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Bruichladdich And The Art Of Knowing What’s In Your Whisky

Editor’s Note: The whiskies used for this article were provided as samples by Bruichladdich. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the information presented below.

I have just come up for air from the most satisfying of online rabbit hole adventures – Bruichladdich’s new Age of Transparency website. A series of informational pages on all things Bruichladdich, it doesn’t only teach you about everything they do, how they do it, why they chose it that way, who was involved, or what they’re thinking next – it clearly explains general whisky making practices as well. Confused on what happens during fermentation? It’s there. Need a brush up on barrel types? They talk through that too. Curious about the influence in terroir of organic versus non-organic barley? Yep, they even have a page on that. 

This is exciting stuff. If you meet up with your friends to smoke cigars and sip brown spirits, it’s practically a competition on who knows more about which brand. The smoke and mirrors behind so many companies is just a code that people enjoy cracking. Folks really feed off that type of thing and it’s part of what makes drinking those spirits so interesting. I often wonder where people get their facts, who their sources are or what secret VIP tour they did last time they were in Kentucky or Scotland. It’s all very fascinating.

Best part about all this is that Bruichladdich really knows that this type of thing is happening and they know how to respond to it. This campaign is the answer to the whisky trivia circle of people spouting off facts. It is the long-awaited holy grail of information. They are laying it all out there, in a well packaged website that I struggled to turn away from. 

Bruichladdich transparency kit
The Bruichladdich transparency kit (image via Cameron Holck)

Exploring The Whiskies

Today we’re going to talk about a very interactive set of beautiful sample bottles that are laid out in front of me. I have eight all together, in addition to a bottle of Bruichladdich The Classic Laddie with code 20/056. What’s up with that code, you ask? Another addition to the Transparency project is access to the exact blend of any bottle you buy. Plug your specific bottle code in and it tells you how many casks were vatted and the exact specifications of each cask included in that vat to produce the bottle in your hands. This is particularly interesting because they are not as concerned with consistency as they are with the quality of their ingredients and the taste of the final product. They have a huge range of casks styles as well which allows them to blend a complex array of flavors. All this opens up some fun opportunities for side by side tastings.

My goal today is to blend my eight sample bottles together to try that came in a kit from the distillery and match my bottle of 20/056, or at least create a version of it. I won’t be able to get it exact even if I tried because my bottle actually has 74 casks to a vat, and I have eight to work with. However, If I’m happy with my work my kit includes a sample bottle to send to Master Distiller Adam Hannett in Scotland. I believe we can get close, so let’s give it a try!

We have a ‘Classic Components Blending Guide’ that categorizes our samples to lead us into the blending process. No. 1 is a sherry cask to provide the base note. No. 2, 5, 6 and 7 are bourbon casks for lighter, spirit forward qualities. No. 3, 4 and 8 are the wine casks for drier and deeper flavors. Here is the breakdown of my cask samples:

No. 1

  • Cask Type: Vatting into 2nd fill bourbon
  • Barley: Optic
  • Age: 9 years
  • Proof: 124

No. 2

  • Cask Type: 2nd fill bourbon
  • Barley: Publican/Oxbridge
  • Age: 9 years
  • Proof: 123.8

No. 3

  • Cask Type: 1st fill Pomerol (Merlot & Cab. Franc)
  • Barley: Oxbridge
  • Age: 8 years
  • Proof: 120.8

No. 4

  • Cask Type: 2nd fill Bandol (Mourvedre)
  • Barley: Optic/Oxbridge
  • Age: 8 years
  • Proof: 125.8

No. 5

  • Cask Type: 1st fill bourbon
  • Barley: Optic/Oxbridge
  • Age: 8 years
  • Proof: 117.2

No. 6

  • Cask Type: 1st fill bourbon
  • Barley: Appaloosa
  • Age: 8 years
  • Proof: 126.8

No. 7

  • Cask Type: 1st fill bourbon
  • Barley: Concerto
  • Age: 6 years
  • Proof: 126.2

No. 8

  • Cask Type: 2nd fill Pauilliac (Cab. Sav., Franc, Merlot)
  • Barley: Concerto
  • Age: 7 years
  • Proof: 128.2

First let’s begin with some tasting notes on the 20/056 bottle. It’s wonderfully balanced with a gentle yellow color. Floral qualities waft up as a bit of salty iodine, green apple, clove and vanilla ease in. The palate is also balanced, with some nice spice, sweet caramel and a bit of astringency that adds structure. A slightly nutty and dry finish is both satisfying and lingering.

Working The Sample Bottles

The samples bottles had a wonderful range of flavors. No. 1 was rich, with dates, figs and prunes. No. 4 was yeasty, a bit more green with more grain on the nose. No. 3 was my favorite, not in taste but in texture – one of the chewiest whiskies I’ve had. No. 5 was softer with a lot of citrus and floral qualities. The bourbon barrels brought plenty of space to work with while the rich sherry and complex wine barrels gave me plenty to consider.

After tasting, considering, and mixing a few samples together to see how they’d treat each other, I made a full 100mL sample. While tasty, it was a bit harsh and not round enough. My second attempt brought in too much spice and the color was darker than I thought it should be. I finally landed one that I thought was pretty darn good, here is the breakdown:

  • No. 1 – 10mL
  • No. 2 – 16mL
  • No. 3 – 14mL
  • No. 4 – 12mL
  • No. 5 – 14mL
  • No. 6 – 14mL
  • No. 7 – 12 mL
  • No. 8 – 8 mL

The nose and the palate were great and actually got pretty close to my bottle of The Classic Laddie. With a bit of water, it almost mellows to the same level as well, but it lacks a cohesion that can be attested to a couple thing. Time is one – after blending any spirit (including clear spirits like gin) it takes a bit of time for it to become the new item that you’ve created.

Secondly, the number of casks vatted for 20/056 is 74. This includes 12 different cask types, four vintages and three different barley types. Which brings us to a third point – the skill that goes into blending. Considering the difficulty I had bringing eight samples together the experience, conceptualization, talent and knowledge that goes into blending dozens of casks continues to be one of the most impressive aspects of any whisky. In this case, hats off to Hannett and the team at Bruichladdich.

What I Came Away With

This exercise has taught me several important things, besides the fact that Bruichladdich is delicious and well made. Now more than ever is the demand for spirits knowledge soaring. Bruichladdich would not have made such a forward-thinking effort to put together this project if the demand was not there.

Additionally, the perspective whisky drinkers have towards brand knowledge is influencing the way they drink. Especially with younger demographics, more money is spent on less whisky – meaning they want one or two really nice pours that can teach them something new rather than four whisky-cokes to get a buzz. Bruichladdich is at the forefront of this movement with its modern packaging and transparency project.

Bruichladdich is using their passion for making whisky to fuel their own marketing. What I mean by this is that they are not cutting corners and are instead finding ways to use more local products to supply jobs while along the way producing a product that is truer to their identity. This is making them stand out against the more mainstream brands on the market, and gives them a notable spot on any back bar that has a consideration for quality. I’ve done several reviews on their products and the more I dive into the brand the more impressed I become.

I urge you to grab a bottle of Classic Laddie and dive in yourself. Get lost in their website and learn to your heart’s content. You’ll discover things about Bruichladdich as well as the bigger picture of whisky production that may surprise you. I guarantee you’ll enjoy the whisky and the experience, and you’ll likely want to continue exploring the rest of what their distillery has to offer. Cheers!

Cameron Holck

After graduating with an engineering degree in Colorado, Cameron Holck discovered his passion for hospitality. He followed his love of the outdoors into the Pacific Northwest where he continues his dedication to bartending, and as a sales representative for Four Roses Bourbon. He warmly welcomes the fact that a night out is highlighted by hospitality, and does his best to compliment that with a wonderful drink (whiskey, most likely) in your hand!

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