Take new-make spirit, fresh from the stills. Pour it into bourbon casks. Leave those casks to mature. In theory, you’d get pretty similar stuff at the end of it, but of course whisky doesn’t behave like that in the slightest. That’s what last week’s online Bruichladdich online tasting was all about. It explored the variety around what is simple in theory. Whisky. Bourbon cask. What would three different variants of this combination taste like?
Now as readers of Malt will know, I’m a long-time fan of Bruichladdich so you should take what I say with my bias in mind. But I think this online tasting was a fantastic concept. Twitter tastings can, most times, seem a bit random. Just people barking tasting notes into the wind as if they’ve got whisky Tourette’s. Even when you’re in the zone, you’re trying to keep up with what everyone else is saying on social media and it’s harder to appreciate the whisky.
Bruichladdich have started doing things differently. Anyone can take part. For £90 you get three good-size 200 ml bottles, which would last long after the tasting itself. And the bottles themselves are pretty impressive as they’re single cask exclusives from the Micro Provenance range. The twist was this: the bottles only featured cask numbers on their labels. People involved in the tasting didn’t know what the whiskies would be, and didn’t find out until after the initial tasting.
What made this particularly good though was that Bruichladdich were live-streaming video footage from the distillery on YouTube and Periscope, as well as tweeting photos from the event on site. And who was in front of the camera? None other than Adam Hannett, Head Distiller and the man who has taken over from the legendary Jim McEwan. During the tasting people were able to ask questions on YouTube chat about the whiskies and all manner of things related to the distillery, and Adam would discuss the theory behind each of the bottlings.
In short: this is how you do a digital whisky tasting.
People could chat online following the hashtag #LaddieMP2 as well as in a chat-room on YouTube. That made the conversation easy to follow, and it made the interaction almost as good as being at the distillery itself (which also came with random bunch of fellows in the background who must have been delighted to be in the shop at that moment in time to try all this whisky).
Anyway, so what were the three mystery whiskies? They were all Micro-Provenance drams, and they each cost £90. All of the tasting notes were from when the whiskies had not yet been revealed.
Cask No. 149 – Organic Barley 2005, 10 years old – 63.6% ABV
Colour: old gold. On the nose: Lemon zest, creamy, coastal. Sweetshops. Very floral. Pear juice. Touches of barley. Marzipan and praline.
In the mouth: lovely Laddie texture, nice and oily. Intense vanilla, creme brûlée, caramel. Very warm and peppery with such strength, so we’ll add a little water to bring this down to something sane. Opens up some lovely fruitiness: apple juice, honey, toffee. It continues to be very floral. Really lovely.
Cask No. 060 – X4+9 2006 – 64% ABV
The X4 bit means that this whisky was quadruple distilled! That also means. at 64% ABV, it has all the alcohol.
Colour: pale straw, Pinot Grigio. On the nose: I was expecting similar, but not really. Not even close. Hoppy, pearl barley. Bran, floral again. With an underlying, almost condensed Viognier quality.
In the mouth: similar to the nose. Nutty, gentle oak, vanilla, barley again. Woody, perhaps, cigar boxes, and cinnamon. Apricot. Add water and it’s stunning. That texture just comes to life. It has a gentle mustiness though – one that I can’t recall all too frequently on my radar. Not sulphur, not sandalwood, just unusual.
It was fascinating to listen to Adam talking about filling the casks with ultra high-strength X4 spirit, at 80% (another 15% or so more that usual), and how this spirit would extract totally different qualities from the wood. It explained, perhaps, the different notes from the experience.
Cask No. 048 – Fresh Bourbon 1992 – 23 Years Old – 52% ABV
Colour: deep gold, amontillado sherry. On the nose: a combination of the above bourbon-cask notes, with cherries, Victoria sponge, plum jam
In the mouth: peppery again – really warming – with redcurrants, blood orange, cinnamon Just a touch of tannins. Peppermint. I keep going back to the nose on this one, as it’s really lovely. Doesn’t need water, but a splash brings out more fruitiness – blackberries and apples, strawberries even. Huge finish, very warm and chewy. Beautifully autumnal and probably my favourite of the night.
Clever stuff, this tasting. Plenty of trickery and variation, plenty to keep you guessing, but I absolutely adored the 23-year-old Fresh Bourbon. This tasting was certainly something that whisky geeks could enjoy, for all the eyebrow-raising elements to what was revealed along the way, but I think newcomers could also find much to learn.
And we did learn. It wasn’t just churning through samples, but rather our preconceptions were tested.
You can watch the tasting in full (skip forward a bit until it really begins), or you can simply order the drams yourself online. Each one costs £90 a bottle and I think that’s pretty decent value in this age.
(Note: thanks to Carl Reavy at Bruichladdich for sending these on. I should also note that such gestures are always met with honesty around these parts.)