Bruichladdich Laddie Classic Scottish Barley

Bruichladdich_Scottish_Barley

Recommended use: Serve neat

Rating: ★★★

Type: Scotch malt blend

Origin: Islay, Scotland

ABV: 50%

Nose:

Cereal, banana, caramel, creamy vanilla, peach and nectarine combine with some floral notes.

Taste:

Malty with hues of saltiness, and while initial hints of tropical fruit tease the palate, nothing really eventuates; this tastes like young whisky with unsettling bursts of alcohol. Also find some apple, cantaloupe and vanilla with very mild spice.

Finish:

Pineapple and toffee apple mostly come through on the finish.

Bottom line:

This is an overpriced whisky in my opinion – tastes young, alcoholic, rough and, according to my taste buds, undercooked and taken out of the American oak barrels prematurely. Bruichladdich will have to get this whisky back in a barrel and slap an age statement on the bottle for me to consider another look at this malt; no doubt a superbly distilled whisky, but it just tastes young.

Christmas 2015 gift ideas: 5 great whiskies under $100

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I have lost count of how many times I have, while perusing the whisky section of Dan Murphy’s (Australia’s leading liquor store), been asked by a perfect stranger something along the lines of “excuse me, could you help me choose a whiskey for a gift?”. My adoring eyes (or salivating mouth) as I admire all the lovely liquid gold must be a dead give-away! All this practice at choosing gifts for other people has led me to write a post about Christmas gift ideas for the whisky lover. In this post, I recommend ten whiskies that should tick all the boxes this Christmas depending on a gift recipient’s taste; and whether he or she has been naughty or nice.

Most true whisky lovers look beyond marketing and fancy bottles. For us, it is all about the whisky. We dare not put a whisky on display to collect dust and never be opened; that would be a waste of a spirit that has taken many years of maturation in oak casks to come into existence. These five whiskies therefore satisfy a few simple criteria: (1) they are delicious; (2) they are good value; (3) they have an interesting story that makes them a great Christmas gift. The whiskies that have made this list are readily available in leading retail chains and easily accessible. While some other whiskies certainly deserved to make this list, as they are hard to find outside certain countries, they are not mentioned here. 

# 1: Johnnie Walker Green Label 15 year old

JW Green

Price: AU$69.95 

Type: Blended malt whisky 

Age: 15 years 

Why does this whisky make a great Christmas gift?: Johnnie Walker Green Label 15 year old is a malt blend, which means that it is made up only of malt whisky and not a single drop of grain whisky. It is rare to find 15 year old malt whisky for such a great price, not least the increasingly rare Johnnie Walker Green Label. Green Label has been discontinued by Johnnie Walker, making it highly sought-after by Johnnie Walker fans including those annoying folk who collect whisky because it looks nice in display cabinets. This, in turn, has meant that the price of this whisky sky rocketed on the grey market and on eBay. However, Johnnie Walker have recently released a limited edition Johnnie Walker Green Label 15 year old. I have seen it here and there, in Port Melbourne and Melbourne city, selling like hot cakes. The good news is that it is available online via Dan Murphy’s, at a limit of 2 per customer. 

# 2: Glen Orrin 30 year old

gLEN oRRIN 30

Price: AU$99.99

Type: Blended scotch whisky

Age: 30 years 

Why does this whisky make a great Christmas gift?: Ever feel like trying a 30 year old whisky guilt free; that is, without feeling like every sip costs $50? With 30 year old blended whisky starting at around $400-$500 per bottle in the most competitive retail shops, it may be easy to feel that old whisky is simply beyond most budgets. Fear not, Aldi is here to save the day. Glen Orrin 30 year old blended Scotch whisky includes malt and grain whiskies that have matured in sherry casks for at least 30 long years in cold Scotland. It is a fine tasting whisky, and at under AU$100 it is an absolute bargain! So, get out the cut crystal glasses and savour this three decades old Scotch whisky beside the fireplace (or barbie and flies if you are in Australia). 

# 3: Glenlivet 12 year old

GLENLIVET 12

Price: AU$56

Type: Single malt 

Age: 12 years

Why does this whisky make a great Christmas gift?: The Glenlivet 12 year old is such a delight to smell and sip; truly a beautiful Speysider with notes of honey, wisps of smoke, and sweet tropical fruit. It is, however, being replaced with the no age statement Glenlivet Founders Reserve. Get a bottle, or 17, while you can. I am certainly stocking up the bunker with this fine single malt. 

# 4: New Zealand Whisky Co South Island 21 year old

nz wHISKY 21

Price: AU$99

Type: Single malt

Age: 21 years

Why does this whisky make a great Christmas gift?: On a trip to Wellington, New Zealand, I learned that New Zealand has the best craft beer; and it pains me to say it, better than Australia. The New Zealand whisky scene, however, has not shared the same heights as Australian whisky. Then NZ Whisky Co decided to release some old stock of whisky which had been aging for 21 years in ex-American oak barrels in the picturesque south island of New Zealand; better known as Middle Earth. This delightful whisky has depth and maturity that holds its own against some of the very best whiskies I have tasted, and yet it offers a unique flavour profile that I found thoroughly pleasing – and all for under $100. So I am torn, as an Aussie, in admitting that not only does New Zealand have the best beer  but it also has some pretty stellar stocks of whisky aging away. I suppose all I am left with is the pavlova debate. I won’t even mention the rugby. Seriously though, I am delighted to see whisky of such quality and great value coming out of New Zealand.

#5 Bruichladdich Islay Barley 

ISLAY BARLEY

Price: AU$99

Type: Single malt

Why does this whisky make a great Christmas gift?: Now this is a whisky with a fascinating story! Take a single grain of barley which has grown on Islay on a single field, make it into a beer and then distill the beer and put the distillate to mature in American oak barrels in Bruichladdich’s coldest warehouse. The result is spectacular. This is an interesting demonstration of the importance of “terrior” in single malt whisky; something that wine lovers would associate with the flavour which the earth in which grapes are grown imparts to the grapes which then carries through into the wine. A similar principle applies here; only prepare to taste Islay.

 

Bruichladdich Islay Barley

2007 islay barley

Rating: ★★★★

Recommendation: Buy it! 

Type: Single malt

Origin: Islay, Scotland

ABV: 50%

Price: US$50-$70 (USA), AU$106.99 (Aus), £35-£45 (UK)

Reaction: 😀

Barley is one of the core ingredients of malt whisky. Barley grains are malted, dried and then steeped in very hot water. That water (which is called “wort”) becomes infused with the sugars and flavours from the barley. It is then allowed to cool. Once cooled to an appropriate temperature, yeast is added to that water. If the water is too hot, the yeast will die. If the water is too cold, the yeast will remain dormant. If, however, the water temperature is just right the yeast will ferment the wort, and convert the sugars in the wash into alcohol. Once fermented, the wort becomes something similar to a beer without hops. That beer is called a “wash”. To make whisky, the wash is distilled to extract the alcohol from it. That distilled liquid is often called “new make”, and it is as clear as water. Along with alcohol the new make will consist of water and flavour compounds from the fermentation, which include flaours from the barley (for a fuller explanation of distilling, see: The Life of Malt Whisky Part 1).

Reflecting on the importance of barley to whisky making, it comes as no surprise that Bruichladdich – those self-proclaimed progressive Hebridean distillers – push the boundaries of the whisky world by creating a whisky that is made from barley that has been grown on the isle of Islay in Scotland. They aptly call this creation Bruichladdich Islay Barley. The barley used for this whisky was grown for Bruichladdich by Mark and Rohaise French, in the Minister’s field at Rockside Farm.  

Emblazoned on the whisky’s bottle are the words “we believe terroir matters”. The world terroir comes from French, and is commonly used to describe the land and soil of a wine producing region. It is believed that the soil in which grapes grow can influence the flavour of wine which is made from those grapes, after the juice of those grapes is fermented. Cognac makers, who distil wine into brandy, have known the importance of terroir for centuries. The most coveted Cognac is from the Grande Champagne region of Cognac, because that region has chalky soil and this soil is believed to produce grapes that are perfect for making Cognac that has finesse. Bruichladdich, standing on the shoulders of wine and brandy making giants in France, have decided to employ this theory of terroir to whisky making. This means that  the barley grown in Islay is likely, once it is used to make a wash that is distilled, to give whisky a different flavour to barley that is grown in the mainland of Scotland (or elsewhere for that matter).

Malt Mileage has been very fortunate to be able to taste Bruichladdich “new make”, with tasting notes available in The Life of Malt Whisky Part 1. This includes Bruichladdich “new make” made from Islay barley, bere barley and organic barley. The Islay barley was quite earthy and full flavoured with oils and heavy congeners weighing down the ethanol. It had earthy, herbal and peppery flavours with a foundation of vanilla, caramel, honey, chocolate, saltiness and nuttiness.  

Bruichladdich put this “new make” into oak barrels which over time give the “new make” a golden straw colour, infuse it with oak flavours and alter some of the compounds in it (for a fuller discussion of the way oak matures whisky, see: The Life of Malt Whisky Part 2.1). Bruichladdich Islay barley is unpeated, presumably to ensure that the flavour of the barley is not lost to the peat, and bottled at a generous 50% alcohol by volume.  

Eyes:

Often in Cognac circles the way a brandy looks is part of its aesthetic pleasure – its colour, the way it catches the light and clings to the glass. The colour of Bruichladdich Islay Barley is a light golden wheat colour, but the way it hugs the glass – leaving thin legs that slope down as the oily film fades – is particularly impressive.

Nose:

The bouquet is immediately quite sweet and sumptuous, with nutty Argan oil, banana, raisin, porridge, honey, whipped cream, pineapple, banana and raisin bread with crushed nuts and soft vanillas. A mild earthiness sits beneath that lovely aroma, with soft hints of pepper, mixed olives, anchovies and the backbone of the “new make” untouched by the oak- chocolate, oily nuts, nut oils and shades of golden and dark honey.  

Taste:

On the palate find vanillas and a soft creaminess, through which shines pepper, spice, mild anchovy and earthiness. There is something salty and earthy about this whisky, like a lick of rock salt and a sip of a platinum tequila. 

Finish:

The finish offers lingering flavours of honey, chocolate, nuts and a mild salt/saline. That saline is interlaced with rock and minerality, like tasting a sodium rich natural sparkling water.

Bottom line:

Buy it. Bruichladdich Islay Barley is a fascinating malt that offers a very earthy, mineral and salty character, which can only be explained by the Islay barley. This malt showcases the Islay barley without letting the wood get in the way, and it is a delicious incarnation of Islay’s saltiness, earthiness and minerality in a bottle. The French have known for centuries that the soil which feeds grapes gives brandy made from those grapes important flavours and character. Glad to see the Scots have finally caught on, with a conscious attempt at bottling a piece of Scotland… literally.

Port Charlotte PC 12

PC12

Rating: stars 4

Type: Single malt

Origin: Islay, Scotland

ABV: 58.7%

Port Charlotte PC 12 is Bruichladdich’s eighth release of the PC series, which is a series of heavily peated cask strength malts. It has been aged in oak casks for 12 years. 

Nose:

Imagine going to a coast side farmer’s festival with a bunch of cigar smokers. This bouquet is packed with barnyard aromas, wood and dry hay, with beaming heart notes of a butter, toffee, nut nougat, bubble gum, sweet rose, cinnamon, cotton candy, citrus, sweet sappy wood, and sea salt. All the while, the aroma of burning matches and the chocolaty and woodsy scent of a fresh maduro cigar gently whispers… “drink me”. The smell of Neapolitan salami and taralli, packed with anise seed, is carried by citrusy notes of lemon cake and Cointreau.

Taste:

Immediately, the sweet nip of sherry strikes the palate. It succumbs to waves of peat smoke, woodsmoke, dates, and marshmallows over a campfire of twigs and hay. There is something spectacularly complex and woodsy about this malt. Then the palate dries, buoyed by cinnamon, lime, green toffee apple, and honey.  

Finish:

The finish is smoky, peaty, peppery, woodsy, drying, spicy, and, citrusy; particularly of lime, orange peel and mouth puckering lemon meringue. Fading notes of anise seed, raisin, sarsaparilla and licorice also intermingle with warming overtones of cinnamon and pickled ginger.

Overall

Buy it. Jack Nicholson’s face has never randomly come to my mind. For some reason, I can see his raised eyebrows, trade mark smile and dark sunglasses. It might be my subconscious calling. Maybe this whisky is “As Good As It Gets”. Whatever the reason, there is very little I would change about this malt. If potent and fiery peaty malts are your thing, with a bit of sherry oak and a guaranteed 12 years of age on the clock, this is your whisky!

Bruichladdich tasting – Jim McEwan’s visit to Melbourne, Kelvin Club

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Jim McEwan, telling a story

On Wednesday 8 October 2014 over one hundred people gathered within the walls of the iconic Kelvin Club in Melbourne to meet a man who has been involved in the production of whisky for half a century. That man, ladies and gentleman, is Jim McEwan. The vast majority of people may utter the words “Jim who?”, but anyone who enjoys a dram or two (or who knows what “dram” means) will know that the name “Jim McEwan” belongs to a man who is perhaps the world’s most famous whisky distiller. Starting his career at the Bowmore distillery at the age of 15, Jim went on to learn the craft of cooperage (making or assembling barrels) before becoming the Master Distiller at the Bruichladdich distillery in Scotland, where he now plies his trade. His career in whisky has spanned half a century, and while at Bruichladdich he has gained a reputation for producing whisky that is innovative, exciting and that tastes darn good!

Over the past week or so Jim has embarked on a much anticipated national tour of major Australian cities where he has conducted a tasting of whiskies from Bruichladdich, and the scene for his visit to Melbourne was the Kelvin Club. Malt Mileage was very fortunate to secure a ticket to Jim’s visit to Melbourne.

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Bruichladdich’s The Botanist Islay Gin

On arrival at the Kelvin Club guests were greeted with gin and tonic, made with Bruichladdich’s The Botanist Islay Dry Gin – a gin made using classic aromatics that tend to be used for gin such as orris root, cassia bark and coriander seed, and, 22 other botannicals hand picked on the isle of Islay in Scotland (where Bruichladdich is located). As the bottles of gin were slowly emptied, a progression of people began to eagerly make their way to the upstairs room where Jim would be conducting the whisky tasting. The room was large, and an energy filled the air as people looked around for anyone who even remotely resembled Jim. It soon became clear that Jim is not a man to enter a room unnoticed, and to the bellowing sound of bagpipes Jim entered the room marching proudly behind a bagpiper dressed in a traditional Scottish kilt. He had arrived, and the room fell silent. “Hello”, he said happily. “Hello!”, he repeated. With a gesture of his hands, not dissimilar to the one made by an old friend who wants a hug and not a handshake, the crowd realised its mistake and finally responded “Hello Jim!”. That set the tone for what was a hilarious evening. It was not the formidable legend Master Distiller McEwan up there, ready to teach everyone about whisky. It was Jim, ready to share half a dozen drams with us and talk whisky.  

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Tasting room
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Jim making about about “E150”

One of the first points Jim made was that the colour of a whisky is meaningless, because caramel (the oft-called “E150”) may be added to whisky and therefore its colour is not a reliable indicator of its age or the type of casks that were used to mature the whisky. This was demonstrated by Jim pouring cola into a glass of whisky, which darkened it, and with this altered colour he sarcastically observed whether the whisky – now dark in colour – was matured in Fino sherry casks for a number of years. This was a good point made by Jim, but it was also a confusing point given that Bruichladdich do not add caramel colouring to their whisky. The colour of Bruichladdich whisky therefore is a clue as to what casks were used to mature the whisky, though admittedly Jim is correct that a whisky’s colour reveals nothing about its age.  

SONY DSCOn tasting were whiskies in the Bruichladdich range – the Laddie Classic, Islay Barley 2006, Black Art v3, Port Charlotte Scottish Barley and Octomore 6.1. All whiskies were impressive and thoroughly enjoyable, and my picks of the evening would be the Islay Barley 2006 and Black Art v3 (curiously both of which are – despite Islay being the heartland of peat – made without peat) and the Octomore 6.1 which, despite having a terrifying 300ppm as the world’s most heavily peated whisky, is surprisingly well balanced and complex.

With wobbly knees from all the whisky and a measure of gin, we were made to stand with one foot on the table and one foot on our chairs while yelling out a Scottish toast which lasted several minutes (and almost saw me fall face first into some leftover Octomore – yes please!). The evening then ended, and the mood soon deflated. Everybody had to go home, but I get the feeling no one really wanted to – there was still plenty of whisky, and Jim’s jokes and humour left us all in a state of constant laughter (it was either Jim, or the whisky).   SONY DSCSONY DSC

Overall, Jim’s visit to Melbourne was a fun-filled journey through the Bruichladdich range that was filled with laughter, jokes and some whisky education in between. If you see Jim, tell him Gunta is at the door – he’ll know what I mean!