Monday, June 07, 2010

the laddie in red

It seemed only fair to reward myself for successfully moving house by buying a celebratory bottle of whisky, so here it is: Bruichladdich Rocks, currently available in Morrison's for about £23.

A quick bit of background: Bruichladdich is an Islay distillery which until fairly recently (when Kilchoman started producing) laid claim to being the westernmost distillery in Scotland. It's had a bit of a chequered history, most recently including being closed between 1994 and 2001. When its enterprising new owners started production up again they were in the tricky position of not being able to release any of their newly distilled spirit as whisky for three years - fortunately they'd inherited a substantial stock of existing casks, and so they embarked on an enterprising, if slightly bewildering, programme of limited edition expressions of the existing stock. One of the things they did was issue a series of bottlings called Waves, Rocks and Peat which supposedly reflected the various facets of the Bruichladdich character, or some such bollocks.

Also, a note on pronunciation: the general convention seems to be towards something like "brook-laddie", though orthodox Scottish pronunciation rules would normally oblige you to stick a final "ch" sound on there, like at the end of "loch". Up to you.

Rocks is made up of whisky of various ages (hence no age statement on the bottle) and is "finished" in casks that previously held Banyuls wine. Slightly irritatingly you'd be hard-pressed to glean any of this information from the bottle or the packaging, both of which offer some vaguely poetic flannel but little in the way of cold hard facts. That there's something slightly unusual going on is obvious from the colour of the whisky, though: it's got a faint pink tinge to it, which you may or may not be able to pick out from the photograph.

Have a sniff and a taste and you'll discover that any notion of there being a single signature Islay "style" - big, tarry, peaty, medicinal whisky that you could clean paintbrushes in - is a bit of a simplification, as this is very light with barely a trace of peat or smoke at all. This is the second successive Islay malt I've tried, but this and the Bowmore couldn't be more different. This one is quite sweet, a bit floral, with just a hint of something red and tart and fruity in the background - more redcurrants than strawberries, I think (could this be from the wine casks?). It's quite "hot" on the tongue at first - like the Penderyn (which this is not dissimilar to) that's probably partly from being bottled at 46% and partly a bit of rawer, younger, estery spirit coming through.

I think there's an argument that the sheer size and diversity of the Bruichladdich range is a bit bewildering and perhaps not conducive to developing a recognisable distillery "style" - on the other hand I salute their ingenuity in wringing out every last bit of interest they could from the stocks left in the warehouse. As I've said before I'm mildly suspicious of whisky that's been mucked around with by applying non-traditional "finishing", and as with the Caol Ila this doesn't quite measure up to the magnificence of, say, the Highland Park or the Dalmore, but I think as an experiment it works quite well.

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