On August 31, 2019 we gathered in beautiful Niagara On The Lake for our summer meet. The setting: A vineyard property. The weather: Perfect Scottish drinking temps (approx. 21 degrees celsius). The subject: A Hebridean distillery known for is natural presentation, Bruichladdich. The name, pronounced “Brook-laddie” is a Gaelic word, often interpreted as “stony shore bank”, speaking to it’s geographic location on Islay. This distillery has become known for it’s natural colour, non-chill filtered, “grain-to-glass” whiskies, usually bottled at 50% ABV or higher! All the things us whisky nerds love to see. They never shy away from openly communicating what is found in the bottle, and they routinely experiment with an idea called terroir…the characteristic taste and flavour imparted to a whisky by the environment in which it is produced. This commonly shows itself in bottlings of whisky named after the farm at which the barley was grown, or distinguishing whether they’ve used Scottish barley (from the highlands) or Islay barley. Connoisseurs love this stuff, and we do too!
Possibly at the height of Bruichladdich’s experimentation lyes it’s line of unusually heavily peated whiskies called Octomore. These batches started out as the brain-child of Master Distiller Jim McEwan who joined Bruichladdich back in 2000, just as the brand was reinventing itself. A quote from the official website, ” Jim’s achievements and accolades are innumerable. His creation of Octomore, the world’s most heavily peated whisky series, and then the innovation behind The Botanist Islay Dry Gin cemented his reputation as one of the greatest distillers of his generation.” Creating a tasting flight to properly represent a distillery, and a man like Jim McEwan, is a tall order. But our host for the evening, Gary Wiens, did an excellent job of it.
The night started off with a round of gin+tonic using The Botanist Islay dry gin, which is a blend of 22 botanicals sourced locally. This was also used as a method of foreshadowing what was to come, as this started out as a blind tasting. A select few caught a glimpse of the bottle of gin, and knew what we were in store for! Next, we dove into our flight of four, set before us in covered glasses. The colour of the whisky was easily telling of what was in store.
Even if the picture doesn’t do it justice, in person it was easy to see a progression of colour from light to dark. The dram on the far left was our starting point: Classic Laddie. The perfect introduction to Bruichladdich, it is unpeated, uncoloured, non-chill filtered to preserve it’s flavour, bottled at 50%, and an interesting example of what the coastal climate on Islay can taste like without the customary peat smoke. Some in our group came to this meeting having already established it as one of their favourites! It is also a great value for those thinking of keeping a bottle at home. At the time of this writing, the LCBO sells it for $74.95, but often it can be found on-sale into the $65 range! Next up was Port Charlotte (NAS) as well as Port Charlotte 10yo, Bruichladdish’s peated range measured at 40ppm. This was interesting to see what extra time in the cask does to the same core spirit. The 10 year old was rounded with more subtle complexity, and fruitier! Meanwhile, the younger version had a more raw spiritiness with some smoked pork, and vegetal peat. Depending on who you talked to, both versions had their cheering squad, neither could be declared “the better” of the two. Then, moving on to the coup de gras, was the Octomore 10yo 2016 second limited release. We had bottle # 16,043 of 18,000. This iteration of Octomore was aged a minimum of 10 years in both Bourbon and Grenache Blanc casks in an ancient stone warehouse by Loch Indaal. Peated to 167ppm and bottled at 57.3% ABV, the real surprise here was how drinkable it was! This was an approachable Islay single malt, with subtle complexity, a totally counter-intuitive experience to what you might expect on paper. We are fortunate to have experienced some of the best that Islay has to offer, and a hearty “Thank you” to Gary for sourcing these cost effectively! This was an example of what we strive to do as the Niagara Whisky Society…pool our resources and assemble tastings of whisky we may never have the opportunity to try on our own. A great night was had by all, and we look forward to our next meeting!
- The Botanist Islay Dry Gin
- Bruichladdich Classic Laddie
- Port Charlotte
- Port Charlotte 10
- Octomore 10 years (2016 second limited release)