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.
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.
Lead image kindly provided by the Whisky Exchange.