This week’s New Arrival is a single cask Bruichladdich bottled by Hunter Laing and filled in the early ‘90s when the future of the distillery looked far from certain.
Islay had a rough time in the ‘80s and ‘90s. A downturn in the Scotch whisky industry meant that there wasn’t such a demand for malts, especially such distinct ones. Port Ellen closed 1983 and was partly demolished. Others escaped a similar fate only by a whisker, distilleries like Ardbeg and the one we’re looking at today, Bruichladdich.
The distillery dates back to 1881 when it was founded by three brothers: Robert, William and John Harvey. It was a purpose-built distillery, state of the art for the time. As is the way with Scotch whisky distilleries, except Glenfarclas, it changed hands a number of times before settling down with Invergordon Distillers (now part of Whyte & Mackay) from the 1960s until the ‘90s. Bruichladdich was largely used in blends. At some point in the ‘60s peat was abandoned and the maltings fired by coal instead. So, unlike its neighbours, most Bruichladdich is unpeated. It’s not your typical Islay single malt.
After some uncertain years, the distillery finally closed in 1994 and was mothballed. That may have been it but a London wine merchant called Mark Reynier was an enormous fan, selling quantities through his business and was heartbroken at his favourite distillery’s closure. As you do, he decided that he was going to buy it. After being rebuffed by the distillery’s owners for many years, he put together a consortium who finally managed to purchase Bruichladdich in 2000. He had two strokes of luck in bringing the name back from the dead. Firstly, the distillery was largely intact and was able to get the original equipment, including a 19th-century cast-iron mash tun, six Oregon pine washbacks and four swan-necked stills, working again. Secondly, Islay whisky hero Jim McEwan was retiring from Bowmore at about the same time and rather than settle into a life of golf and Saga holidays, was looking for a new challenge. It was the start of a beautiful friendship. McEwan’s role in the Bruichladdich revival is portrayed in the film The Golden Dram.
Bruichladdich began working again in 2001 and since then has become famous for doing things a little bit differently. The packaging to start with, you’ll find no tartan or Monarchs of the Glen here. The team has stayed true to the elegant Bruichladdich style with unpeated whisky but they also make the heavily-peated Port Charlotte and the oh-my-god-it’s-so-peaty Octomore (named after a local spring). There’s also an excellent Botanist gin made using a Lomond still which appeared in 2010. All the whiskies are created from Scottish barley and there have been releases made with a rare archaic cereal called bere. If you want to talk about terroir in whisky, it’s a good place to start.
Talking of terroir, Reynier’s latest venture is the Waterford Distillery in Ireland making true single estate whiskey, as well as Renegade rum looking to do a similar thing on the island of Grenada. Bruichladdich was bought by Remy Cointreau in 2012 but seems to have kept what made the distillery special.
But all this in the future when our New Arrival was distilled. In 1991, it was filled into a refill hogshead (cask number 16883 to be exact) and there it lay for 28 years before being bottled (at cask strength 50.7% ABV with no chill filtering) by Hunter Laing, the Glasgow-based independent bottler who last year moved into distilling with Ardnahoe on Islay. This expression is part of its ‘First Editions’ range, about which the company said:
“As the name may suggest, each cask is carefully selected to evoke the qualities of a rare literary volume – those of character and collectability. Colour-coding on the labels denotes the particular regions the whiskies themselves are from and each bottle is individually numbered and presented in a gift tube. A ‘First Editions’ bottling without doubt makes a valuable addition to anyone’s whisky library.”
But don’t just leave it on the shelf in your whisky library, you can also drink it. Only 295 bottles have been filled. It’s a slice of history that’s unlikely to hang around.
Tasting note by The Chaps at Master of Malt:
Nose: Grassy malt with honeyed cereal, sea breeze and melted butter.
Palate: Spicier than the nose suggests, with cinnamon, nutmeg and toasted oak. Lots of apricot, pear and apple following on.
Finish: Layers of toffee, oat, lemon and black pepper.
Bruichladdich 28 Year Old 1991 (cask 16883) – The First Editions (Hunter Laing) is available now.