have a full and diverse range, and an ever increasing, but incredibly complimentary, amount of new releases and special additions that sit nicely in the portfolio without stealing the focus from the members already there.
Indeed we think so highly of the whisky that we even featured it on our stand at the Birmingham Whisky Festival for the second year in a row – and our choice of Legacy (a no aged statement whisky at one of the most competitive prices you will see) and Cu Bocan did not disappoint; indeed our only regret was not having more as we ran out late afternoon meaning Mike and I had none to enjoy at home!
Cu Bocan was one of our highlights of last year, so much so that I have a bottle at home, the combination of light smoke and peat over the Tomatin spirit was a real winner in our view and so we were delighted and intrigued to see the announcment of a limited cask strength release of the whisky. Tomatin found three bourbon casks resting at the back of the warehouse from 7 June 1989, and even more excitingly than that they were made from peated spirit! The result is an extremely limited release of 1080 bottles at 53.2% – a release that can never be repeated. These three casks were all that remained and my word it is good stuff!
Tomatin 1989 Cu Bocan [53.2%]
I really enjoyed the original Cu Bocan that is widely available, but this whisky is something else – big, brash, and hot with a good dose of peat. Definitely Cu Bocan in ultra HD.
Nose: Huge amounts of vanilla and spice. Very warming with hints of ginger and chilli flakes mixed with black pepper. And then the smoke comes – wafts of peaty smoke combined with red fruits. An earthy and grassy fragrance that is magnificent
Palate: A thick and cloying whisky that changes over time. Incredibly complex with peat striking the palate in waves, alternating with mint and liquorice. There is a definite damp note that reminds me on Islay warehouses before notes of peach offer some lightness to the mouth. A hot, hot whisky
Finish: Hot and long; the whisky is very dry and the peat really shines through here. The smoke sticks, giving way slightly to some sweetness, and then more heat. Superb.
An excellent whisky. And it is still available here from The Whisky Exchange, although I suspect it won’t hang around for long!
The Yamazaki 15 was the first Japanese whisky that I tasted, and it is a moment that I still remember vividly. It was a delightfully orangery whisky that seemed to trick the tastebuds as the flavours seemed to be in uexpected places unlike the Scottish spirit that I was accustomed too. Since then my knowledge and appreciation of Japanese whisky has grown, some of the best tastings I’ve attended have been about Japanese whisky (The Whisky Show 2012), and how could I not mention this Karuizawa from Number One Drinks? Yes – that one!…
Peaty whisky from anCnoc? The announcement came through too early to be an April fool so we assumed that it must be a ‘thing’. And that made us very interested. We’re both big fans of peaty whisky and have been over to the island that makes peaty whisky like no other several times, and indeed will be going later this year to do the Half Marathon, but that’s a story for another day.…
We recently reviewed and were wowed by Lady of the Glen’s Caperdonich so we were delighted to receive a sample of the latest release from this exciting independent bottler – a single cask 21 year old Littlemill bottled at 53.6%. As many of you will know Littlemill is one of many closed distilleries having burned down around a decade ago so this lowland whisky is becoming rarer as the years go by. This particular whisky itself was aged in American Oak for 21 years before giving up 309 bottles, and as per their policy the whisky is non chill filtered and has no caramel added. It is Lady of the Glens first lowland whisky, so what is it like?
The nose begins with a massive burst of caramelised banana and freshly cut grass. There are strong notes of icing sugar, before some slightly earthy tones appear. I love the sweetness in this dram and it takes me to childhood pear drops and wine gums – delicious. The palate is initially very hot; almost chilli pepper like. It does become sweeter as you roll it around the tongue, almost tasting like bubblegum, before the spices reappear in the form of cardamom and pepper. There is more than a hint of cherries and I felt that the whisky was quite forresty, reminding me of a bark like taste. The finish is very long and hot which is wonderful, and it again becomes slightly grassy at the death.
I love the interplay between the sweetness and the heat of this whisky; for me it may be a little too savoury at times, but overall the chilli combined with the sweetness make it a whisky well worth considering as it is a lovely marriage that works wonders.
This is an exciting post! Its not everyday that you receive a 60 year old whisky in the post, and that’s probably for several reasons. Firstly its quite rare, being rather old, and secondly it is usually massively expensive; for reasons why, see the first reason. This whisky is a bit different though – it is still old (it has to be), but it isn’t massively expensive. Granted it isn’t cheap’ but on the face of it £999.95 represents remarkable value for a 60 year old Speysider.
The other reason that this whisky is exciting is a personal one. Being 60 years old and bottled very recently it therefore follows that it was distilled in 1954 – the year my mum was born. Also the whisky was released in March 2014 which means that it was distilled in early 1954 and probably very early 1954 when you consider that it had to be bottled, distributed etc etc in 2014 once it had turned 60. My mum’s birthday is on 8th January so there must be a slim chance that this whisky was distilled on the very day she was born – now that’s exciting (and must be worth another sample or two – Ben?)
Regardless of that, what you’re actually interested in is if it is any good? Age is not a sign of quality, and indeed lack of age is not an abscence of it. One my travels to Islay I have tried a 1966 Lagavulin straight from the cask. It is, to put it blunty, off – the barrel attracts people due to its age and that is why it is there – it is not there as a representative example of the frankly excellent whisky Lagavulin produce. Anyway back to the job in question; this whisky is from an unnamed distillery in Speyside and is bottled at 42.2%.
This is a whisky that benefits from some time in the glass to allow it to fully open up and release its bouquet. On the nose I found bananas, a touch of wood (as expected after 60 years in oak), and some fresh lemon juice. As the spirit opened it smelt like a fresh rose garden at the height of spring mixed in with some mint leaves and a creamy top note. A touch of spice in the form of a slightly faded star anise came through too before I was left with that kind of post thunderstorm kind of scent.
The palate was silky and soft. There was a lovely balanced heat mixed in with the sweetness of cherry sauce and crisp green apples. I totally got what Ben was talking about with tomato stems; for me it was that back of the mouth taste as you wall into a well sprouted greenhouse – it just sits there at the back of the throat. The whisky was gentle and just enveloped the mouth, it was like a well layered and properly made curry – there was a touch of spice and the flavours built over time and remained forever.
The finish was very savoury and vegetal. Amazingly it was still very fresh after all of these years and there was a definite mint note as the spirit faded away.
This is a classy and complex whisky that has aged magnificently, and while its not an everyday purchase at just under £1000 it does represent a more affordable opportunity to try a spirit distilled in the 1950’s and matured for 60 years. Hats off to the chaps at Master of Malt for this superb release – the pressure is now on as we wait to see what you have that will better this!
Available now from Master of Malt here.