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Bruichladdich Black Art 1990 Edition 6.1

Bruichladdich article! Those of you familiar with Malt will be divided into two groups: those who will internally cry, “Yes!” and those of you who will mutter “Lord, not another one”. It is true that there are no review shortages about Bruichladdich’s diverse and numerous products on Malt but I feel that is for good reason. At the end of the day, their products range from “good” to “godlike”. The staff cares about each step of the process. The notorious terroir (the characteristics and circumstances within the environment that influence the physical properties of the barley crops, not least of which is the taste), macerating their barley in the distillery’s original mash tun from 1881, acknowledging that the majority of the flavourful sugars are created during fermentation, and having a preference for high quality, active casks when they are appropriate. Their willingness to experiment, take risks and then share the results that work with the general public is quite refreshing. They are a magnificent distillery in my eyes, much more open and transparent than the average, especially in these modern times of marketing shroud and alchemical secrecy.

Speaking of alchemy, this particular review will be of the enigmatic Black Art 6.1, alchemy-symbol-emblazoned packaging and all. So yes, another Bruichladdich review on Malt, but at least it’s one not reviewed before. The Black Art line is a series of whiskies from Bruichladdich where an uncharacteristic lack of information is the feature: the types of casks that the spirit was aged in are top secret. Allegedly, no one knows the exact cask types that were used other than the master distiller himself, Adam Hannett. Leave it to Bruichladdich to make a lack of information the primary factor, a testament to their level of transparency compared to many other distilleries in the industry. Most of the other details are graciously provided to the consumer with little to no trouble. The first four Black Arts (Blacker Still, 2.1, 3.1, and 4.1) were the result of master distiller, and whisky showman, Jim McEwan. The original Blacker Still and 4.1 have been my favourites of the series up to now, with the first effort by Adam Hannett in edition 5.1 being slightly disappointing compared to the others while still remarkable in its own right (to me at least).

The packaging for this stuff begs to be commented on as well. Too often the presentation for older, “luxury” whiskies is gaudy and over-the-top. It’s all swiveling doors, velvet inlays, fancy locks, little pamphlets or booklets that offer the most generalized of information, and a pitiful overuse of the words “finest” and “hand-picked”. This is not the case here. Bruichladdich are showing the up the rest of the industry in the packaging game as well. Black Art 6.1 is an older single malt and priced as a luxury product compared to the rest of Bruichladdich’s core range. However, the packaging manages to be both intriguing and inexpensive simultaneously. No pamphlets, no intricate boxes, no pedestals. A simple aluminum canister painted black with a bottle of whisky inside is all that’s present here. The canister is embossed at the top with the distillery name and a small paragraph of gobbledygook (which I admittedly found charming, if unnecessary) can be found near the lower middle. The bottle itself is painted matte black and just looks so incredibly sleek and modern. It’s what I imagine the Jaguar F-Type would resemble if turned into a whisky bottle.

The main attraction is a six-pointed star inlaid with red lines and a different alchemical symbol at 5 of its points, while the bottle itself is missing the symbol at the topmost point. For those of you familiar with alchemy and its imagery, these hieroglyphs are denoted as: Luna (crescent moon representing silver), Mutatio (or “Mercury”), Ignis (upright triangle representing elemental fire), Aqua (inverted triangle with a horizontal line bisecting the lower point, representing elemental Earth, though one would think water), and lastly Aqua Vitae (this is the culprit present on the canister but not the bottle, and resembles a menorah-type shape atop an inverted cross, representing “Water of Life” or “Spirit of Wine” known to us mortals as concentrated ethanol). One can interpret these signs as the bare recipe needed to make whisky itself.

Edition 6.1 of the Black Art is both the oldest and most widely produced of the series, coming in at 26 years of age and 18 000 bottles produced. I shall be reviewing bottle number 11 511. This cost ~$350.00 CAD from my Ontario liquor monopoly, which frankly isn’t that bad as it seems to go for $100.00 to $300.00 CAD above that price depending on your location. So, yeah this is expensive but is it worth it? Well, it’s unpeated, non-chill filtered, bottled at 46.9% ABV, and contains no added colouring (mercifully, clearly labeled on the bottle) so theoretically, we’re off to a good start. Enough foreplay, time to dive in!

Bruichladdich Black Art 1990 Edition 6.1 – review

Colour: A lovely shade of orange, much darker than I expected.

On the nose: Wow, there is definitely some wine cask influence in this one! The initial whiff reminds me of icing sugar on top of a fruitcake, vanilla and sugary sweetness. Berry fruits right as they’re being placed into the cake batter. Coming back yields powerful and plentiful berries, mainly blackberries, raspberries, and a little strawberry as well. As it sits and opens up there are more citrus and tropical fruit notes that appear, something similar to mango, passion fruit, grapefruit and blood oranges. After 10 minutes some strange earthy sweetness creeps in, like coconut-covered dark chocolate with grated truffle overtop. All the while those berry notes from before stick around and keep popping into the forefront. I really love this nose, but it’s definitely strong on the wine qualities.

In the mouth: Rich, thick, and sweet! Green apples right off the bat. Not overly tart or sour, sweeter than that. A green apple jolly rancher from that candied sweetness. Plums and raisins are present alongside the green apple but they’re more in the background. The berry from the nose is present again on the palate as mostly blackberry, but more like blackberry jam rather than the raw fruit. It eventually takes over the green apple flavour entirely. Vanilla pudding and brown sugar come out as it sits on the tongue before yielding to baking spices like ginger, cloves, and cinnamon. The whole affair ends on surprisingly soft notes of dark chocolate, hazelnuts, slight mint, caramel, and the smallest hit of tobacco. There is creaminess throughout the entire experience though. The same milky/vanilla creaminess I get from many Bruichladdich expressions and consider it to be one of the distillery’s primary characteristics.

Conclusions

This was a damn good drop of Bruichladdich and a solid return to form for the line. The sixth edition of the Black Art is up there with the best releases of the series and I find myself reaching for a second pour. The various fruity and dessert qualities all play nicely together and the hints of earth, tobacco, and truffle add enough dimension to keep what seems to be wine and sherry influence from dominating the whole affair.

The wine influence is quite strong though, and can be a little off-putting if you aren’t used to it or dislike that style altogether. I am very curious about what exact wine casks went into the mix for this edition and what regions they came from. The price is a bit exorbitant as well, but I’m extremely picky in that regard. Years of buying from the monopolistic LCBO have certainly not helped any of my principles regarding price either. Additionally, as an astrobiologist and biochemist by education, the idea of highly-priced libations that are eventually filtered out through your kidneys and urinary tract has always seemed a little humorous.

Bruichladdich Black Art 6.1 is very good, but mainly if you can find it at its MSRP. It’s not so delicious that I’d never share it with anyone, but it is worthy of being shared with only your closest of friends and family that could appreciate it. It’s certainly a perfect choice as a dessert dram for those yearly special occasions, like the winter holidays or birthdays.

Score: 7/10

Lead image kindly provided by the Whisky Exchange.

CategoriesSingle Malt
Greg
Greg

Greg has been following and consuming the world of single malt scotch and bourbon whiskies for 13 years as of 2020. His educational background is in science with degrees in Astrobiology and the Life Sciences. Some of his hobbies include amateur astronomy, weight lifting, playing piano and guitar, and posting one-minute whisky reviews on Instagram.

  1. Avatar
    Per Niklasson says:

    Hi Greg, havn’t tried the 6.1 and I appriciate your input, interesting piece, thank you.

    Curious why you list Blacker Still first on your list of BAs instead of the BA 19yo 89/09. As far as I know Blacker Still has nothing to do with the BA series, except for McEwan and the color of the bottle ofc..

    Cheers! away_days321

    1. Greg
      Greg says:

      Hi Per Niklasson, that is an error on my part. The 19yo 89/09 is the first of the series. Thank you for the correction!

      The 6.1 was enjoyable, probably most similar to the 4.1 if you’ve had that one.

      Cheers!

  2. Graham
    Graham says:

    Greg,

    Nice review. I’ve always been intrigued by the Black Arts format but have only tasted the Octomore OBA thus far. This furthers my interest for sure but agree the entry price is Streep. Especially when comparing other whiskies in the price bracket.

    1. Greg
      Greg says:

      Hi Graham,

      Thanks very much, I am glad you enjoyed it. Yes, the price for the Black Art is already pushing the limit at MSRP. I would suggest trying a pour at a bar or from a generous friend before deciding on whether to commit to a whole bottle. It is really good, but it’s just at the boundary where I would say any higher price mark-up makes it not worth the money.

      How did you like the Octomore OBA? I’ve been on the hunt for that for years now.

      1. Graham
        Graham says:

        Greg,

        I found the OBA remarkable. I’d taken a punt on it blind and didn’t know if I would like it at all. I found it really interesting and would agree with Bruichladdich’s assertion that very heavy peat gives a deep richness and character rather than just more smoke. The wine casks added another layer of sweetness and intrigue. I really made that bottle last as long as I could.

  3. Avatar
    Greg B. says:

    I have to admit I was slightly put off by the opening praise for Bruichladdich as a distillery. They used to be one of my favorite producers but in the last decade or so I have found them guilty of throwing so many products into the marketplace that I have no idea who they are or what they stand for now. It strikes me – just from my observation, no due to anything else – that their corporate masters have given them orders to pump out as much product as they can in order to earn back the stiff price they paid for the place. So they give us a lot of different products, many if not most of a NAS variety, and demand prices that may not always be supported by the quality of the liquid. To your credit, you pretty much reach that same conclusion at the end of your review.

    The lack of information about this particular release is undoubtedly due to its age. Much of what is in this concoction sounds like product that Reynier, McEwen & co. got when they bought the place in the early ’00s, so information on what went into the liquid in those old casks was likely not very fulsome if it existed at all. I am more surprised that there is still old product from the 1980s remaining in the cask warehouse, as I would have thought they would have run out years ago. I know a lot was used up in the early years when McEwan was busy making new spirit that needed aging, and they had to sell the old stuff to get some cash flow coming in.

    1. Avatar
      Kevin says:

      I completely disagree with your NAS remark. If I’m not mistaken only one product in Bruichladdich’s entire line is NAS – the Classic Laddie – but even in that case you can easily look up the details of the casks. While you can quibble with the quality of their products and their pricing, which are entirely fair critiques, but they are undoubtedly a leader when it comes to transparency.

      If you want to criticize a company relentlessly churning out NAS releases, look no further than Macallan and Highland Park (both Edrington Brands).

      1. Greg
        Greg says:

        Hi Kevin,

        I don’t mind Bruichladdich being a little cheeky with their marketing, or having a few NAS in exchange for the transparency they usually offer. I would love for them to revive the Laddie 16 though, that stuff was fantastic!

        Highland Park has been like watching a slow-motion car accident. Heartbreaking. I’ve got a few well-aged, pre-viking releases that I would love to review in the future when I have a good occasion to open them.

      2. Avatar
        Greg B. says:

        What you say is true of their current range, but up until a few years ago just the opposite was true. What made me turn my back on them was the never-ending series of NAS offerings at inflated prices, or ones that did not deserve the Bruichladdich name – things like Rocks, variations of Scottish Barley, and many of their peated expressions early on. Many were just not very good and were poor value. I think they more recently recognized the damage this did to their brand and as you say have moved towards more age statements. But they are still selling rather young whiskies at prices that make me think twice about the value I would be getting. It will take time for me to consider them to be back to what they once were.

    2. Greg
      Greg says:

      Hi Greg B.,

      I am with you on the increased outturn of products from he distillery, but at the very least the NAS they release are either of much higher quality compared to most NAS from any other distillery. The Bere Barley and Organic releases I found particularly good, and fairly reasonable in terms of price. That being said, the LCBO is infuriatingly finicky in terms of what they price at MSRP and what they mark up. Bruichladdich just happens to be one of those products they don’t price too highly, though I have noticed the price on them increasing in general by a dollar or two every 8-12 weeks. Bruichladdich also make it easier to find the specific information about that product. For example, the Classic Laddie has a code on the back that may be entered in Bruichladdich’s website. This will give the complete breakdown of what types of casks, and how old, went into that specific bottle.

      We may never know just how much was left in the warehouse when McEwan et al. bought the distillery, but every whisky producer and their mother finds lost casks all the time. I’m sure they know well enough which ones are older and have aged well vs which ones need to be blended with something more lively. Look at the Rare Cask series for example, supposedly it’s all from the last of the stock laid down in the years before closure yet there was still enough left untouched for them to play around with and do wide releases. As for this Black Art, who can say if there’s any whisky in it that’s significantly above the 26 year cutoff? The whole point of the series is about that specific information being unavailable.

  4. Avatar
    bifter says:

    A chameleon distillery. The contrast between, say, the Black Art series (all fruits and refinement) and the 9/10/11 year old SMWS Port Charlotte bottlings (astringent, ashy peat and often above the industry standard 63% abv) are like night and day. Then there’s Octomore and the whole gamut of the Laddie range through the years.

    I tried and very much enjoyed Black Art 2.1, all strawberries and even a pink tinge to the liquid, however that was a far more reasonable c.£100 if I recall correctly. As mentioned, these releases may be from older stock, if true it’s a shame this will eventually deplete, unlikely to be replaced. No matter, I long since ceased to be able to afford them!

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