Last night I headed to another of the monthly whiskey tastings put on by Glengarry’s. The focus was Bruichladdich, an Islay distillery I am not too familiar with.
Bruichladdich is the only independent distillery on Islay, getting rescued from mothballing by a group of private investors in 2000. The distillery is highly traditional. Indeed it is almost backwards looking in its strong local focus. For example, it uses Victorian production methods, bottles on site, and is gradually moving towards using only locally grown organic barley. In terms of peating levels it produces the most lightly peated whiskeys on Islay, though it has plans to introduce some products that will out-peat anything else around. The tall stills lend the spirit a light and delicate character. Not being chill filtered, the whiskeys are relatively oily. Supposedly you can test this by dipping your finger in a glass, then waiting for the whiskey to drop off your finger. The idea is that a chill filtered whiskey will form a drop that falls from your finger, while a non-chill filtered whiskey will simply torment your patience. This sounded safe to try at home. Based on my experiments, either I have no chill filtered whiskey in the house or I lack the patience for this type of empirical research.
The brand representative previously having been a barman we started off unconventionally, with a cocktail made from the 12 year old Bruichladdich, vanilla sugar, lemon juice, lemoncello and muddled pineapple, garnished with lime leaf. Very tasty. The whiskey and pineapple combination reminded me a little of the Algonquin, though obviously this was a lighter and fruitier drink.
Seven whiskeys followed:
- 12 year old: Light, citrusy, a bit of honey. This was more an aperitif whiskey. I could not help thinking it might make a good mizuwari. Perhaps it would be too delicate though.
- 15 year old: Finished with 40 weeks in sauterne casks, this was richer and smoother than the 12 year old. It shared many of the same characteristics though, with the extra complexity and depth seeing the honey become honeycomb. A compromise between an aperitif and a sipper.
- 18 year old: Bruichladdich use some unusual wine casks to finish their whiskeys. This one is aged in a bourbon cask (as were the others), then finished in a German red pinot desert wine cask. There were mangoes and tropical fruit on the nose, with this fruitiness mixing with a little peat in the mouth.
- Links K Club 14 year old: The unusual pink color may have resulted from the syrah cask finish. The nose was intensely alcoholic. That gave way to a fragrant winey taste in the mouth, eventually replaced by a little peat. The finish was very long. The addition of some water softened it up and rounded the edges – an improvement given its intensity.
- Legacy V 33 year old: This one was only 40% alcohol by volume, making it the weakest of the evening. I went and messed it up by adding water after my initial tasting. It did not taste like it needed water, but I usually taste a whiskey first straight and then with water. The addition of water (usually just a few drops) typically opens up the flavors, changing the dimensions of the whiskey and generally improving it. Water was a mistake in this case though. Anyway, pre-drowning the whiskey was a light, delicate, fruity affair, with a strong apple peel characteristic, reinforced with vanilla-laced wood. Other people reckoned it was seaweedy but I did not really get that. Post-drenching it tasted, well. . . watery.
- Moine Mhor 3D: This was full on peaty whiskey, with a fruity character. While the flavor was intense the finish was kind of short and lacking in complexity.
- Port Charlotte 6 year old: This was easily the most intense whiskey of the night, with 40 parts per million of peat (right up there with Ardberg) and 60% alcohol by volume. Obviously it was peaty, and alongside the peat some medicinal notes, and some of the funky ‘old socks’ taste that characterizes Laphroaig. An interesting whiskey.
The good thing about tastings like these is getting the chance to try a range of whiskeys, sample stuff that would not normally be on your radar, and perhaps learn why what you are tasting differs from your usual favorites. Left to my own devices I would probably keep buying peaty Islay whiskeys like Laphroaig, so trying some of the lighter offerings is very interesting.