As far as whisky tastings go, besides Ian MacArthur being the most entertaining and legendary. This was my favorite whisky tasting in all of Scotland. To me at least, Bruichladdich is one of the most experimental and curiosity-provoking distilleries in Islay, with some of the weirdest cask maturation, from Bourbon to Mouton Rothschild, to Chateau Latour, to Chateau Yquem casks. They also at any given time have 2 casks that they display in the tasting room for you to fill yourself from their Valinch Series. The master distiller here, Jim McEwan, whom I believe has retired, was here for 52 years. They made a special bottle for him to commemorate his 52 years of wizardry called “The Final Act of Creation” which I posted earlier in my Islay House post, but I will re-plug this photo as this is a bottle I need to have in my collection one day.
I’d keep an eye on Ardanhoe Distillery as the Master (Jim McEwan) came out of retirement to help this new distillery out, which is set to launch in 2018, but is still under construction. It will become Islay’s 9th Distillery.
As soon as this place opens, this will call for another mandatory Scotland trip. I can imagine the inaugural release from this distillery becoming a major collector’s item.
Now onto the tasting. They had quite an expansive warehouse.
I really enjoyed the thick, savory, syrupy mouthfeel of the wine-cask matured whiskeys we tried. I specifically came with empty mini-whisky bottles to fill up Erika’s portion of the tasting with any additional revisits I would be allowed, to savor for future enjoyment. I just had the Mouton Rothschild the other day to refresh my memory of this for the blog and it was as fucking amazing as the first time I tried it. This will never be bottled, it was more of a rare experimental thing. This is very hard to come by.
In comparison to some of the other visitors we had on the tour with us who do not like being able to taste something that they cannot buy, I feel that more distillery tours should charge a little more and let those who haul their asses all the way to Scotland get a little somethin’ somethin’ that people not dedicated enough to visit the distillery won’t be able to just buy with an online click.
So here goes. It smelled first of all like one of my favorite smells, fart. It had like a cooked cabbage almost sulfur smell to it, likely from the reduction of the wine. I also got some bacon notes denoting the strong smokiness from the wood, like old hickory wood. I also got like buttered popcorn and cereal scents on the nose. On the mouth it was sweet and peat, mild spice on the palate, very oily mouthfeel, just oozes around your tongue like syrup. Oily with a long finish with bitter dark chocolate at the very end. Then at the very end, a scent that was eluding me finally came together like a puzzle, it totally smelled like a freshly baked gingerbread cookie. Totally fun tasting experience, it’s like one flavor after another, but they took turns like they were coming out one at a time in a graduation procession.
On this trip, I really wanted Erika to broaden her whisky repertoire as it is a proven fact that women are better nosers for whisky than men. This was supported by numerous studies and even backed up by Mr. Ian MacArthur from Lagavulin, on the previous post.
Here is the article, don’t take my word for it.
Here is another whacky experiment. They took a true-blue Scottish whisky of Bruichladdich and let it mature in the American red-neck Jim Beam bourbon for the first 23 years and Jack Daniels whisky casks for another 5 years, to come up with this 29-year-old love child. Hearing the contrast between white trash Jim Beam and Jack Daniels to the elegance of a Bruichladdich was jarring, to say the least. It’s like imagining Donald Trump on his golf course in Scotland. Just to give you another example of some good old red-neck M’erican patriotism, I mean racism, just take a look at this article.
The taste was far from jarring though. It was a nice cask strength specimen at 53%. Here are my tasting impressions with this red-necked/blue-faced single malt:
Bacon, bacon, bacon, honey, strong peat overtone, almost like a tall man in a crowd whose head sticks out over the crowd, rubber, mezcal, Iberico ham fat, latex condom, the smell you get when you open a fresh can of tennis balls, smoked Christmas ham.
Before moving on to the palate, I thought I’d add another layer here. After I finished the dram, I left a drop in it, forgot about it for an hour, and when I came back to wash the glass, I took a whiff it smelled intensely like maple syrup, cotton candy, burnt caramel, honeysuckle, it was absolutely crazy, like these scents got stuck to the inside of the dram. This must be the chemicals from the bourbon cask.
On the palate, very sweet, no bitterness at all, a tingling spice that starts fizzing with small bubbles like Alka-Seltzer but just slowly sizzles and spreads across your mouth, almost a mouth-numbing type of spice rather than a stinging spice. Like Szechuan peppercorn, but very mild, but then upon swishing in the mouth, it coats the entire palate like oxtail fat.
After a few drops of water totally changes, flan, creme caramel with a burnt top, custard, rice pudding, eggy, almost like an old Kodak film developing room. Reminded me of the X-ray developing room that I would walk into as a medical student. No spice at all with the water, more charcoal notes from the smoke, took on more of an evaporation feeling in the mouth, ethanol vapors.
Here was how I transported the mini’s in my luggage in case it leaked:
Here was the scene before I took tasting notes. I actually fucked up and stuck the labels on the opposite bottles. The lighter colored one, almost pale lemon color is actually the Yquem, and the darker one is the Jim Beam/Jack Daniels which I actually liked better, to my surprise.
Though I did not have a picture of the casks, we then had an amazing mind-blowing Octomore 4.2 Comus 7-year-old matured in Chateau Yquem casks, which was at 57%. What a unique combination of sauterne and whisky. Chateau Yquem is a world-famous Sauterne, dessert wine. Some may fault this whisky for its lack of harmony with the flavors, but I have to give it to McEwan, it’s one hell of a complex and weird one. Here is some fascinating backstory on the name. Bill Cosby would like this whisky.
“Comus” was a play by Milton, performed in 1634, and I suppose largely forgotten. Comus was the son of Bacchus and Circe and would use his “potions” to ensnare an innocent young woman and take her virginity. Ew. Well done, McEwan – you named your whisky after a rapist armed with roofies.
Here are my nosing notes on the Cosby juice:
On the nose, it was much much better than the palate. I got verbena lemon, key lime pie, sour yeasts, grappa, fun dip powdered candy, valentines heart hard candy kind of like a chalky scent…
Some menthol coming through at the end, medicinal band-aid glue scents. The first impression was instantly old Pledge wood cleaner. It smelled just like this, it was uncanny…
On the palate intense spice, like a rude awakening, bitter metallic finish, peat came through as I exhaled. With a few drops of water, the spice mellowed out a bit, and amazingly brought out the sandalwood flavors, suntan lotion, sour yeast, wet brown bread, less bitter, more toasty notes. Envelope glue when you lick the envelope to seal it, back of a stamp kind of bitter and sweet flavor.
More wine cask maturation. Chateau Lafite Rothschild. Another kick-ass First Growth Bordeaux. Similar to the Chateau Mouton Rothschild tasted above. Quick brush up on First Growth wines that were initially classified by Napoleon, and further codified by other famous figures in history like Thomas Jefferson. There are five 1st growths.
- Chateau Margaux
- Chateau Latour
- Chateau Haut-Brion
- Chateau Lafite Rothschild
- Chateau Mouton Rothschild
To complicate matters, Chateau Yquem is in a class all it’s own. It’s in a category called Superior First growth, or Premier Cru Supérieur in French. To complicate matters even further, with Bordeaux, unlike other wine varieties, the Premier Cru wines are higher in status than the Grand Cru wines, which is the opposite for most other French wine, where Grand Cru is best. The French with all their rules, not only in their grammar but also their wine.
The only reason I go through this tutorial is to highlight how we had three whiskys that were matured in casks from this elitist group of wines. Again, this is what I expect when I go on a distillery tour, backstage access, like a horny groupie. This is why I ranked Bruichladdich as THE BEST whisky tasting warehouse tour in all of Scotland.
It was pretty cold in here too, so the whisky warming you up while you are freezing your ass off was an added experience.
Erika always spots a prime photo opp with Jerry and I. Too bad my photography skills suck and she does not get any reciprocity in this domain. Look at that black mold/moss on the walls eating up all that Angel’s share. I am curious if NOMA would consider doing some sort of food experiment with “Black moss from Bruichladdich distillery walls” in one of their food pairings and actually pair it with one of these whiskys. Now that would be epic.
Did I mention how huge this warehouse was?
Their trademark aqua blue is quite nice btw. I bought my friend Amaury, who is an avid cycler, that cycling shirt pictured above. His Mexico City physician friends are going to think he is a Narco or something with his esoteric appreciation for single malt Islay whisky.
I got two of these little bottles that I filled myself directly out of the two different casks they had on display, and put on my own label on it, had it vacuum sealed, etc. Totally worth it to come to the distillery as these whiskeys are only sold here. The one below seriously tasted like brown sugar coated, maple syrup marinated Canadian bacon, cooked to a black crisp. This was some serious lip-smacking animal funk combined with the sweet and smoky notes mentioned. Like the Jim Beam/Jack Daniels, that I tasted above but even funkier.
This is primarily the whisky that I drink when I am out on the balcony all by myself with very little distraction, so I don’t have to talk to anyone or think too hard. It almost requires total solitude with no distractions, to just take slow sips of this, let it sit on my tongue, stare into the distance, appreciate the aftertaste and long finish, then repeat as soon as the finish starts to fade. It has no fancy wine cask finish, it’s not a highly rated sought after bottle where there are only 100 in the world, it’s just my little secret.
This single cask malt was matured for 13 Years in a Bourbon Cask. The label is featuring Rhona MacLean, Laddie Shop Assistant. It was number 34 in this Valinch series that you can only buy at the distillery. Seriously hefty at 64% alcohol!!!!
Here I am putting the label on it and they vacuum seal it and tag it for customs, etc.
Here is the other cask they had out that I took home with me, that I ended up filling up myself. If you replace the word (cask) in the last sentence with (skank) it would sound very lascivious. Check out the stats on this. 10 year old, 63.2%, 1st fill Pomerol, which is a powerful, very masculine Cab-like flavored Bordeaux wine. It too, had a lot of peaty undertones, giving it that hickory smoke-like flavor and scent, but it had some animal funk in there too. This is going to sound very strange, but it almost had a salty savoriness to it, like aged cheddar. You know that aged umami you get from a Hook’s 20-year cheddar, with that mouth coating, nutty, dark, unctuous flavor.
Wow, after the peat dies off I get that cereal mash taste on the tongue. Slightly bitter on the palate from the Pomerol tannin I’m assuming. Very complex, fascinating. I am loving wine cask finishes now.
The Pomerol finish was interesting. On the one hand, the smell on the nose was very invitingly alluring, but then on the palate, it was slightly guarded and pushed you away. So it does this thing where it pulls you in and then pushes you away, almost like sadomasochistic sex. Just when you think you are safe you get slapped, but then the dominatrix purs like a cat as you smell her, then you go for a taste and get your chain yanked back again. Very strange indeed. They should have given this a nickname like they did the Comus, but instead, the Marquis de Sade. This would be the perfect label.
Finally, some Port Charlotte matured in Cognac casks. Again, loving the bizarro choices of casks they had here.
This one clocks in at a little under 58% alcohol, but the spice on this is even more intense than the 64% and 63.2% specimens above. The spice just attacks your mouth and cheeks like you are drinking battery acid, the skin on my cheeks started sloughing off after rinsing my mouth with this. My eyes were watering as I coughed alcohol vapors. It had an intense cigar ash, sootiness to it as well, strong peat notes, but like a gooey caramel taste after the burn wears off. Definitely fun, but hard to drink quickly, like having Louisianna hot chicken, enjoyable and exciting but leaves you in tears and sweating.
Do not miss this distillery. If you only have time for one distillery on Islay, you must come here. You will leave very happy with treasures you will take home to enjoy for years to come. They are the most varied distillery, they have something for everyone. They have a series called the Black Arts, that come in so many iterations it’s not even funny. They have the Port Charlotte whiskys, and of course the Octomores. The 8 series is highly collectible, and it is the world’s most heavily peated.
Here is the master distiller Jim McEwan himself telling you about his Black Art 3, known as the “Sexiest Whisky in the World”. I like his commentary, “have a word with your wife if you only find 2 drops left in the bottle.” He won’t disclose anything about the casks or ingredients, it’s a total secret.
I really like the educational value of this next video. It really explains how every ounce of experience and memory he has gained through working in the business translates to the end product.
I can’t end this post without my favorite noser’s thoughts. I actually bought this bottle of Black Arts 1990 after first trying it at the famous 3 Michelin Star Grace restaurant in Chicago. Hurst cracks me up. His mannerisms, perverted voice and orgasmic facial expressions are priceless. I totally mean this in an endearing, not derogatory way. “What a rollercoaster ride!” “You almost don’t want to swallow it!”