...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Pre-McEwan Bruichladdich: 10 year old (2002)

Master Distiller Jim McEwan was quite lionized by the whisky industry long before his retirement last year thanks to his extensive career and large personality. While he likely created a considerable number of very good whiskies during his five whisky decades (though I'm having a difficult time naming anything other than Port Charlotte and Octomore, partially because I'm from a more recent anorak generation and partially because well...), he also was responsible for the ugliest non-Loch-Dhu non-Loch-Lomond single malts I have ever consumed -- FWP Bowmore, the Murray McDavid sweet wine casks, Kool-Aid finished young Bruichladdich, and Wine Spit Cup Luxury 'Laddie (aka Black Art). But I'm not going to spend my time besmirching his name because that's mean and pointless. It takes a village to raise a whisky, good or bad. What I will say is I enjoy the Bruichladdich single malt distilled by Invergordon Distillers much more than the non-peated stuff made by the Bruichladdich Distillery Co. Ltd.

There were a number of different 10 year old releases in the '80s and '90s by Invergordon Distillers (and Whyte & Mackay), but this version of the 10 year old was released in 2001 by Bruichladdich Distillery Co. utilizing the stock picked up from the previous owners. Because the distillery was mothballed from 1995 to 2001, this 10yo had a limited existence, expiring in 2006 and then semi-replaced by a 12 year old (watch this space!). A new 10, distilled by Jim McEwan & Co., was released in 2011 to extensive fanfare, but was then retired less than three years later. At the moment there are no official 10yo Bruichladdich's, though an 8yo came out this year.

Today's sample was acquired via sample swap with Jordan of Chemistry of the Cocktail. His bottle was from 2002 and had a bottling code of 02/0072.

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Ownership that released the whisky: Bruichladdich Distillery Co. Ltd.
Whisky distilled by: Invergordon Distillers
Region: Islay
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Age: at least 10 years old
Maturation: 40% ex-bourbon casks + 60% ex-sherry casks
Bottled: early 2002
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

The nose starts off a little raw. Sap, yeast, and wort. But then canned peaches roll in, along with European oak-inspired dried fruits. A bit floral (blossoms, not perfume) around the edges. A hint of grilled meat. Roasted marshmallows. The oak feels more toasted than charred. With a few drops of water the floral notes rise up a bit, as does some wort. Then brown sugar and honeydew.

Barley, butterscotch, and a spicy zing in the palate. Some nice oak notes of vanilla and honey. A small peep of horseradish bitterness. Oh, maybe orange bitters. An easy drink. With a few drops of water it gets sweeter. Caramel starts to appear, but also a bigger bitterness. Vanilla bean. Butterscotch candy.

It has a simple finish. Barley, apples and ground black pepper. A little of that rooty bitterness. With a few drops of water it gets a little more complex with more sweetness to match the pepper, as well as additional vanilla and butterscotch.

This is a nice balanced young whisky. It never WOWs, but there are no false steps. Oak is present but it never smothers the youthful spirit. There's no ethyl heat despite the youth and strength. I'd say the palate is the best part, delivering a little something for everyone (except peat lovers). It would be great slotted into the $30-$35 range, as I believe it was 14(!) years ago. If you can find it near that old price (and not much more), I'd recommend it.

Availability - mostly at auctions
Pricing - ???
Rating - 83


  1. The contrast with the newer Laddie 10 is pretty stark. I'm still deeply unclear what changed at the distillery that their output is so different now.

    1. I wonder if it's a bunch of small adjustments to the fermentation time, yeast strain, size of the cut, etc.

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  3. Isn't / wasn't Black Art pre-restoration consortium distillation based on its age ?

    You may not care for Chateau Yquem cask 2y finish,
    but please send me your leftovers from those expressions before pouring them down the sink.
    I have no small fancy for them.

    As to J. du CotC's query, one avenue for assessing regime change
    would be to study each in comparison to the "missing link" 1998 micro-production period,
    my favorite purely on the basis of its oddity :

    a Jura crew independently verifying
    for the restoration consortium's financiers &/or underwriters that
    the Victorian still would actually make scotch in the 21st century,

    or so said J.McE to me when
    I put my HiTimes purchase of that vintage on the table at his farewell tour appearance in Orange County
    and asked whose hand was at the tiller for it's production.

    1. Mr. Morlock, I promise to send you any spare Chateau Yquem finishes I have. Because I think most of the Black Art releases were 20+ years old, the original casks were definitely pre-Reynier. I have the distinct feeling Reynier/McEwan inherited a lot of crummy stock upon the distillery purchase, thus all of their experimentation. I'm interested in the 1998 production period too, I wish there was more of it available for study. I do think there was a bit of it in the last 12yo, responsible for that whisky's peated notes.