Islay 2014: Bruichladdich Warehouse Experience | Mashtun and Meow: Sheffield Beer Blog

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Islay 2014: Bruichladdich Warehouse Experience

Ohh Bruichladdich.


Bruichladdich became our favourite whisky distillery during our first visit to Islay, when we arrived on the island as relative newbies to the glorious nectar. Their innovation, knowledge and enthusiasm is clear throughout the entire process, and the experimental nature of the whiskies they produce is second to none. Since then, we've sampled a more extensive range of their drams and been consistently surprised and delighted by the whisky they make. We knew that on our recent trip we wanted to find out more than the standard distillery tour can offer, and so we booked ourselves onto the warehouse experience.
The event itself takes place in the first warehouse directly behind the main production house of the distillery, in a wooden floored building filled with rows of barrels, the light smell of oak and the mist of the angels' share. We were led by Raymond, our exuberant guide for the afternoon, halfway down the rows of barrels into an opening where three casks lay. Moving deeper into the warehouse from this point I can only imagine that amongst the secrets of Jim McEwan lies the Arc of the Covenant. The first two casks were not obviously marked, but the third filled us instantly with glee as it was brandished with our favourite 8 letter word. Octomore. But we had to contain our excitement as that, quite rightly, was to be left until last.
Our experience opened with a 25 year old Bourbon cask Laddie: an unpeated delight distilled in 1989, weighing in at 53.5% ABV. This light, fruity whisky was the perfect starting point for the tasting: a softly sweet nose, singing of honey and vanilla-laden creme brulee, which gave way to a fresh, citrussy palate. This whisky was happily described by Raymond as a suitable replacement for milk on cereal and frankly I'd be happy with the switch. This felt a particular treat for us too as it was the first ever dram either of us have had from our birth year!

Laura learning the ways of the Valinch!
The second generously measured whisky was a 2005 Port Charlotte. This was certainly a step-up in terms of peatedness, although due to being aged in a Spanish Grenache cask, it also had a deliciously sumptuous winey quality on the nose. The palate allowed the smoke to come through, with the age of the whisky also providing a much larger heat all the way around the taste. This was a really well rounded whisky that due to the excellent choice of cask built flavour and sophistication over its nine years, whilst still maintaining a prickly heat of peat all the way through the drink and down to the stomach.

Then we came to the pièce de résistance, possibly our favourite whisky we have ever drunk (and we rarely agree quite so thoroughly!): The Octomore Chateau d'Yquem. This was also the rarest of the bunch, as the cask we where drinking from was so close to its end that there may now be none left, and it's only other counter part will not be released to the public or used as another tasting barrel for events like these - instead, it will be at the mercy of Jim McEwan.

While this barrel of Octomore (produced as a prototype for the now commercially available releases) hadn't been peated as highly as the bottled release, it still packs a 80.5ppm punch. For this dram we were all told to wait for everyone to be served a dram then all to drink in synchrony. Although there were only six glasses to be filled from the valinch, the low level of precious liquid left in the barrel meant it took a few return trips to the cask. While we waited, the aroma rose from the glass instantly with a significant white wine sweetness.


3... 2... 1....... PHWOAR.

Instantly the strength coupled with the peat punch was apparent, warming up through the nose and powering around the head. Allowing the whisky some time on the palate meant that the sweetness of the cask swept in, finding parts of the mouth that had never been stimulated before and balancing out the smokiness. On the swallow, the tingly numbness of the peat was left behind alongside the delightful charms of the wine cask, which nurtured a lovely warm feeling in the belly. The Octomore series clearly has its roots in experimentation, and it works phenomenally well. We'll definitely be on the lookout for a release of the 310ppm version which we've heard is currently relaxing in the warehouse.

Having found out that Bruichladdich had been bought by Remy Cointreau shortly after our trip in 2012, we were a bit apprehensive that some of their fiercely independent spirit would have been lost by the time we returned this year, but we absolutely needn't have worried. The warehouse experience - part whisky tasting, part stand up comedy gig thanks to Raymond's excellent patter - was the highlight of our entire holiday. All the distilleries on Islay really make the effort to ensure the whisky pilgrims are well looked after, but for the warehouse tour Bruichladdich went the extra mile. We felt totally spoilt by the stunning whiskies on offer, and are still in awe that we've tasted something incredible that only hundreds of people in the whole world will ever be able to try.
L-R: Our holiday pals Jimmy and Jasmine, Jim, Raymond, and Laura
We spent the rest of the afternoon playing a selection of tunes on a little Bruichladdich guitar, forgetting we'd already eaten our lunch and napping on the beach. Top day.

Slainte,

J&L

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