The Whisky Tasting Club

Sunday 25th, Bruichladdich Day

Bruichladdich have probably the premier distillery event of the festival. They have tastings, bands, food stalls and crafts and the square is always rammed. the sun always shines on Bruichladdich, and this year was no different. I was on childcare duty and took Lottie to the Port Charlotte playground. It is a very good playground, in case you are interested, including a zip line. However, pat did the Laddy tasting and these are his thoughts. Tony

Day 2 – Bruichladdich

After the usual first night’s alcohol fuelled extravaganza, it was a bleary-eyed blogger who drove him and his co-drinkers (Michelle, Jim and Alice. Tony was daddy day care) to Bruichladdich for Jim McEwan’s masterclass. We got the warehouse with about 2 minutes to spare to be told ‘Mr McEwan is waiting, you knock-kneed sassanachs. If you dinnae get to your seats in twentae seconds flat, I’ll disembowel the lot o’yae’. Actually, I made most of that up, but they were very keen not to keep him waiting.

They had crammed about 350 people and a CBS camera crew into one of the warehouses, so there wasn’t exactly much room to shimmy between the rows of drinkers and find four spare seats. In fact, there were lots of spare seats and I instantly regretted not bringing lots of spare WTC sample bottles. We could have made a decent pack out of stolen samples, but I figured that might not go down too well with Jim McEwan, Bruichladdich and their new parent company, Remy Cointreau, who probably have lots of powerful lawyers.

Anyway, Jim came out to rapturous applause and within about 5 seconds you realize why. The guy is a consummate showman and I loved every minute of it. As an added bonus, we had Norma Munro and Robin Laing performing (individually) between the drams. I had never heard of Norma Munro before. She clearly has not been a well lady, having lived on Islay and then being forced to the mainland through ill-health. Whatever illness had afflicted her, it clearly hadn’t affected her voice, which was hauntingly beautiful. Robin Laing was terrific, as always. I’ve been singing the Bruichladdich Dram repeatedly for the last two days.

At the masterclass, we had six whiskies, the first of which was a 30 year-old bourbon cask (49.3%) and which was a sensation, clean and fresh, with lots of vanilla, salt, icing sugar, lemon juice and honey. With a little water it became more creamy and less woody (not that it was woody to start with). I love this style of whisky. Unfortunately, you cannot buy it…..yet.

Next up was a Bruichladdich Black Art (51% abv and created especially for this occasion). The only notes I made for this one were “Very nice – and sherried. Sherry trifle with red fruit. Cranberries!” I like this alot, but, not being a great lover of sherried whiskies, preferred the 30 year old. If Robin Laing is to be believed, drinking this increases a) fertility, and/or b) the chance of conceiving.

Continuing the sherry theme, dram number 3 was a 1986 PX cask, introduced by the man who Jim McEwan has earmarked as his eventual replacement (lovely chap, but I don’t know what his name is). As you’d imagine from a PX, this had a very heavy sherry influence, full of Christmas cake flavours, nuts and dates. And very drying!! Michelle gave this a definitive thumbs down. You’d had to be in the right mood for this, preferably by a fire on a cold winter’s evening.

Dram number 4 was a Port Charlotte 2001 matured in a chateau d’yquem cask. A hit for all of us!!! I likened this to a smoky rice pudding. Jim then introduced Duncan McGilivray who was the first man he had employed at the distillery and who has pretty much got the place up and running and kept it running, including responding to several 3am phone calls to fix the various ancient pieces of temperamental mechanical equipment. Another well-deserved round of applause for this man who was retiring at the end of June and who, judging by the applaise, had the respect of his fellow workmen.

Dram number 5 was what we’d all been waiting for, the Octomore X4 Discovery (69.4% matured in a sherry cask). Apparently, the last time quadruple distillation was tried was in 1695 in Lewis or Harris by holy men. The fourth distillation took the alcohol level to 89.4% and, by the sound of it, the entire distillery were stood around the stills, fire extinguishers in hand, waiting for the explosion that never came. This was pushing things to the limit and Jim doubted, he said, that such an experiment would be repeated. The important thing was that it was a peathead’s paradise and is this year’s festival offering from The Laddie. Doubt they’ll have trouble selling this one. It had a very Dalmore-like orangey-ness and vanilla on the nose with spadefuls of dry peat. On the palate, hugely drying with a late thwack of acrid coal smoke. Jim Alsopp(one of our guests for the week) said it was conflicted and not that well balanced. I have to admit that there are other malts I would spend £150 on before this, notably the 30 year old.

The last dram was never introduced, primarily because of time. It had a peachy pinky hue and turned out to be Bruichladdich Rocks. Great, but in the hallowed company of the rest, fairly ordinary.

Once we had taken a few glasses as souvenirs, we joined the rest of humanity in Bruichladdich’s courtyard for music, seafood, and the two free drams that came as part of the entrance ticket (either Port Charlotte Scottish Barley or Bruichladdich Scottish Barley). It is, apparently, written into the Scottish constitution (if there is one) that it HAS to be sunny on Bruichladdich day; the last 12 or 13 years have enjoyed good weather. Bruichladdich’s physical layout is such that it feels the most cohesive and sociable of distillery events, with plenty of open space for people to mill about and socialize. Happily for me, the seafood-wallah (the same as the day before at Lagavulin) had an extra body to serve, reducing the waiting time by at least 30 minutes

This was a brilliant day and I would recommend this to anyone who is thinking of coming in 2015 to come to this. My wife thought it was great, too, with all those men in kilts she can pull. The guy below was Swedish, but it didn’t seem to make any difference.

*My* highpoint of an excellent day came afterwards, when a Belgian, waiting outside the distillery next to a police car, decided he couldn’t wait to find a toilet, and then emptied his bladder all over the back of the (now empty) police car. Quality! In fact, the presence of a police car is a rarity on Islay. Whether there were an increased number of instances of drunkenness in recent years, I don’t know, but anyone thinking of drinking and driving this year might want to think twice.

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