Briuchladdich is probably the most prolific whisky distillery in the northern hemisphere – last year 22 expressions of the malt were released, thanks to the experimental (some might say just mental) efforts of Production Director Jim McEwan. This is one of those, distilled in 1989 and bottled in 2005.
Ok, so I’ve mentioned before the top five, which of course is a changeable list. Now, I’m going to talk about one of my top six. That’s right, six, because sometimes it’s not enough to limit the list to five – it’ll probably be up to seven before long. Highland Park 12 yr old, single cask and bottled exclusively for Oddbins in 2007. There were only 661 bottles produced – that’s why I’ve got two.
Sometimes you come across a whisky that grabs you by the lapels, shakes you about, and slaps you in the face until you’re a little delirious and dribbling in the corner; but you don’t mind because you’ve found a dram that will some beating to be knocked out of your top five (it’s pretty hard to have an all time forever-and-ever favourite, I’ve still not found mine).
Canadian whisky anyone? The large red maple leaf adorning the box is a bit of a dead giveaway – it also says “Canada’s Only Single Malt Whisky” on the label. Produced by Glenora Distillers (International) Ltd, it opened in 1990 in the village of Glenville at Cape Breton in Nova Scotia.
Agree with me or not, but sherried whiskies are the easy drinkers and the crowd pleasers of the malt world. It can smooth the edges and add that lovely warm sweet character that attracts so many. Sherry JI 1993 is my third review of the Jura Boutique Barrel Collection. Bottled at a powerful 54% – sherry by name, sherry-ish by nature – I’ll come back to this point later.
The great thing about cask strength whisky is that it gives you plenty of room for manoeuvre, especially if you’re prepared to take your time over a dram. The second of the Jura Boutique Barrel’s I tried was the Bourbon JO 1995. Bottled at 56.5% it has so much leaping out of the orangey gold liquid nestled at the bottom of the glass.
The Bourbon XU 1999, 55% in strength is boasted as the heavily peated member of the Boutique Barrel collection. Although, for me the term heavily peated means something different as this whisky didn’t give me the expected whack in the face – it was peaty, but nowhere near what I had expected. Despite this it’s a pretty good dram.
Fuzzy heads and strong coffee in the morning aside, membership to Glasgow’s Whisky Club has its benefits.
The great thing about somebody like David Keir of Blavod Wines and Spirits hosting a private tasting is that not only is the chance for some fabulous whisky to drink, but David is brutally honest about the industry as a whole, and last night at Sloan’s bar in Glasgow was no exception.
Crystal chandeliers and candlelight in the first floor ballroom set the mood for enjoying a few drams and an evening of enlightening chat.
We’re an easy crowd, the 22 of us, given that we all love a good dram. David started us with Arran 10 year old. The distillery itself has only been in operation since 1995, and its entry level whisky is an easy drop. It has a complex, and sweet nose. An initial touch of milk chocolate and white pepper, gives way to fresh wood, rich dry herbs and warm sawdust. The palate kept the herbs and wood, tasting a bit like thick tree bark and butterscotch, but had quite a high spirit burn.
It’s a very good whisky, but it was just the warm-up for The Rowan Tree – heavily sherried, 13 years old, and bottled only a few days ago, this was expected to be a treat. It was oily, white pepper and salty dryness, a hint of milk chocolate and green pepper on the long finish. It fell far short of expectations. The sherry influence was too understated which left the whisky feeling a little flat. David seemed disappointed, but not surprised, that it didn’t have a bigger impact on us. He already has a couple of cases for his “pension”, which if I read between the lines, he’s not interested in drinking it but it will make money in the future – only 6000 bottles have been produced, of which a mere 600 are available in the UK.
We were then treated to Bruichladdich Redder Still – 22 years old and finished in Chateau Lafleur Pomerol wine casks – but not before David gave a lengthy and passionate speech about some of the industry’s major players and how current UK political structures would affect whisky, especially with the Budget less than 24 hours away – no matter what, the cost of a bottle is going to go up. It might have seemed like he was picking on Islay, but Bruichladdich and Ardbeg were the fuel for the fire he was about to vent.
Bruichladdich is a small, independent operation doing everything from distilling to bottling themselves. As a result of this there is a tendency for experimentation and a huge number of expressions on release, because they are a law unto themselves, and apparently have a tendency to fall out with those who disagree with them. Last year 27 different bottles hit the shelves, which varied from brilliant to those in the know suspecting they were trying to get rid of a mistake in a pretty package. Then there’s Ardbeg. Part of The Glenmorangie Company, which owned by luxury goods giant LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey), his is almost a contrast to Bruichladdich in that it is sells some of it whiskies for nearly 40% more than it needs to in order to make a healthy profit.
As the thoroughly amusing diatribe subsides we slouch in our chairs and dive into the Redder Still. Its rich ruby red colour is more than matched by the depth of flavour. David is slowly and contently pacing around the room as if to tell us that this is when a distillery gets it more than right. Concentrated morello cherries, fresh pine needles, strawberry jam, and the memory of treating the garden fence with creosote on a hot summer day. Silence befalls the room for several minutes as we are all immersed in sensory heaven.
A relatively low key tasting, but David Keir is an excellent host and extremely knowledgeable. The whisky was good, but not great. The room was generally underwhelmed by the whisky, but what is always appreciated at these things is the honesty of our host – even if it did turn into a bit of a political rant. Sometimes at a public tasting you can be inundated with too much of the corporate line, but that’s the advantage a nice wee tasting with a knowledgeable audience – there’s nowhere to hide, so David didn’t bother. Not the best tasting I’ve ever been to, but still a worthwhile night.
There’s a slightly musty nose to this one with smoke and sweetness. There’s also a hint of cured game like smoked reindeer and peppery spice. An interesting nose but just seems too messy and erratic.
With water it’s rich with lemonade sweetness and fresh citrus. It’s one of those whiskies in which the nose gives away no clues as to what the palate may be like.
The palate has spirity peat and salty dryness. There’s a touch of sour milk and pick n’ mix taking the edge off the salt. When the water is added it becomes dry and smoky, with moss on thick tree bark and a touch of orchard fruit.
The finish has reasonable length, it’s very dry and full of smoke that grabs the inside of your mouth. Not sure why, but it left me with an unpleasant sickly feeling. There are a lot of interesting flavours in this one but they just don’t come together too well – if they did I’d be a pretty happy chap.
The nose started off with wood stain and tangerine sweetness. It seemed quite closed off until I added water. It developed a sweet thickness like that of sponge cake mix, still with a fresh sweetness on the nose but the tangerine is less pronounced.
There’s a hint of pencil shavings and waxy worn wood like a school desk (remember being at school and sharpening your pencil into your desk? – We’ve all done it!); bitter chocolate creeps in there just at the end. After a while the nose has tinned peaches (the peaches, the syrup, and the tin), then a final yeasty hint of bread dough.
The palate is initially quite sweet but then changes quickly to a rich salty dryness. The sweetness of the tangerine is less noticeable than on the nose, so is more like dried orange slices. The addition of water adds a hint of wet charred wood to a nicely simple palate.
The finish is salty, dry and of medium length. A touch of orange and dark chocolate comes through on the breath after a short while.