There’s a lot of talk about transparency in the Scotch whisky industry at the moment – that is, people (in reality, very few) want to know more about what goes into their whisky. Or rather, producers want to be able to tell more about the contents of a bottle, the different age statements or whatever that make up the vatting or blend. It’s hoped that the tight Scotch regulations, which exist in the first place to protect the consumer from dodgy producers, can be expanded to accommodate the desires of whisky producers. The focus of these discussions, rather randomly, is on more abstract elements such as what ages of whiskies go into a bottle. But there’s far more about whisky than the age of the spirit – such as the casks, the wood type, barley type, where it’s grown etc. And, more importantly, it should be said that there is already a huge amount of transparency in the whisky industry, if you care to look in the right places.
One of those places is on Islay. At Bruichladdich, in fact.
Regular readers will know the score by now: yes, I love Bruichladdich, had a fantastic trip there, and like their whiskies as much as their approach to whisky-making. My natural bias should be taken into account.
Last week was another one of their online tastings – the third in the Micro-Provenance set. You can read about the second event here, so I won’t repeat the details, only the fact that I much prefer the live-stream on YouTube and the group chat around it.
This Micro-Provenance range of whiskies is, I think, something to which all distilleries should aspire. It sets out cask exploration – that is, what happens when you put the spirit into different casks, which previously held some wildly different liquids. What this also does is showcase the quality of the wood that Bruichladdich uses, as much as the diverse range of styles with which they’re willing to experiment. More importantly: it shares all of this with the public.
This latest experiment, though, was essentially nothing more than picking three good whiskies and celebrating Christmas. Isn’t that great? A bit like gold, frankincense and myrrh, to give to your loved ones, but I’m certain they’d appreciate this whisky a lot more.
All of these were tasted without participants knowing what the whiskies were, which allowed for plenty of wild and entertaining speculation in the group chat.
Cask 013 – 1994 Bourbon / Sauternes Cask
Distilled in 1994, this 21-year-old Scotch spent most of its life in an American white oak Bourbon cask, before being finished for a year in a Sauternes wine cask from Bordeaux. It was stored in warehouse 13, and bottled at 50.6% ABV.
Colour: oloroso sherry. On the nose: gosh that’s interesting. Like something a Belgian chocolatier might conjure up. Nutty: praline and crushed hazelnuts. Milk chocolate. Redcurrants, strawberries. A touch of maltiness, and very fresh overall. A few esters towards the end.
In the mouth: first impressions of something extremely mellow, velvety and sweet. Lots of fresh berry notes: strawberries again, raspberries. A medium-weight texture that carries some almost classic Speyside notes underneath all this with a nice balance of malt and gentle sherry sweetness. Again, very fresh: gooseberries. A little bit of wood, but not much – just enough to give it a bitter edge. And that edge is not wholly balanced, but I really am nitpicking with this.
Cask 229 – 2003 Full Term Sherry
This had spent 12 years maturing in European oak sherry casks (note: not American oak), stored in warehouse 12, and bottled at 62.2% ABV.
Colour: auburn to polished mahogany. On the nose: gorgeously thick dried fruits, with a little extra orange marmalade on top. Ginger. Cinnamon. Remarkably festive. Then quite a bit of woodiness, coffee, fennel. Flashes of cocoa and marzipan. Burnt toast.
In the mouth: immense. That should have been expected at 62.2%, but by thunder, it’s such a fruit rush it’s like a fig tree has sneezed all over me. Tannins, and very dry in the mouth. Red wine cask? Spicy as heck with nutmeg, black pepper, all spice. Perhaps a touch too woody for me, ultimately, but what an experience.
Cask 543 – 2003 Full Term Port
Distilled in 2003, and has spent 12 years in a port hogshead – European oak again – and bottled at 60.1% ABV.
Colour: gorgeously rose-tinted henna. On the nose: multi-layered fruit bomb. Tart redcurrants, mixed peel, fruitcake. Strawberry bubblegum. Blackberries. Hedgerow jam. Once it settles more jam pastry notes come through. A marvellous freshness. Then after a while, a little bit of boiled ham – or maybe roasted ham in marmalade.
In the mouth: exquisite. Not a thick texture, but this does taste like a boozy dark fruit smoothie. Strawberry jam, simmering raspberries, maybe even a touch of esters with rhubarb and apple. Blood oranges. Cherryade. Pappy Van Winkle! A little chilli heat. Something very different to a lot of other whiskies on the shelves, and my favourite of the night.
All very good whiskies, as I’ve come to expect – and as you’d probably expect me to say. But they aren’t for everyone: the latter two, in particular, are probably for those who are happy for some extreme experiences, particularly at the high ABV. They’re each priced at £90, like all the Micro-Provenance range, which I think is very reasonable for single cask releases. You can buy them direct from the Bruichladdich website.
I keep saying it: why don’t more distilleries do this? Why aren’t more distilleries as transparent as Bruichladdich – why don’t more of them tell consumers the provenance of their whisky? Yes, Scotch whisky is heavily regulated – that’s the beauty of it, that’s what makes it an art form – but instead of meaningless publicity campaigns about transparency, just do it in style like with the Micro-Provenance series.
Oh, I’ll be getting the Port cask whisky for Christmas.