Image Source: Spirited Zine
What you should know:
- Most distilleries today ship cheaper barley from other parts of the UK import the barley.
- Bruichladdich’s Islay Barley series is an expression of the distillery’s focus on provenance and terroir of barley grown in Islay.
- It is challenging to grow barley on Islay, given its volatile weather. Yet Bruichladdich is committed to supporting the island community by creating demand
- This new release is a 2012 vintage and distilled from unpeated barley from eight family-owned farms in Islay.
- bottled at substantial strength of 0% ABV
- matured 75% ex-bourbon American oak and 25% French wine casks
- Nose: Delicate, light, floral, with creamy vanilla and honey
- Palate: Refined and complex, with fruits, barley porridge and brown sugar
- Our Quick Take: This provides an interesting lesson on terroir, is unpeated (and thus friendly to beginners), and is most importantly very reasonably priced. This is a bottle with great value.
The famed distillery (Image Source: Whisky Foundation)
Pronounced “Brook-Laddie” and essentially meaning “shore bank” in the Gaelic language, the Bruichladdich Distillery was built in 1881 by a pair of brothers on the western shore of the Isle of Islay, making it one of the most westerly operational distilleries in Scotland.
The production methods at Bruichladdich are relatively traditional, using Victorian equipment and techniques that have changed little over the years. The distillery only uses 100% Scottish barley and are also Scotland’s major distillers of organic barley.
As one distillery, Bruichladdich produces different styles of single malt whiskies under three different labels to represent varying degrees of peat. (1) The Bruichladdich label is completely unpeated, light, fruity, delicate and elegant in flavour; (2) the Port Charlotte label is moderately peated at 40ppm, with flavours of elegant smoke; and (3) the Octomore label is very heavily peated to 160ppm, and certifiably Scotland’s most heavily peated whisky. For contrast, the level of peat in an Ardbeg is generally about 50 to 55ppm.
Today, let’s talk about a new release under the un-peated Bruichladdich label.
The Islay Barley series and its fascination with terroir
Image Source: The Mead Mule
Bruichladdich’s Islay Barley series has been going around for more than a decade or so. This range of expressions are distilled from exclusively barley grown in farms across the tiny Isle of Islay where the distillery operates. The distillery works with farms across the island to harvest barley, which is distilled, matured and bottled up at a consistent 50% ABV.
The Islay Barley series is intended as an expression of the distillery’s focus on provenance and terroir (that wine drinkers are already familiar with): the idea that whisky can and should express qualities derived from the region it comes from, down to the farm where the barley is grown. This was pioneered by Mark Reynier, the former distillery manager of Bruichladdich.
Although Reynier is no longer with Bruichladdich, the man remains obsessed with barley and terroir. He went on to found Waterford Distillery in Ireland, which sources barley from 46 farms and store the barley in 46 individual bins from harvest through dormancy to malting. The intent is to guarantee provenance by distilling specific bottles of whisky from barley grown at a specific farm, to explore the effects of different soil types and variations in micro climates on barley in the resultant spirit.
Another brainchild of Mark Reynier- Waterford (Image Source: Speciality Brands)
Whereas the majority of distilleries source barley from other parts of the UK or other countries, the Reynier’s Islay Barley series is focused on how the location of the barley can impact the final flavour.
The challenges of growing barley in Islay
A barley field near the Bruichladdich Distillery (Image Source: Great Drams)
Growing barley on Islay is not without its challenges. Unlike the Scottish mainland, the coastal island is subject to volatile storms from the Atlantic, torrential rain and even hungry gaggles of geese. Yields are often much lower than farms in the mainland.
This is also part of the reason for Bruichladdich’s focus on Islay barley. Apart from its belief that barley grown in Islay would have its distinct notes, the distillery is committed to supporting the island community. Through creating demand for locally-grown barley, the local farm community could diversify streams of revenue and receive a safety net.
The newly released Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2012
(Image Source: Bruichladdich Distillery)
The recently released Bruichladdich Islay Barley has a vintage of 2012. This expression was distilled in 2012 and bottled in 2020, and is 8 years old. The barley is made with unpeated malt from eight distinct family-owned farms in Islay – namely the Coull, Cruach, Dunlossit, Island, Mulindry, Rockside, Starchmill, and Sunderland farms.
75% of the spirit was aged ex-bourbon American oak casks, and 25% of the spirit in French wine casks. The result from both barrels are they married and bottled. As with earlier bottles, the bottling strength is a consistent 50% ABV.
The distillery official flavour profile would be as such:
- Delicate, light, floral notes and a creamy vanilla with rich, floral honey rise from the glass.
- Kiwi, melon, coconut, and ripe pear freshness combine beautifully into a fruity citrus style to provide that zesty, sweet signature of the Islay grain and the slow trickle distillation.
- Breathe a little deeper and the hint of spice from the combination of French and American oak gives a little highlight to the fruit. Be lead into the wonderful depth and sweetness, by the toffee and chocolate notes from the oak. With time more dimensions of this whisky are revealed, a dry grass and crushed cereal note. Then that distinctive fresh sea salt tang.
- Refined and complex on the palate, the sleekness carries the fruit, cereal, and oak notes in succession as the flavours develop and deepen on the palate.
- The distillery character – the fruit and floral style are immediate and distinctive. The creaminess and the notes of porridge and rice pudding are malty and rich with brown sugar and dry straw. The fruit notes of pear, melon, and orange wrap around toffee and fudge sweetness, combining beautifully.
- The finish is a salty sea breeze with lingering hints of the charred oak, sweet salty caramel, and brown sugar. The melon and creamy texture settle on the palate and take you to another place.
This expression has already been released early in the month and should be available to Singaporeans at about S$150.
Much like the preceding bottles in the series, this edition appears to be rather similar in the richly floral and fruity style, with bright and crisp flavours of apple or ripe pear along with the bready and malty notes. With a relatively light bodied whisky at relatively high ABV, we also do expect there to be a small degree of spice in general – although this has not been mentioned in the tasting notes.
One thing about Bruichladdich is its willingness to proudly insert a 8 years old age statement on a single malt whisky (the bottle specifically states “8 aged years”). Yet despite its youth, our experience with a decent number of six to eight year age statement Bruichladdichs have been generally good.
We are also quite fascinated by the exploration of terroir in whiskies, much to the credit of the legendary ex-manager Mark Reynier. Through this range, we have (at a rather affordable price), received an education on how the location of where the barley grew can affect the final flavour. This is not exactly empirically proven at taste tests, especially considering the huge number of variables affecting the taste of whisky. Yet we have discovered some interesting nuances amongst different expressions through the years when we set them down side by side for tasting.
There is also a rather interesting comparison to be made between Springbank and Bruichladdich. Both are distilleries with three unique labels and styles of whisky —Springbank has Hazelburn, Longrow, and Springbank, while Bruichladdich has Port Charlotte, Octomore, and Bruichladdich. Apart from Springbank, no other distillery really focuses on distillation from local barley to the extent that Bruichladdich does. Both distilleries are fond of releasing highly coveted limited edition bottlings distilled from barley sourced from their local communities (see the Springbank Local Barley series). We would say that Bruichladdich is the Springbank of Islay.
Springbank Distillery’s Local Barley series is based on a very very similar concept (Image Source: Whisky Galore)
Whether you are a long-time drinker of whisky keen to explore how terroir affects the flavour, or a beginner looking for an introduction, the Bruichladdich Islay Barley series is worth a shot. It is based on a unique concept, is unpeated (and thus friendly to beginners), and is most importantly very reasonably priced. This is great value.