When you think about your average single malt whisky, it can involve barley taken from anywhere in the country – maybe even further afield. The Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2006 takes its barley from just one farm, Dunlossit Farm, on Islay. It is then distilled on Islay, matured on Islay, and bottled on Islay. This is very rare indeed, but all of this is done with a purpose: to give a genuine sense of terroir, or how a particular location can have an effect on a whisky. In the age of the mass market, that’s something to really appreciate.
The bottle comes with all sorts of information on Islay Barley series: that once Islay was home to 20 distilleries. That due to the growing demands of whisky production, all barley was eventually imported and no more local barley grown after the First World War. That now 16 Islay farms grow for Bruichladdich – how incredible is that for the local economy?
All the information is here, too, about Dunlossit Farm: “Chalice Barley, harvested September and distilled November 2006. Grown on the Jubilee Field known as the Headland of the Gallows on Dunlossit Farm. Dunlossit Farm is owned by one of our Bruichladdich Shareholders, the Schroeder Family, and tended by Jim Logan.” That should be, of course, a former shareholder… We’re even provided with geographical information about where the barley comes from, should we wish to know it: “… the eastern side of the island, at an elevation of 100 metres, there are small patches of fertile soil amongst the rocky outcrops…”
That’s all very good, and it clearly is a success in going beyond the quotidian, I’m sure you’ll agree. It’s good for Islay to see one of the distilleries really get behind local talent, too. But what are the results of this aim for understanding Islay terroir?
Colour: straw, pine table, pale gold. On the nose: a malt and syrupy, honey blend. Rich creamy, buttery malted barley there, not as dominant as the 2004 (no bad thing), but still integral to the whisky. Wonderful herbal, floral notes drift across an underlying sweetness. Cherry pie. A little brine there too. Bracing coastal walks.
In the mouth: good god that’s lovely. Viscous, thick and juicy, without being too oily either. Everything is balanced so well, and with an astounding texture it’s tough to pick apart when one flavour ends and another begins. So there’s the malt tang, of course, but much more subtle than the 2004. Layer after layer of flavours begin to appear: apples, Sauvignon Blanc, a mild brie perhaps, lemons, eucalyptus honey, treacle sponge, just a gentle touch of ginger or nutmeg maybe, and the lightest touch of black pepper. But oh my god that velvety texture in the mouth is astounding. Much more complex than the 2004, as well.
No gimmicks here, no rocket ships, no huge marketing campaign. This, for me, is what whisky is about: rawness of spirit, local community and appreciation for the land. And tasting bloody good to boot.
Without a doubt a top whisky of the year for me.
Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2006 – Dunlossit Farm is bottled at 50% ABV and costs £38 per bottle. Here’s what Jim McEwan, master distiller at Bruichladdich, has to say about it: