Things often come full circle. It wasn’t that long ago that former Bruichladdich boss Mark Reynier used to shrug off the “tyranny of the age statement”, when Bruichladdich started producing multi-vintage whiskies without a number on the bottle. There was much debate about No Age Statement whiskies. Lack of a number became rebellious – a moment in time after a century (not just the past 20 years) of brands telling drinkers that older whisky was better. Then marketers ruined everything.
Now, Bruichladdich says: “Age statements are important to Scotch whisky and the launch of The Laddie Ten in 2011 was a genuine landmark moment for us at Bruichladdich”. We’re not dealing with extremes anymore. Nuance is actually permitted in online discussion (even in the Trump era). This is Bruichladdich’s acknowledgement that while consumers originally responded positively to No Age Statement whiskies, people today would like to know what’s going on with their whisky. Indeed, with ever more brands on the market, consumers will surely start to ask: am I getting value for money? And in addressing that question, the details matter. Demanding drinkers would like to know the context behind what they’re drinking, and age is one of the variables. I am increasingly of the opinion that it is simply good manners for companies to tell us more about the whisky. Those who do not tell us much are rude. In that respect, Bruichladdich is very respectful of consumers.
Which brings me back to three new Bruichladdich releases. The lack of age statement originally allowed them to market fascinating whiskies that were perhaps a little younger than might have been accepted by traditional punters, but those whiskies were made with more consideration than during the rather industrial production era that preceded the distillery’s resurrection in 2001. These new whiskies went into good casks right from the start.
And basically the new era whiskies have now grown up. They’re old enough to have a decent age statement. So why not talk about it? They’re so old now that Bruichladdich can keep releasing them, which is why today I am reviewing their second editions.
The Laddie Ten
Matured in a mixture of bourbon, sherry and French oak casks. Bottled at 50% ABV, costs £50.
On the nose: leads with elegant vanilla (not too sweet), citrus and Champagne-like yeast. There’s a lightness here. Peaches, apricots and green apples. Floral honey. Horlicks. Feels as if the American oak is the more active element.
In the mouth: more honeyed at first. Custard creams. Apples again, but the honey and vanilla really take over. Barley and a pleasant grassiness. Malted milk biscuits. Green tea. Some grapefruit-like acidity. Just enough viscosity, though maybe not quite as much as the previous version. Perhaps too much oak and pepper, the tannins knocking this off balance slightly towards a warming finish. Would it be a crime to say I preferred the Laddie Eight to this?
Port Charlotte 10
Matured in a mixture of bourbon, sherry, Tempranillo and French oak casks. Bottled at 50% ABV, costs £55.
Colour: amber again.
On the nose: maltiness and the mellow peat merge together nicely here, so it’s rather approachable. The peat is edgy, Lapsang souchong rather than sweet, and that smokey tea quality dominates. Lemon juice. Beeswax. Digestive biscuits. Clotted cream. Crème brûlée.
In the mouth: that’s much better – a gorgeously thick texture that delivers a perfectly sweet and savoury balance, though a lot of that comes from a wholemeal loaf, malty element rather than peat specifically. That said, the Port Charlotte style peat feels more familiar. Now: redcurrants, a lovely tartness that leads into blackcurrants and blackberries. Heather honey. Strawberry jam. Lapsang souchong echoes the nose, but only towards the finish. It is a good bit of blending, but leave it in the glass a while to understand it better.
Matured in a mixture of bourbon and Grenache blanc casks. Bottled at 57.3% ABV, costs £150.
Colour: deep gold.
On the nose: has the beast been tamed? Time will do that to a peated whisky. Much sweeter than the Port Charlotte 10, with notes of plum jam and blackcurrants. Very floral under all that, and in the distant come hoppy, cereal notes. Tobacco. A fruity coffee. A touch of Cognac. Quite honeyed again – a theme shared by them all. A syrupy sweetness increases with time in the glass.
In the mouth: beautiful flavours. Intense, yet retains a nice subtlety helped along by a marvellously silky texture. Tart redcurrants and pontack sauce, maybe balsamic vinegar, whilst retaining enough plum and blackberry sweetness (almost mince pie-like in fact). The smoke is more medicinal. Burnt toast and bitter dark chocolate. The balance is superb and combined with that texture makes for a highly enjoyable dram. Spill some on your hands, rub them together, and one finds cereal notes with that highly perfumed note of old roses. Weird!
The peated whiskies were noticeably better in my opinion, and the Octomore was tremendously good. It’s absolutely one of the best Octomore whiskies, which have at times been a shade on the thuggish side. Maybe it is my favourite of the vattings, though time makes me an unreliable narrator. I’m not sure the Laddie Ten Second Edition really quite works for me. There’s something missing, though I can’t quite put my finger on it.
I find, when casually sipping, that the Octomore and Port Charlotte whiskies were becoming quite similar in places, which makes me wonder where the two ranges will end up going in future. Port Charlotte was at one time officially resurrected, and was meant to be its own distinct operation, but it has since been mothballed. Octomore has always been the beast of Islay, yet time will make it more mellow and the differences in intensity appear less so than it was for younger offerings. How can the two brands remain distinct? I suppose the price is one way of doing this.
In conclusion, I’m not sure what my conclusion is. All I know is that the Octomore 10 was brilliant and yes, after spending quite a while with it, I probably would pay £150 for a bottle.
As an aside, shouldn’t we be expecting the new regime’s 15 year olds soon?
Note: samples were sent by Bruichladdich as part of an online tasting, but because long-term readers know I admire this distillery greatly (I have reviewed about 30 of their whiskies here) I am rather more critical of it for the same reason. Fans should have higher expectations.