Bruichladdich Masterclass Feis Ile 2021
It’s been twenty years since Bruichladdich was saved from oblivion by Mark Reynier, Simon Coughlin and a group of private investors. The distillery has gone from strength to strength since. To celebrate this impressive milestone Bruichladdich has released the Laddie Origins, an exclusive bottling for Feis Ile 2021. This festive release played a central role during head distiller Adam Hannett‘s masterclass on May 30th.
As I laid out in my review, the Laddie Origins consists of thirteen different components. They’re all brought skillfully together by the Bruichladdich team and make for one of my favourite releases from the modern Bruichladdich era so far. During the masterclass with Adam Hannett we tasted the single components of the Laddie Origins. Not all thirteen (that would’ve been madness) but six of the most interesting ones, showcasing the power of barley and terroir.
All components of the Laddie Origins celebrate certain milestones from the past twenty years. For instance, they used the oldest remaining stocks of Bere, Organic and Islay barley, but also the first biodynamic and triple distilled spirit, as well as stock from the Black Isle regional barley trials. I didn’t write comprehensive tasting notes, but below are some quick fire ones and first impressions. All of them bourbon cask matured, all interesting and all brought out my inner geek.
Bruichladdich 2003 Organic, 2nd fill bourbon cask, 57.1%
This particular whisky signifies the distillery’s starting point in their exploration of terroir. Barley husks, bandages and a whisper of honeyed porridge, pickled lemon and orange on the nose, as well as floral notes. Marshmallows, soft minerals and a pinch of salt, but also some vanilla and green banana on the palate. Brown sugar and apples as well. Slightly bitter at times. 86/100
Bruichladdich 2004 Islay Barley, 1st fill bourbon, 58.4%
Bruichladdich’s first-ever single malt from Islay barley was made from barley grown by Raymond Stewart at Kentraw Farm. Bruichladdich still has plans for their own malting floors and most likely all of their Islay grown barley will be malted there. “We’re not thinking about yield here, but about flavour”, is what Adam said during the masterclass. Heather, straw, wet pebbles on the nose as well as crisp green apple and mush banana, but also candied oranges. Fantastic viscosity, lovely salinity and orange pith, maybe even a touch of pink grapefruit, as well as a nice herbal quality. Water brings out more saltiness. 87/100
Bruichladdich 2005 Triple Distilled, 1st fill bourbon, 69.3%
This is filled at still strength, which is insanity after three distillations. That means this went into the cask at 84% abv. Wet cloth and nail varnish, but sweeter notes appear after a little while, mostly vanilla and honey. Plenty of pine needles and resin as well. Surprisingly quaffable at cask strength, but it is very bourbon-like and doesn’t remind me of Bruichladdich much. Caramel, oranges, triple sec, cough syrup, with finally some notes of peaches. 85/100
Bruichladdich 2009 Orkney Bere Barley, 1st fill bourbon, 59.8%
Bere barley is six-row heritage barley cultivated mainly on Orkney. It fell out of favour because of its low yield, but makes for some great whisky. Hints of bandages, but also quite farmy and whispers of orris root, as well as lovely fruity notes of peach and apricots. Somewhat lactic too. Fantastic sweet arrival and a lovely oiliness, tinned pineapple, peaches, as well as a touch of cough syrup. Also lime and a great minerality. Easily my favourite of the masterclass. 90/100
Bruichladdich 2011 Biodynamic barley, 1st fill bourbon, 60.9%
Elite vineyards use biodynamic practices, but biodynamics is rarely used for the production of grain, let alone single malt. Waterford does it, which is no surprise considering the connection between Bruichladdich and Waterford. Bruichladdich famously only uses Scottish barley, but makes an exception for their biodynamic barley, which is grown by Richard Gantlett of Yatesbury House Farm in England. This is the first time anyone has got to taste some of Bruichladdich’s biodynamic spirit. Notes of brown sugar, galia melon and subtle notes of dried grass, but also candied oranges, gooseberry and mealy apples, as well as apple sauce. Lovely floral notes too. Pretty sweet palate. Merengue, cake icing as well as cookies and cream, but subtle notes of apricots and barley as well. 87/100
Bruichladdich 2014 Black Isle Regional Trials, 1st fill bourbon, 61.5%
Bruichladdich’s Regional Trials have set out to demonstrate how terroir matters in whisky-making. The distillery is working with growers across several locations in Scotland. Notes of milk biscuits and vanilla cream, this is easily the most singular of all whiskies tasted during the masterclass. Touch of damp cloth and powdered sugar, but also chalk, lime and floral notes. Vanilla custard and bitter oak, while water brings out a slight medicinal note, but later some sugary sweetness as well. Not my favourite of the masterclass, but certainly one of the more interesting. 83/100
Bere barley is such a rarity but produces incredible whisky. That’s been confirmed today again and is probably my main takeaway. Really, all I’ve been thinking about since the masterclass is that I need to get my hands on more of Bruichladdich’s Bere Barley releases.
I loved tasting the first-ever biodynamic spirit from Bruichladdich, although I couldn’t say wether it greatly improved the quality of the overal spirit. That’ll be difficult to assess anyway, even for extremely experienced tasters with an intimate familiarity of the distillery’s new make. I am a believer in biodynamics nonetheless, in part because of the biodynamic spirit from Waterford that I tried.
Overall a great masterclass and compliments to the Bruichladdich team for the virtual experience they provided. It was of a very high-standard, as was the whisky itself.
Thijs is a spirits writer and accredited liquorist from The Netherlands. He runs the blog Words of Whisky and contributes to a number of Dutch and international publications.