The third and last Masterclass I attended at the Finest Spirits Festival 2016 was from Bruichladdich. This Masterclass had – as the Masterclass at the Whisky Weekend in Salzburg 2015 – the motto “We belive terroire matters”. Ewald Stromer, brand ambassador for Germany, Austria & Switzerland, elaborated what this slogan means to Bruichladdich. Bruichladdich started using – just like the water (of course) – barley from Scotland only. Not an easy task as you might imagine, they produce 1.4 million litres of pure alcohol a year. They want to showcase with their Whiskys that “terroire matters”, even if the barley is from the Highlands, Lowlands, Islay, or another region of Scotland.
The first Whisky for us to taste was the “Classic Laddie Scottish Barley” in its typical turquoise bottle. Fresh and fruity, just like the beginning of Bruichladdich as Ewald tells us. It’s a typical n.a.s. Whisky but fear not, Bruichladdich is going the same way as Compassbox is going, at least partly. Starting in April 2016 everyone owning a bottle will be able to go to the website of Bruichladdich and enter the “Batch Code” printed on the bottle and get additional info on his Whisky. In an open letter from the CEO of Bruichladdich, Simon Coughlin, it is stated, that we will be able to get info about the bottling date, the number and pre-conditioning of the used casks as well as the type of New Make used and the vintage of the used Whiskys. I hope the SWA and/or the EU will reconsider their rules which prohibit Whisky distillers of printing this information on their bottles or use it in marketing. This particular Whisky is made of mainly 1st fill ex-Bourbon casks, some 2nd fill ex-bourbon casks and (very) few bordeaux red wine casks from a very prestigious wine-growing estate. The age of the used Whiskys ranges from seven to twelve years for this particular batch. But every batch is different, only the main characteristics of this Whisky stay the same. I like that very much, I guess I have to buy more Whiskys from Bruichladdich!
Next Whisky! It’s the “Islay Barley 2007“. As stated earlier, Bruichladdich uses only 100% Scottish barley, over 65% of which is from Islay itself. To achieve this, they have 15 farms on Islay producing exclusively for them. A speciality is, that Bruichladdich pays always for 100% of the seeds. If the harvest is only 80% (or even lower), the farm will get still the full price! This is a very unique and great concept Bruichladdich is perusing, in a world which is full of concurring companies and the main goal seems to be only maximizing the profit. In this Whisky, barley from the Rockside farm – right next to Kilchoman – is used. It’s the same barley used in the “Classic Laddie”. The used casks are 1st fill ex-bourbon casks but unfortunately this six year old Whisky will be discontinued and replaced by the “Islay Barley 2009”.
Speaking of “Islay Barley 2009“, this is our next Whisky. The differences to its older Brother are quite small. The used barley is not from the Rockside farm but from four different farms “inside” Islay. Well kind of, because the difference in climate is quite negligible due to the small size of Islay. And they are using three different types of barley. Including the different taste, these are the only differences between these two Whiskys. Bottled in 2015 this is also a six year old Whisky.
While the first of our Masterclass start nosing the next Whisky, the legendary “Black Art 4.0“, Ewald starts explaining some new steps Bruichladdich is taking to stock up their Whisky stash in their warehouses. They started pulling out of some markets as well as reducing their portfolio to ensure there is enough Whisky in stock for future projects regarding cask management. The making of the “Black Art” line is quite simple. Jim McEwan once argued with some Whisky lover who told him, that Whisky lovers will buy only Whisky if they have enough information about it. And Jim told him, he believes that if the Whisky is crafted well, no one will care about other details. In 2008 Jim started taking casks from the warehouses and filling them into other casks. While monitoring them, he decided when to change the cask again. And that is how the “Black Art” line is made. Nobody, except Jim, truly does know how long the used Whiskys were matured and which casks were used. Well, there are some rules by the SWA which have to be followed. So every Whisky has to be at least three years old, and the abv has to be on the bottle. But that’s it, nothing else is known about these Whiskys.
In the end, there ware – as was at the Glenmorangie Masterclass – a little surprise. Ewald brought a sample from a cask designated to become a “Valinch” (cask robber) cask. This name is used for the copper pipette used to get the Whisky (or New Make) out of the cask for tasting purposes. Everyone visiting Bruichladdich can bottle his own at their visitor centre. There’s always a cask from Bruichladdich or Port Charlotte, always selected by Jim himself and always at cask strength! We were allowed to guess the abv, our highest bids were around 56% abv but we were wrong, so wrong! Ewald reviled its strength with whooping 63,2% abv!! But how does it come, that this Whisky is still smooth and full with that much alcohol? It’s because of the very slow distilling process used at Bruichladdich. You won’t find a thermometer in the whole distillery, all is done solely by the experience and knowledge of their distilling manager.
I’d have to visit Bruichladdich, and of course the other distilleries on Islay one day! I hope you enjoyed this series about the three Masterclasses I attended. If you have questions or suggestions, leave a comment below or just email me! Here you can read about the Masterclass with the Whisky Vicar and here you can read about the Masterclass from Glenmorangie!