B

Bruichladdich The Classic Laddie

The B on the Bruichladdich logo obviously stands for Bruichladdich, but now it can also stand for “B Corp.”

B Corp has absolutely no impact on the flavour of your whisky, but it can impact on how warmly you feel about the brand. I had previously been a little withering about the green status of Bruichladdich and the speed of change to reach net-zero in comparison to some of the other distillers. However, going green is only one small aspect of what makes a company a force for good or a force for evil.

B Corp status is really taking off around the world, with over 4,700 businesses signed up covering about 400,000 employees in over 80 countries. It is cross industry, and therefore many readers may have encountered the status outside of whisky. There are as many organisations aiming to grant independent certification as corporations looking to virtue signal and sign up. For me, the most important aspect of the B Corp status that elevates it above other certifying bodies is that it requires legal changes in the business’ articles of incorporation to require the business to look for benefits for all stakeholders not just the shareholders.

B Corp requires a detailed assessment of the business in the following areas:

  • “Governance: code of ethics; financial information disclosure; whistle-blower policy; mission and engagement
  • Workers: career development; health, wellness and safety; tracking satisfaction and engagement
  • Environment: environmental management system; recycling materials; water, waste and energy usage
  • Community: civic engagement and giving; diversity, equity and inclusion; supply chain management
  • Customers: customer feedback or complaint mechanisms; regularly monitoring customer outcomes and wellbeing”

How has Bruichladdich embraced the change? First certified in May 2020, notable aspects of the business that helped them qualify included commitments to their workers that included:

Living Wage employment, a 5-10% bonus scheme shared for 100% of our staff, annual cost of living adjustments as well we private healthcare, life assurance provisions and 34 days paid annual leave as standard. We’re also a diverse employer with a sound training and development program, including 50%+ female management and an age range of staff spanning from 19 to 75 years of age.

Straightaway I’m sure most readers would notice benefits here not enjoyed by the majority of working people.

On the sustainability front, Bruichladdich was using residual heat from the stills to heat offices, the visitor centre, and the bottling hall. They also switched to 100% green electricity. This is interesting as it relates to choosing a green energy tariff from the electricity supplier – which any of us can choose to do – however the production process still requires non-renewable energy. There is a target to change this by 2025.

In 2021 the Bruichladdich annual report (a key requirement in the transparency required by B Corp status) highlighted a number of additional initiatives that were introduced including staff wellbeing initiatives, a green hydrogen pilot project, promoting volunteering by staff, increasing donations to environmental initiatives, and introducing the “one tin lighter” option, where customers have to opt in to the additional packaging. This is part of a wider drive to reach zero-landfill status. Interestingly only 46% of customers opted to go without a tin, so perhaps we consumers need to do our bit to help reduce packaging.

The annual report is lengthy reading and that is largely due to the sheer breadth of the areas in which Bruichladdich is actively aiming to improve. These areas extend from agriculture and biodiversity to making hand sanitiser during the initial covid crisis.

Where B Corp status excels is that it pulls together a company’s performance and gives and aggregated score. This allows for higher performance in some areas and for recognition that other areas require focus. In 2021 the Bruichladdich score was 83.2 out of a possible 200 (80 is the minimum to achieve B Corp status). The stringency of the scoring here demonstrates significant headroom for future improvement, but (importantly) appears to talk to the integrity of the overall scoring system.

Bruichladdich talk of a 20-year journey to become a company worthy of certification, which certainly puts the efforts to get this far into in context. It’s also clear that there is a significant commitment to the resources to monitor all the work being done, to ensure that year on year performance is achieved and there is evidence to prove it.

Through 2021 and into 2022, Bruichladdich are committed to further “look into” ways of reducing the carbon footprint of the distillery. This is a slight bugbear of mine, but I acknowledge the local and geographic challenges of island life make this somewhat more difficult than for other distilleries.

Bruichalddich plans to develop a team of mental health first aiders within their employee team, invest in local educational bursaries, and continue to develop plans for a local maltings expected to increase local employment. Bruichladdich will also continue the three-year commitment with Botanic Gardens Conservation International through four international conservation initiatives, working with local farmers and agronomists to improve flavour and yield locally. They’ll continue to invest in the Botanist Foundation (after the gin distilled on site), which works in the UK to improve biodiversity. In addition to that, Bruichladdich will continue to work towards zero-landfill by reducing virgin materials in all packaging and ensure packaging is 100% recyclable. I’m sure we are all hoping that the team find time to distil whisky!

Hopefully this summary helps persuade you that we whisky drinkers are in the privileged position not only to enjoy this expensive spirit, but also having the option to make ethical purchasing decisions. We can avoid the companies that are failing to improve the world around them, failing to look after their employees or local community, and instead support those striving to make a difference. Nc’Nean is the only other single malt distillery currently holding the B Corp status. A slight health warning: Brewdog also hold B Corp status despite multiple exposés on the treatment of employees and the management culture at the brewer.

So what of the Bruichladdich range? Well after the “reawakening” in 2001, we saw lots of experimentation with cask finishes, wine casks, and multiple expressions which was all a bit bewildering. They carved themselves out as an experimental distillery under the watchful eye of Jim McEwan. Much of that experimental approach has been retained under head distiller Adam Hannett, however the range has settled into a more regular set of core expressions and slightly fewer limited editions.

Within the core range there are three distillate steams: Bruichladdich (an unpeated expression) Port Charlotte (the heavily peated expression), and Octomore (the legendary, most highly peated spirit in the world). For this review I picked up some of the Classic Laddie, the entry level Bruichladdich which is presented at 50% ABV and is non-chill filtered and presented with natural colour. It is distilled, matured, and bottled on Islay, which many of the other island distilleries can no longer claim.

Each batch has a unique code on the back of the bottle, which allows drinkers to discover the recipe that went into their product. In this case: 18/427 revealing that this batch was bottled in 2019… although that is also included below the code! More interesting is that this batch is a vatting of 77 casks, four vintages, three barley types and six cask types. It’s predominantly bourbon casks (both first and second fill), with two Pauillac (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot) hogshead first fill, five Ribero del Duero (Tempranillo) hogsheads first fill, one Rivesaltes Sweet hogshead first fill, five Pessac-Leognan (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot) hogshead first fill. These various wine casks make up 16% of the batch, probably providing top-dressing but not the predominant flavour.

Despite the transparency of cask make up the only the youngest of those ages is legally allowed to be identified according to the SWA regulations. In this case the youngest component makes up roughly 46% of the total number of casks. 2011 making the youngest component about 8 years old, in line with similar distilleries NAS output.

Bruichladdich The Classic Laddie Scottish Barley – Review

Batch 18/427. 50% ABV. Around £40 – £50.

Colour: Haybale.

On the nose: Crispy malty notes, vanilla, sweet custard-cream biscuits, there is some fruitiness in the background, pears, apple flesh, a little sea breeze. Heavier spices develop, some cinnamon a little smoked paprika, pepper, richer fruits like plum and fresh fig then crushed raspberry, dusty vanilla, pencil shavings and prickly alcohol.

In the mouth: Sweet but drying, salty, custard-creams, really salty, caramel, peppery spirit, zingy sharp fruit like Granny Smith apples, water brings out more fruit and more salt. In the background a more complex funk which delivers over ripe melon, quince, and blood orange. Over time the tell-tale red fruits from the wine take prominence. The finish keeps the over ripe notes which is the best aspect of this whisky before it becomes overcome by the green chili and pepper of the youthful spirit. With time in the glass or the bottle the youthfulness drops away.

Conclusions:

This dram needs some time in the glass and the fastidious application of water to get the most out of it, but if you find the sweet spot the complexity is really great. The top-dressing casks help tame the youthful base spirit, given time to open up both the sherry casks and red wine casks add discernible layers to the spirit.

Score: 6/10

Lead photo author’s own. Other photos courtesy of Bruichladdich.

CategoriesSingle Malt
Graham

Graham is at the consumer end of the whisky world; constantly seeking out a bargains and generally very cautious with his limited budget. An occasional visitor to distilleries and a member of the odd whisky club. He does not collect whiskies but has a few nice ones put away for some future special occasion. He enjoys discussions with the wider whisky community and may resemble the ‘average’ Malt reader.

  1. Greg B. says:

    I used to be a huge fan of Bruichladdich, even prior to the revival of 2001 when I would chase down stray bottles produced under previous ownership. The distinct talc notes were unique and appealing to me. When the Reynier/McEwan/Coughlin group took over I was overjoyed. The early products offered were of course made under the old regime but were very good and in some cases quite old. When they old spirit began running low we were introduced to the first NAS offerings which were in truth not very good for the price (Rocks!) and began to make me question my loyalty. Ever since I have found their output to be rather uneven, with the Port Charlotte offerings still quite good, but many of the Bruichladdich branded ones a bit of a gamble, often showing too much young spirit character and being rather biscuity/cerealy. To me the “Classic Laddie” is a 10-12 y-o spirit with a clean taste from mostly bourbon casks, with a hint of that talc influence I like. This has proven very elusive in recent years, and locally to me at least, expensive too. I do give them credit for bottling at 50% though and resisting the need to add color. But my jury remains out on them.

    A comment about the B-Corp thing: the last company I worked for prior to retirement had a similar set of criteria it trumpeted in its annual reporting and strategic planning. I was involved with crafting several of the pieces regarding governance, ethics and whistle-blowing, and was involved in delivering items relating to the Community and Customer pillars, with others leading the charge on employees, community. environment and the like. It was easy to spend a lot of time and money on some of these, checking boxes and doing initiatives that in the end were mostly window dressing with little real effect. We tracked customer satisfaction and employee engagement, but never changed our business practices much. We pledged millions to environmental causes, but most of them were for publicity rather than actual change. It sounds suspiciously to me like another money-making scheme for the B-Corp proponents similar to others (LEED, anyone?) rather than real change.

    1. Jakob says:

      Thanks for the review! It’s been a while since I had the ‘classic’ Laddie but I’ve had the 8 and 10 more recently. Both very enjoyable. One of the things I like about Bruichladdich is the mouth feel. I often find it a bit ‘chewy’ in that it’s viscous and you almost feel like you can bite down on it at the finish. Did you get something like that with this one? Also, on the transparency front, two questions: 1) I put your bottle code into the Bruichladdich website and it showed the youngest vintage being 2011, with the older ones redacted. Were they all redacted for you? 2) Ardnamurchan go even further, showing mash temperature, distillation proof, and the age of every single component of the whisky, not just the youngest one. How come they’re allowed to do this when Bruichladdich can’t? Aren’t they the same regulations?

      1. Graham says:

        Jakob,

        Regarding mouthfeel I’d not say chewy as such no, but not light either. Which leaves us with the dull medium bodied. But that probably captures it.

        Regarding the vintages, perhaps a not well written paragraph on reflection. I am conflating what’s said with the code and what the write on the bottle. I’ll see if I can tweak this.

        Regarding Ardnamurchan I think a deeper dive into the rules is required. Bruichladdich refer to EU rules on their site but post brexit this may or may not be relevant, or may remain important for EU sales. Ardnamurchan may be interpreting the same rules differently.

    2. Graham says:

      Greg,

      Regarding B-Corp I actually approach the article with a fair amount of cynicism myself for exactly the same reasons you are cautious. However in speaking to business leaders they emphasised the importance of the changes to the articles of incorporation. Separately I completed a fairly deep troll online looking for critique on the scheme of which there is none that I could find. Looking at Scottish companies Brewdog was the only one I knew of that had aspects addressed in B-Corp (governance) challenged publicly. So it would appear more robust than the schemes you describe working on.

      1. Greg B. says:

        Our initiatives were partly included in our articles of incorporation but not all, though one of those – to make profits increase – always seemed to take precedence. We also had one included there relating to customer service and satisfaction which tended to wax and wane depending upon who was in charge. I actually enjoyed my responsibilities in that area the most, so that when a letter of complaint landed on my desk, I could make amends and very often get a letter of thanks in return. Others relating to employees, which thankfully were not my responsibility, were sometimes an impossible task given their union representation which seemed to have at its core to never be happy. Such is life in big business.

    3. Chris says:

      I very much enjoyed this eloquent and erudite comment on the B-Corp matter, thank you. It strikes me as a splendid example of that old Soviet joke:

      “They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.”

      I keep an eye of Bruichladdich, but usually find it a little pricey. Port Charlotte has a very good reputation, so I think I’ll have to try it at a bar.

  2. Tony says:

    Thanks for all the background on Bruichladdich, Graham. The last scotch bottle I emptied was the Classic Laddie, and I’ll continue to revisit their range. I agree, a little water opened it up some for additional exploration. I got into the habit of drinking the first half of my glass neat, then adding water to the remaining half for an entirely new experience. The B-Corp stuff warms my heart and elevates this further.

  3. Welsh Toro says:

    Bruichladdich are a fantastic distillery and were my distillery of the year 2021 by a county mile. They have some crazy stuff on the books but the reason I love them so much is how good their regular core range is. To call it ‘regular’ hardly does it justice. What I’m talking about is very high quality below £100 and £50.

    Jim has gone but the spirit lives on and has developed. Wonderful distillery doing all the right stuff by its staff and customers.

    1. Graham says:

      Toro,

      I’m probably rating Bruichladdich my favourite Islay distillery. I’m glad the core range is good because the indie prices are wild.

      Thanks for your thoughts,

      Graham

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