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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Single Malt Report: Bruichladdich 'The Organic' (2013 US release)

This is the first of three consecutive simul-posts with My Annoying Opinions this week!  We'll be reviewing the same whiskies (from the same bottles) at the same time.  We'll see whose opinions are really more annoying.

Here's the link to MAO's review.

For clarity purposes, this is the vintage-less US release of Laddie's organic single malt.  They had a number of smaller Europe-only organic releases previous to this, and there's a new Scottish barley version on the shelves.  This is not that.

Two years ago, I tried this whisky and LOVED it.  It was at a rep-led official tasting and The Organic was lined up with much swankier and more critically acclaimed Bruichladdich products.  But I liked The Organic best.  It had lots of cereal and grassy notes that really hit the spot and it started my fascination with nearly oakless malts.

When compared to Benromach's Organic, Bruichladdich's Organic sits at the opposite side of the oak-driven spectrum.  Benromach's version uses virgin oak from "environmentally managed forests" and results in a thick, dessert whisky full of vanilla, wood spices, and caramel sauce.  I had thought the use of new oak would be mandatory for an official organic designation, because previously used casks would still hold remnants of non-organic fluids (bourbon, sherry, etc.) -- or so Benromach seemed to infer.  But apparently Bruichladdich has been using a mix of new and used casks in their organic malts.  The lightness or near absence of oak in The Organic seemed to show an absence of new oak.

Let's zip forward to February of this year.  Florin (a prince) and I split a bottle of The Organic.  The whisky was bottled on February 8th, 2013 and in a bit of coincidence we opened it on February 8, 2014.  I noticed two things on the canister:

Thus, they did use former bourbon casks and it did pass both EU and USDA organic regulations.  Organic purists may say, "WTF?".  I just find this situation curious because the 2014 version of 'Laddie's organic whisky (not the one I'm reviewing) is specifically called "Organic Barley", it is no longer The Organic.  Purity aside, I adored the final result of the (likely) refill casks.

You may have noticed I used the past tense in that last sentence...

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Current ownership: Remy Cointreau
Age: older than 3 years, previous editions were around 6 years old
Maturation: ex-bourbon casks
Mash: Chalice barley (organic)
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

The color is a light amber.  The nose begins with pilsner and yeast.  Lots of yeasty dough, actually.  Then toasted barley, apples, followed by orange and lime peels.  Some entertaining hints of honeyed ham and Barbasol shaving cream.  The fruits grow with time as does a dusty note.  The palate is very soft.  Not a lot of there there, at first.  Gradually oats, granulated sugar, and stale soda bread develop.  Then ground black pepper and pencil wood.  It is at turns buttery and tart.  The finish has the pepper, butter, and pencil wood notes, along with a tangy tingle and mild bitterness.

The nose is immediately more pungent.  Bigger fruits, including overripe peaches and nectarines.  Hints of dust, varnish, and manure.  It's also much more perfumy and sugary.  The palate feels bolder too.  More tartness, more sweetness.  Some drying tannins meet fresh stone fruits, then a soft herbal bitterness and a peppery heat.  The finish is longer and sweeter, as well.  Lots of barley and yeast, then bitter over-steeped tea.  It can be a bit acidic and buttery at times.

When I sipped this at home six months ago, I was a little disappointed by the lack of...well...everything on the palate.  While there was some cereal-ish stuff on the nose, I had trouble finding its flavors in general.  The Organic (which had the same label) I had tried two years back was aggressively bready and grassy.  But my bottle seemed to have had the volume turned down.

What it needed, of all things, was water.  Dropping the ABV down to 40-43% turned the volume back up.  While neat, the nose is good and the palate inoffensive.  But with those drops of water added, the whisky becomes enjoyable.  As a result, I've added water to my remaining bit of this whisky, dropping the ABV down to 43%.

As I hinted above, this version of The Organic has been discontinued for a Scottish Organic Barley bottling.  Until recently, I would have said this was a damned tragedy.  Now, I don't feel strongly about it.  You don't have to hate yourself if you miss out on this, but if you find it at its original price it's not the worst thing to split amongst friends.

Availability - A couple dozen US retailers
Pricing - $55-$75
Rating - 84 with water (high 70s without)


  1. Here were my notes. It looks like you liked it slightly more than I did, maybe I didn't add enough water. Anyway, I'm glad that it was just 1/2 bottle. My expectations were unreasonably raised from having tried the Bere Barley, which I loved. I haven't tried the Laddie 10 yet, but seeing how both you and the guy at My Ammonic Onions think it's worse than this Organic, now I'm not looking forward to opening that bottle. Here were my thoughts on the Organic:

    (1/2 bottle, split with MK) Nose: malty, but also with a metallic edge; vanilla and porridge. Generally, the aromas are faint. Flavor: malt in the background, but the metallic edge shows as a bitter, short finish. The casks did not have time to do their magic yet. Not much like. Consistent with other Bruichladdichs (e.g. the Alechmist) but young and not very interesting. 2.5*

    1. Laddie 10 has even more of the butyric puke/gym socks thing going on. There are some very weird things getting into their fermentations.

    2. @Florin, I may have raised the expectations too due to my previous experience with it. Bere Barley was much better, had more zip, texture, and flavor. There are some wide ranging opinions on the Laddie 10. I think the earliest bottling of it had a little bit of peat, but the more recent ones did not. Who knows, maybe you'll love it! Or it'll be vatting fodder.

    3. @Jordan, though I'm in no mood to buy their new NAS stuff, I wonder if those lactic/butyric issues are still happening. If those new bottles don't fly off the shelves (and I don't think they are), I wonder if the distillery would consider changing their processes. Another McEwan issue, perhaps?

    4. At this point, I'm done with Bruichladdich's new bottlings. Everything is either NAS or wildly expensive (I got a 1992 Signatory 'Laddie for half the price of the OB 21s). It's hit the point where I feel like the best plan might be to wait until the whisky bubble has popped and they finally have excess inventory so that they're not just trying to get everything out the door as quickly as possible.

      The early investors got a hell of a deal out of the distillery, but I'm less sure about the customers or Remy.

    5. Regarding the OB Bruichladdichs, I fully agree. Several years back there were almost 100 different bottlings flying around. Then they scaled back, released the new stuff and upped all of the prices. Now, everything is NAS but priced the same as or higher than the older versions. And none of them sound like something nose- or palate-wise I can't get elsewhere. I guess Octomore is the most interesting, but at $150+ for a 5(?) year old it's not that good.

      I've tried three (I think) early '90s indie Bruichladdich. They were all decent or better and, as you pointed out, priced much better.