I’ve reviewed an enormous amount of Bruichladdich on the blog so far – a bunch of Octomores, some Black Arts, the Laddies, some randoms from the distillery, some independents, and a couple from the Micro-Provenance series. It’s high time SMWS released another laddie and their first Octomore, but we’ve been doing good business with the distillery only Valinches for a while. I’m really starting to fall back in love with the classic laddie though, the wonderful spirit at Bruichladdich, the attention to detail with cask management and grain really works.
Octomore Discovery A-
The FI bottle from last year was the Octomore Discovery, quadruple distilled and matured for seven years (rather than the usual five) in Oloroso sherry butts. I was really looking forward to this, but it’s kind of where Octomore jumped the shark a little bit for me. It just doesn’t really work.
Nose - Sweet, sweet wood and a briefly overpowering edge of sour butter. Under this, the sherried Octomore is there with blackberries, toasted peat, vanilla and yes a hint of frazzles. Extremely masculine, down to the urinal cake pine, fags and Saturday night perfume. With water, some of the sherried sweetness is allowed to come out and the aggression is toned down, the black fruit comes through a bit more and it hangs together better.
Body - Apples, toast, sour wood, granulated sugar and cigarettes (lit and smoking this time, Silk Cut perhaps). With water, more apples, unlit cigarette, and a bigger fruit hit. Much better.
Finish - Long, numbing, a little offensive, with the return of the bacon. Long bitterness catches in the back of the throat. Unbalanced.
What’s not good about it - I guess this is more of a concept whisky, something to be collected rather than drunk, and certainly not on a daily basis. I wouldn’t turn to this more than a couple of times a year. Not something you should drink at the end of a night of dramming either, it’ll make your toothbrush reek of pine and peat.
What’s good about it - I’m all for sweet, peated intensity and this certainly has that. I love the dark fruit, ashen night out edgy quality. I just wish it hung together better. Another decade in cask and maybe it would have been really special.
Nose - When this first arrived (we went in on a bottle share with this one) I was mightily disappointed. I had a few drams and put it to one side. How things have changed with a bit of time in the bottle! The nose now has aged blonde wood, toffee lemon malt, loads of wax, a good line in ozone and the ocean, and is bright, juicy and delicious. Just a touch of cut green beans, dried strawberries, fresh cut red cherries and chillis and damp cardboard rounds things out. Very Bruichladdich and just wonderful. On the nose, this is now worth the money. With water, more warming aged malt and wood, more fruit, and just screams Bruichladdich. Quite a lot like the 16 and 22.
Body - Sweet, cardboard, tumeric, more chilli, wooded, strong cereal and a more challenging structure. Intense toffee at the sides of the tongue. With water, the cardboard becomes a fault immediately but declines after a few minutes. An expensive, sulphurous drying note develops, which is worth the change.
Finish - Lingering sweet toffee, numbing tannins, black peppercorns and lots of carbs: potato, crisps, malt. Ends surprisingly fruitily, with peach and almond. Lovely.
What’s not good about it - Needs a month at least to open up once you’ve given it some air. The chilli cardboard thing is still there in the delivery a bit, some water helps that along. It’s expensive.
What’s good about it - Textbook “good” Bruichladdich nose, smells like a £140 Bruichladdich should. A cracking, challenging, whisky nerd’s canonical laddie.
Bruichladdich Valinch 07 - Andy Ritchie, 24 years old, 1989, 51.4% A⊕
These Valinches have been coming out almost monthly from the distillery, and you get to fill your bottle from the cask. I’ve bought or tried most of these (Valinch 03 was reviewed here, and was a Port Charlottle), but the series has started, numerically, again now with the Cask Exploration series. This one’s a Rioja Wine Cask Finish [whiskybase link]
Nose - Sweet, toasty tobacco and wine musk. Glorious old oak and old books. Strawberry jam, baked apples and black jacks. With water, gives up beautiful light wax and petrol, lightly coastal. Like a long car journey to the sea with travel sweets, petrol, granary bread sandwiches and ozone.
Body - Candy sweet, a little spicy, more apple and wham bars. Light sulphur at the back of the delivery.
Finish - Medium, numbing, lingering liquorice and red chilli. Lovely.
What’s not good about it - A little restrained, but the bottle wasn’t opened long before the sample was drawn.
What’s good about it - Challenging and structured, balanced and integrated, quite delicious.
Thanks to Stumbler for the sample! This was a cracker, only just eclipsed by the 08 that followed it rapidly (and sold out even quicker).
Bruichladdich Valinch 08 – Chrissie Angus, 22 years old, 49.1% A⊕+
Bourbon and Spanish oak cask. Out of all of them, this was “the one” for me.
Nose - Oh man - bright, waxed wood, dark strawberry laces, musky toffee, black bread. Extremely sweet and artfully, darkly sherried. Some men’s deodorant, some travel sweets, some petrol - so the long car journey thing. With water, glace cherries and pot pourri. Rather epic.
Body - Surprisingly salty, and suddenly intensely sherried with a big dose of red wine. Wonderful sulphur and nettles. Dry, tannic and salty to balance the intense laddie sweetness.
Finish - Salt tang rides out throughout the finish, malt and cereal. Fantastic stuff.
What’s not good about it - Quite a particular dram, I can see this foxing a few people. Incredibly sweet and salty.
What’s good about it - But effortlessly good - perfect balance and integration. Really interesting sherry and wine.
Bruichladdich Valinch 09 – James McColl, 22 years old, 50.7% A⊕
PX sherry cask. Almost as good as 08.
Nose - More beautiful, sherried, salty integration. Bannister (yes, seriously). Sweet, rich and bright, fresh and clean. Figs, tamarind pulp, chocolate malt and kitchen floor cleaner (waxy). Quite sexy really.
Body - Fags. Didn’t expect that. Cherry tobacco, lots of balanced sulphur, intensely tannic, very chewy.
Finish - Long, numbing, bitter finish with a backing of cherry chocolates and fruit and nut bar. Finally, celery! Lovely, balanced finish, very tasty and returnable to.
What’s not good about it - Mainly, that it’s quite similar to the 8, and not quite as good. Challenging again, but you don’t taste a long procession of valinches expecting everything to be smooth and easy.
What’s good about it - Challenging but fruity, great sherry integration and not overdone but very intense. Rather good.
Bruichladdich 25 year old, 1989, direct from bourbon cask, 53.5% A⊕
Thanks to Matt for this generous sample from his precious stash from visiting the distillery, for my 40th birthday! Here’s him filling it!
Body - Balanced but intense, and still slightly restrained. Spicy pear and glace cherry, then light cereal peat and tannic wood. With time, more peated.
Finish - Long tannins, sweet peat, compelling. Great grapefruit and pineapple burps.
What’s not good about it - Presumably unattainable, sorry about that. A little strict.
What’s good about it - Lovely old but restrained Islay excellence. 22 years sat on the shore of Loch Indaal in a warehouse full of Islay whisky has perhaps imbued it with a lovely but slightly punishing peat edge. Maybe it started off peated, I dunno, just another random cask! Another one that was gone before I got to add water to it, always an excellent sign.
Port Charlotte Cask Exploration 01, Seolaid, Sauternes, 12 years old, 53.2% A+
Cask 1202. This is the new Valinch (distillery only) series. The second one is out already (“Gorag”, 11 years in Pessac-Leognan) but I’ve yet to score a sample or bottle of it. Watch this space!
Nose - Orchard wax and fags and bookcase and diesel fumes (not in a bad way, although quite arresting). Very sweet and musky. Toffee apples and love hearts. Cardboard. Some deep fried chilli. On one hand quite brutally one dimensional, on the other, quite complex and feisty. With water it’s all ozone, weirdly, with some apple and mango juice.
Body - Juicy, very spicy and woody - like chewing a pencil. Including the graphite. Musky peat and wet wood. With water, toast and peat and metal come through. Bitter.
Finish - Medium, very sweet indeed, some wood glue and a bite of chilli. Lingering contentment supplied neat, a bit less balanced diluted, although it lengthens and the peat and sulphur structure comes through more at the end.
What’s not good about it - A bit blunt.
What’s good about it - I love the nose - especially when you first come to it. Later it gets a bit single trick, with the toffee and dirty wine wood, but it’s pretty compelling all the same. It’s a jolly blockbuster overall.
Port Charlotte Islay Barley, 50% A+
A “standard release” NAS PC, and none the worse for that. If you’re after a heavily peated drinker around £50, look no further.
Nose - I’ve tried this at three different (public) tastings now, and this is the dregs of the bottle I split with mates. What always strikes me is that there’s something just right about the whole experience with this one, and it starts with the nose. Sweet marmalade, ozone, granite, sweet Islay peat, intense “Islay Barley” cereal (which I’m becoming a real fan of), but also young and feisty. Balanced. This really works, and at a tasting, after the laddie 10, black arts and others, you really feel like this is where it starts to all make sense.
Body - Sweet, sharp and balanced. Almost winey in its acidity, with an intense blast of sauvignon blanc. Intensely tannic, with biting, sweet peat.
Finish - Medium, lots of ozone, slightly fetid.
What’s not good about it - While this wears its youth well, it is young and not the most complex. And like most PCs it’s challenging. Remember with PC, the perception of peat isn’t less in PC than Octomore, it’s just not so fetid (just because Octomore is “the most heavily peated”, doesn’t mean PC is bluffing when it says “heavily peated”).
What’s good about it - A great value PC, perfect balance and loads of integration and interest.
Port Charlotte PC12, Oileanach Furachail, 58.7% A
Travel Retail only. I’m led to believe the name means “attentive student”, referencing Adam Hannett attempting to take over from Jim McEwan, who refuses to retire.
Nose - Sharply peated with vinegar and apple, sherried with granite and cereal. Musky, like a good honey, Oregon pine washbacks and old woodworking tools. Orange juice and zest - quite stern though. With water, sweeter, with small sugary jelly sweets, grapefruit juice and key lime pie.
Body – Fierce peat, tobacco, highly acidic and very intense. With water, peppery, toast and honey, chocolate tracker bar. Still very sharp.
Finish - Long, well integrated, but lacking midrange.
What’s not good about it - A sharp, surprisingly unhappy whisky. It just doesn’t put me in the same mood that PC11 did.
What’s good about it - But complex and ripe, mature and interesting.
Octomore 6.3 Islay Barley, 64% A+
The Islay Barley release is the third expression of the sixth series (6.3) of the enigmatic single malt which occupies a category of its own in the world of Scotch whisky. Releases are numbered in accordance with provenance and style, those designated .1 being distilled using barley sourced from the Scottish mainland and maturing in ex-Bourbon casks, those designated .2 having additional cask enhancement, and those designated .3 being distilled from Islay-grown barley. So this is barley from Islay, and let down with water from Octomore farm.
Nose - Sweet and serious, like the Comus. Fags and coffee, like all Octomores. It’s a cheap latte this time. A brutal but compelling and oddly sexy nose, as usual. Black cherry, dark cereal, bright minerals. With water, more ordinarily sweet shoppy, but with a touch of wood glue.
Body - Deeply sweet, like foxes glacier fruit. Then refreshers, pencil shavings, black pepper, spicy wood and chilli.
Finish - After that journey, a pause, then lingering, spicy, Szechuan peat. With water, easier on the palate, and massively young.
What’s not good about it - An awkward whisky.
What’s good about it - But a classic Octomore. And the terroir driven Islay barley works every time (is it terroir, or is it just better barley farmed without cost consideration?).
Octomore 7.2, 58% A-
Say what you like about bottle packaging, but it does have an effect on the enjoyment of having a drink. I love the Octomore bottling and this one is particularly beautiful.
A blend of “classic American oak” (assume bourbon casks?) and Syrah Rhone casks, full term, vatted. There is zero red wine colour in this whisky.
Nose - Barley sugar, boiled sweets, crisps and slight sulphur. Wine cask always works so well with Octomore, and it’s the same here - dirty but clean wine cask, washing up liquid, sour strawberries and of course massive cereal peat. If this was bright pink I wouldn’t be surprised. In fact, that would be very cool.
Body - Competent, classic but (relatively) uneventful Octomore. It’s “just another Octomore” (I am officially a jaded whisky drinker) with fruit, white wine, bludgeoning, bitter peat and a mouthful of oak sawdust.. A touch more sulphur, perhaps a bit easier on the brain due to the wine. Water softens it a bit too. It’s no Comus though.,
Finish - Very long, pepper, sulphur, rot. Gunpowder, iron filings, lingering cabbage.
What’s not good about it - Simultaneously average “for an Octomore” and a bit flawed by the sulphur. Always an evening ender.
What’s good about it - Still an Octomore though, so head smashingly intense and great fun to drink. Beautifully sweet and dirty nose, highly professional throughout, almost hop-brutal craft-beery in its intensity. Similarly un-sessionable in its entirety.
Octomore 12 years old, Chateau d’Yquem cask, drawn from cask in the distillery, 56.4% A+
Not supposed to have these next two, don’t tell anyone…
Nose - Incredibly gentle. I didn’t expect that. Old, Islay, Laddie and Sauternes. Sweet and herbal, with a little charcuterie - Italian ham, peppered salami. Sweet, elegant but holding back some fire I suspect. With water, better integrated with plywood, funky Octomore peat and dug turf. A grown up Octomore, with a suit and tie. I hope there are casks going down for a 26 year old at some point...
Body - Goodness me - such a gentle development into enormous fire! At first, more of that restraint and cereal Laddie goodness, then through refreshers into peat spice and wood sap. With water, more immediately juicy, but then faster into the pepper. I definitely prefer it diluted.
Finish - Medium, very spicy, massive gunpowder and lingering aspirin.
What’s not good about it - Very young Octomore is too fetid, and this is the oldest Octomore I’ve heard of and it has that. I think the point of Octomore lies in the five year olds.
What’s good about it - I love the grown up, winey, peppery nose, the restrained fire and the overall balance. A 26 year old Octomore will be expensive, but it might be worth it.
Octomore 5 years old, Virgin Oak, drawn from cask in the distillery A-
An insanely dark, sherried, “I’m a bourbon” burnt marmalade colour to this one.
Nose - Elegant ozone and sherry - this isn’t a bourbon but it has that pastried intensity. Bright, juicy and fresh (also unexpected), but with varnished wood and fountain pen ink. It’s got a real pastry and creme patissiere thing going on, and again, gentle. With water, some of that attractive fetid musk comes through in a classy way, with old wood and compost.
Body - Sweet, herbal, green peat. A touch of petrol, wet morning grass and damp logs. Wet oats.
Finish - The Octomore peat finally comes through in the finish, quite a lot like the Comus with the sweetness but with an added touch of wet cardboard. Sour and bitter at the end, but not unpleasantly so - like a very old whisky with too much wood but balanced by other things.
What’s not good about it - It’s proper weird this one - funky, wet and dirty, while also sweetly pastried. I don’t think it really works as anything but a curio.
What’s good about it - But it’s very interesting, and does just about hang together. The nose works very well - rancio, wet wood, wine and vanilla. The delivery is like drinking perfume - overly intense, very bitter and stays with you for a long while.
Next time, a bit of a blind spot for me but one I’ll be addressing in detail in the coming year, Bunnahabhain.