It’s party time on Islay! Fèis Ìle Day Two typically sees the entire island descend on Bruichladdich for a music-filled, dram-fuelled shindig. And 2019’s festival stayed true to form!
“It’s always sunny on Bruichladdich Day.” It’s a saying often heard on Islay. And when we first set off this morning, windscreen wipers essential, it seemed this was going to be the anomalous year. We parked up early, all ready for Kenny, our filmmaker, to get set up, and the drizzle was ON (luckily for the hordes of festival release-seekers lining up down the street, there was no return to the deluge of Lagavulin Day).
First up: the Octomore Event Horizon masterclass with head distiller, Adam Hannett! We wandered up to Warehouse 12, located round the back of the distillery, and we were in for a right treat. We knew in advance that this year’s Fèis Ìle release was an Octomore, and, in fact, the whole day was largely Octomore-themed. What we didn’t know was that the distillery bottling was the oldest liquid ever released from the brand, and we certainly didn’t anticipate the other treats that were in store!
The Bruichladdich day masterclass has proved so popular that this year places were allocated via ballot. As you arrived, you were funnelled through a dark corridor filled with really rather ethereal sounds. Kind of fitting then that the audio setting the scene, a recording of the sounds actual stars make, was supplied by NASA (yes, off of the space agency)!
There were 250 other whisky geeks packed into the cathedral-like warehouse. Among us was none other than Valérie Chapoulaud-Floquet, CEO of Bruichladdich’s parent company, Rémy Cointreau! No pressure on Hannett, then..! The tasting was also streamed around the world on the distillery’s social channels. Do check out the Bruichladdich YouTube page if you fancy getting the full shebang!
He introduced the six cask-strength, natural colour drams for the session (practically breakfast) but declined to say much about two of them. Interest was certainly piqued at this point! Dram one, according to Hannett, was “too young, too peaty, too strong” – it was a tongue-in-cheek statement designed to provoke a response. We tasted the five year old expression, peated to 107 parts per million (ppm) and bottled at 59.8% ABV. I think it’s safe to say he got his response – one that confirmed that whisky can be seriously tasty at any age, ABV or ppm count.
Dram 2 was similar to dram one – except it had been left to mature for another eight years, making it 13 years old. It had spent time in both ex-bourbon and ex-sweet wine casks, and was rich and oily, yet simultaneously confectionery-led with a subdued smoke element. It was peated to 167ppm and bottled at 57.5% ABV, proving the point that what you do with the liquid post production has a huge impact on how easily perceived peat is. Dram 3 was peated to a whopping 309.1ppm – the peatiest Octomore, and indeed Scotch single malt, ever. Distilled in 2011 and matured in both ex-bourbon and ex-red wine casks, the 60.7% ABV liquid was as complex as it was bewildering. Despite the hefty malt specification, the smoke was barely there on the nose; instead it was like a syrupy cinnamon bun. It did arrive on the palate, but it was much more relaxed than expected. Even the ABV contributed a textural prickle, rather than an all-out alcohol frazzle. What is this Octomore alchemy?!
The next dram was fully matured in virgin French heavily toasted oak for a smidge over three years – and again it proved confounding. Despite its youth, it was rich and rounded (the only thing to let slip its age was that rubbery bounce often found in younger spirits). And, despite the ppm measure only reaching a fraction of dram 3 at 88, it was a bit of a peat monster. “It challenges the convention” of three year old whisky, Hannett said. He is not wrong.
The final two drams were, for me, the absolute highlight. Dram 5 was the festival bottling! We collared Hannett himself for a chat about it afterwards – you can watch it all right here:
Then. Wow. What can be said about dram six?! “It’s a Black Art style of Octomore,” Hannett explained, meaning the cask type is kept largely under wraps. What he did disclose is that the youngest spirit was distilled in 2011, and, because of the range of casks its drawn from, the ppm measure is “impossible to calculate”. Here’s the fun bit: not only was it seriously delicious and really quite elegant (all coffee, toffee, vanilla notes, with apple pie, milk chocolate and cinnamon doughnuts, the 59.5% expression has a “backbone” from one of the only two Octomore casks filled in 2002. For that reason, it’s never going to be released. It’s magic though, and it was an honour to get to taste it.
Guess what? We emerged from the masterclass and the sun was shining! We descended to the main Bruichladdich yard with haste! The bands were on, there was all kinds of food (including both vegan and gluten-free options!) and, of course, the drams were flowing. Punters could go and check out the dram tent, with an array of complimentary options from across the Bruichladdich portfolio. Or, head up through the yard to the Botanist Cocktail Tent. The flower-filled space had garnish-your-own B*&T options and an enormous cocktail bar with whisky as well as gin serves (we highly recommend the Laddie Tea Time, made with Classic Laddie, lemon balm, Verveine tea, sorrel, and ginger. Yum). Opposite in the Malt Bar was almost the full Bruichladdich portfolio available to buy by the dram, plus an enormous range of Islay Ales – the perfect refresher after all that Octomore! (There was a whole host of local wares for sale in the Islay Arts & Crafts space, too. Ideal for gifts!) Speaking of gifts, we had our freebies for you lots too. We’re at every distillery open day this week giving away drams of our exclusive All Islay Blended Malt and matching t-shirts. Because everyone wants to co-ord with their drink. Come and find us to bag yours!
It wouldn’t be Bruichladdich Open Day without a stellar music line up, and this year did not disappoint. Skerryvore kicked things off, before Trail West took to the stage. And then our Rhythm and Booze Project pals rounded things off once more! The whole yard was grooving. Add in the sunshine and that array of boozes, and there was nowhere else on the island to be! And as well as giving folks the best time, Bruichladdich also did its part for the local Port Charlotte primary school. A bunch of incredible bottles (and a clootie dumpling) were auctioned off to raise funds for the school, Marie Curie Cancer Care, and other brilliant causes. Great stuff, folks!
We were, of course, also on dog look-out once again. From a parade of very fancy poodles to the waggiest and fluffiest of mutts, and even an actual doge(!) the quality of hound was once again high. Bravo, whisky-loving poochie parents!
We even rounded off the day with a motoring feat**, Turns out, Kenny, our filmmaker, is not a one-trick pony. Not only can he shoot, cut, stitch together and the like, he’s also a car manoeuvring fiend. We all know parking is tight at distillery days, but he managed to wiggle the car out of the tiniest of spots. Well done, sir!
*The Botanist, obvs.
** No bollards were harmed in the making of this blog post.