The Whisky Tasting Club

day 2: Sunday 22nd. Bruichladdich day

What promises to be a rare glimpse of the sun made us rush out at 8 am to take advantage. We started with a short walk close to Bridgend to the site of an old fort at Dun Nosebridge. We have a new walks book this year, which is more comprehensive than the one we used last year.

This is a pleasant walk through woods and fields leading to a hill that offers good views across the is island from the location of an old Danish fort (of which nothing remains). It is about 2 miles there and back and easy going. It is quite muddy and there are sheep and cows around, so wellies and lead are required.  After this walk the weather seemed to be holding, so we went for a drive round the Rhinns. First stop Portnhaven. This is a lovely village on the tip of the Rhinns which has a distinct Cornish and Artisianal feel. Neat white painted cottages line the cliff surrounding a small harbour, where a few small fishing boats ply their trade. The dogs roam free and are very friendly. There is a short promenade around the headland where four years ago we saw basking sharks.

The book has three walks in this area, but we just mooched around a bit and had a coffee and cake at a nice little place at the top of the hill. There is a small island with a lighthouse just off the village and according to the walk book you can ask at the shop or bar and someone will row you over for a small fee.

Still making hay, we took the northern loop road back to port charlotte. There are several beaches on this north coast, but unfortunately they are only accessible via fields populated by livestock and Arby does like to worry sheep. Its still a great scenic drive that gets one thinking about what it would be like to live here. A very poetic lifestyle, but we think it might drive us nuts!

The Bruichladdich event doesn’t start until 12, so we decided to continue our Rhinns tour up to our favourite place on Islay: Ardnave. It’s a fairly short drive north of Bruichladdich and on the way there is a national heritage woodland. We have always gone past it before in our rush to the beach, but this time we stopped and investigated. It’s a really lovely short woodland walk through bluebells and the like with lovely views over Guinart and great for twitchers. From there it’s a short, bumpy drive up to Ardnave. Perhaps we like it so much because it reminds us of home; the wide expanse of shallow sea is very reminiscent of Norfolk.

The place is packed with rabbits and Arby was in heaven ineptly chasing them. I swear he would have no idea what to do if he ever caught one, not that there is much chance of that.

So after our greatest hits tour of the Rhinns, we finally made it to the Bruichladdich festival day. This is without doubt the best festival event of the week. There is a beer tent by Islay ales (why are they not at all the events?), a stage with local kids dancing/bands etc, a craft fair inside a hall, burger and seafood stalls in addition to the whisky events. It is also the best attended event, and it feels like that at least half the people there are locals. If any other distilleries wanted to improve their offering, they could do worse than copy Bruichladdich. However, laddie does have the advantage of being close to where people live. Bunnahabhain tried really hard last year, but its so remote that not that many people turned up. Bowmore should definitely have a look though, no excuse for them.

Bruichladdich have two festival bottlings this year to celebrate 10 years under new ownership. The “ancient regime” 1998 is the last whisky made by white and mackay, apparently made as a small batch after the distillery had been mothballed  by the Jura team. The second, “Renaissance” is the first made under Jim McEwan’s stewardship. These were the first two whiskies in the masterclass. This event was held in warehouse 12 at the back of the distillery, and its hard to imagine a better venue for a tasting. It was a big event, with 100-150 people and after Jim McEwan introduced it he handed over to Bruichladdich’s three sales reps.

The whisky selection was first class. Real effort and thought had gone into it. The whiskies  were

  1. Renaissance Feis Ile 2011: 10 year old since reopening called Renaissance. Sound familiar? This is not in the same league  as the Ardbeg offering (which it has to be said is one of my all time favourites) but it’s a decent, honest whisky. There is a big wood hit, reminiscent of the organic laddie but not quite as mental and a slight peat hit (its peated at 10ppm).
  2. Ancien Regime Feis Ile 2011: this is a more traditional whisky, and we actually preferred it to the “Renaissance”.
  3. 19 year old Pedro Ximinez finish. This is not on sale and was done specially for the tasting. A bit two track.
  4. Black Art 3. New release of the black art, Jim McEwan’s secret mixture. Not really my kind of thing, but clearly well crafted.
  5. Port Charlotte 9. I’m a big PC fan and have tried  them all, so was quite excited to be getting a sample of this. However, I have a strange relationship with peated whiskies. In my taste world, there are two types of peated whisky: old style and new style. The old style, typified by Uigedail and older Ardbegs, has a dirtier taste which to me comes over as ammonia. I really don’t like it. The new style, has a cleaner, often sweet, peat effect and is evident in the new Ardbegs. This I love. For me, PC 5-8 and An Tura Mor were all firmly in the new class and hence rank amoungst my all time favourites. However, this PC9 was definitely old peat. All I can taste is Uigedail. Being a peat freak I have struggled with this issue for years, it seems its personal to me,  but it there you go. I really hope they release this whisky, not least to find out if anyone else thinks the same.
  6. Octomore. And finally, a new Octomore. Conversely, and possibly perversely, whilst I’ve not liked the earlier bottlings, I really liked this one! Not quite as mental/ash tray like as the previous expressions.


Overall an excellent tasting. It’s a stuggle to do this big a tasting in a warehouse with terrible acoustics, but the sales staff stuggled on despite the inevitable decent into general chatter. It got a bit like a evangelical rally near the end, with the sales people eulogising about how great Bruichladdich are a bit too much. One of them had a deep voice with a strong Scottish accent which was hard for us to understand, and we were guilty of chatting as the next. There was lots of shushing directed at the Swedes at the back, to the point that one german stood up and proclaimed that we should all be quiet, much to our amusement.

So hurrah for Bruichladdich, its always sunny on bruichladdich day. Time to quickly sober up and make it back to the cottage in time to meet Pat and Bex and to cook a roast Lamb dinner whilst we sit around revisiting the 12 bottles purchased so far. What a marvellous start to the holiday.

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  • Glad to see pictures of Arby at last! I was going to lodge a complaint with the powers that be, if he didn’t turn up soon! Interesting tasting notes and opinions…. Thanks for bringing this to those of us who can’t make it.

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