You know it ain't easy,
We just reviewed Bullet's NAS Bourbon (their original Frontier Whiskey) and now we're looking at a much older specimen, in maturation years. In many ways, it's the father of that younger spirit: same bloodline, same casks, just older and a little wiser to the ways of the world. Or is it jaded? As you'll see from the review below, I'm not quite sure. Let's lift the veil of mystery.
The 10 year Bulleit is precisely the same spirit as the original Bulleit, it just stayed in those casks another 4 years or so (and picked up 0.6% ABV? okay). In many ways this was an experimental gesture on behalf of the Bulleit team. You can't blame them for being curious about the influence of that psychologically significant double digit threshold, but nonetheless this is an age statement - 10 years. Not "until it's done" or "until it's right". It's taking this high rye bourbon one step closer to WhistlePig territory and seeing what lies beyond the blue event horizon, boldly going where no Bulleit has gone before. It's really not that big of a deal.
Until you nose it.
Are you sure this isn't just a rye aged in bourbon barrels? What the hell happened to that sticky, syrupy sorghum sweetness? I mean, it's still there, it's just lurking behind the honeysuckle, wet grass, vanilla, and sopapillas. I'm not kidding, it's downright fried pastry funnel cake all drizzled with honey. And is that a hint of play-dough? What is going on here?
That nose is really quite elegant, but just like the original it's the palate entry that gives you that Vulcan mind meld moment. Your first thought: "It's nice to meet you, are you the Legend's father?" And as you dig deeper into his brain, there are some interesting things happening. He's decidedly drier (well, we know which side of the family the sweetness came from). There's that flash of sweet, buttery bourbon then BOOM, the mind meld is broken. And suddenly he's attacking you with sweat bees on your tongue. An inexplicable spicy fire starts to overtake your mouth - adding water does not help here. This isn't just the rye talking. This has to be something from the wood, but how you get this fire from American white oak is beyond me. The spice even lacks character! - it's a straight-up Sriracha hotness (undefinable, but all over the place). This has morphed into a downright angry mouthfeel, a Vulcan that lost its logic - live long and prosper, indeed!
Look, if you like spicy, this is totally your thing. The dryness I can deal with, but the spiciness is absolutely my least desirable trait in a bourbon. Call me a wuss, but you'd be wrong.
Now that the spiciness has died down, there's a slightly puckering tannin influence - again from the wood. Every impression so far has suggested that the oak overstayed its welcome here. It's The Office of bourbons, it just went a season or two too long. It's not like you wouldn't watch it, it's just that there are so many better expressions out there.
It's interesting to step back and compare this to something like Glenmorangie's Ealanta, which spent 19 years in toasted first-fill American Oak (quite similar to Bulleit's maturation, but almost twice as long - then again, we're talking barley instead of corn/rye). Glenmorangie's offering is sugary, demure, and delectable, a product of carefully tended malt, perfectly chosen oak, and provenance. By comparison, Bulleit's 10 yo is just kind of ... cranky. It's not nearly as nice to drink neat as the younger Bulleit, that's for sure.
You get the sense that the extra years have just not been kind to this bourbon - like the woman Niel Young sings about in "Unknown Legend". It's a rougher spirit, but it refuses to make excuses. In fact, it just kind of celebrates what it's got. So who takes the title?
Why, we haven't reviewed the Bulleit 95 Rye yet. ;-)
Old man, look at my life,
Get ready, folks, 'cause we're about to dive into an American whiskey triple-header! It's the season for these sorts of things, no? To kick it off we go with "the Legend" itself, paired with some perfectly appropriate Americana in that video up above.
Let's be honest - if you're a bourbon enthusiast, you've probably heard the Bulleit story. The funny thing about being a bourbon enthusiast is you really know if you are one. I mean, you're picky about the kind of young, sticky, sweet, caramel spiciness you like in your glass, and you usually drink it on the rocks because (1) that's what your dad did, or (2) 'Murica. You have a brand loyalty and sensitivity that rivals the Budweiser - Miller feud. You care, and I mean really care when a bar doesn't stock your Maker's (so, you like red wheat in your mashbill do you?). You even find yourself wary of new "bourbons" that appear in your local liquor store that don't sound like they were named after that affluent suburb down the street or a state park in Kentucky. Despite all those wonderful Buffalo Maker's Creek's names, one of your friends just told you to go check out a Bourbon with (gasp!) a person's name on it. Who the hell is Tom Bulleit? He must have some serious balls to emboss his name on that bottle and not even give it an old-fashioned wax seal! Blasphemy!
Bulleit is a bourbon that truly doesn't give a shit what anyone thinks about it. You want to read about Bulleit's small-batch rye release on their website? Tough, you get to read about the Legend. You want to hear them hype up their 10 yo expression? They hardly acknowledge its existence. It's obvious to me that the company wants to be known and judged by their original expression (even though their sales increased 200% with the release of their now monumentally famous Bulleit 95 Rye - hot DAMN). So here it is.
This bourbon is a true bourbon in every sense of the word. Corn makes up the majority of the mashbill (70%) with rye making up the balance. This actually creates what we would call a "high rye" bourbon, and I can tell you from the nose right now that the rye is very forward. How do you know if the rye is forward? It's the difference between that sappy sorghum molasses / dark fruit "feel" to the nose (corn influence) and sweet, ethereal honeysuckle honey. Brace yourselves though, because there's a lot more to this spirit than meets the nose.
This particular bourbon is aged "until its ready", but most open-source research will tell you that probably means it's aged between 4 to 6 years. What's notable is that this bourbon is aged in first-fill deeply charred American white oak (probably at Four Roses' distillery, where it was likely also produced). My experience with deeply charred barrels varies. You see, the spirit gets some flavors from that wood, sure (that teeny-tiny bit of smokiness on the palate? certainly those vanilla and tannin influences), but the spirit also gives up something to the wood. I find that the char tends to act a lot like charcoal, softening and mellowing out the harsher or more astringent characteristics of the spirit.
Let's dip our toes in the water.
This spirit unloads with warm, buttery corn bread. That biscuity dryness comes from the oak, to be sure. If you'd like, you can spread some orange marmalade on top of it all, because what's stopping you? It's all there. This is a very drinkable whiskey, friends, and when I say drinkable I mean neat (add some drops of water to loosen that 45% ABV). If you add ice, you get a decidedly larger mineral influence, something that (1) probably has a bit to do with that limestone-filtered Kentucky water used on the mash and (2) could just as well be the limey travesty that is unfiltered Rhode Island water (shoot, we don't Brita our ice cubes).
Either way, the corn mash wins out in the end. Don't misunderstand me when I write that, however. This is a beautifully balanced, integrated bourbon, and that rye lightens the load in all the right spots, adding a nice honey and spice to really flesh out the complexity. At ~$32, this is a steal wherever you can find it.
In the next review we'll taste the 10 yo Bulleit Bourbon and do some comparisons. The original expression is Niel Young singing "Old man take a look at my life, I'm a lot like you were." The trick well be seeing how well the old man aged...
A special treat for reading this far.
Over Christmas, I bought a fresh bottle of Bulleit for the purposes of making brown buttered bourbon. Yes, that is an insane idea given what I just wrote above, and no, I don't harbor any prejudices against real butter. You'd better not either, if you want to try this magnificent recipe. Here's what you need:
2 sticks of unsalted, real butter.
Sweet. What I want you to do is put those 2 sticks of butter into a large pan and cook them over medium heat. You're going to watch them melt, then it will probably bubble a bit, and you'll start thinking "Am I done?" No. Keep cooking the butter until it takes on a decidedly brown color. This doesn't mean oh, it's yellowish, I mean you need to watch the butter caramelize. If it's smoking and or splattering your heat is too high. You really can't mess this up if you just give it time. When it doubt, give it a little more time. Low heat will take a while.
Next, uncork that bourbon bottle and pour it into the pan with the butter. If will now look like a nice, cloudy brown wassail, and will probably smell divine. Stir those liquids together for a bit to let them get in solution, keeping the heat on low. Don't throw away your bourbon bottle.
Now, turn off the heat. This is important: don't stick the pan straight into your fridge. Wait for it to cool to about room temperature - you don't want to melt your milk cartons. Once you can pick it up without oven mits, place the pan into your refrigerator (covered) and leave overnight.
In the morning, you'll notice the butter fats have congealed near the surface into a soft, white film. That's okay. You need to take a funnel, some cheese cloth, and strain that liquid back into the original bourbon bottle.
Enjoy your Manhattan, good sir or ma'am!
I wish you'd hold me when I turn my back.
Time to tuck in the kids, light some soft candles, break out the chocolate fondue, and cuddle up on the couch for some get-to-know you time. This whisky's for the adults in the room, with a maturity, a complexity, and a flavor profile to match. At its heart, it is a story of reconciliation, the passage of time, and our human desire for connection. In other words, a real love story.
I saw this bottle on the shelf, and at first I had my doubts. All around it were what I recognized as Bowmore's signature and specialist offerings: Legend, 12yo, Darkest, 18yo, 25yo (good Lord that is some beautiful stuff), 1st and 2nd small batch releases. That right there is enough to give any devoted collector something to chew on for a bit. Then, slightly off to the side, I saw this. A limited edition Bowmore (18,000 bottles), distilled in 1991, bottled in 2007, aged full term in casks previously used to hold port wine. The packaging certainly didn't stand out amidst the newer bottlings. In fact, it seemed sort of unwanted, as if the dozen or so bottles had long since lost hope that anyone would choose them from the row of celebrities beside them. Like a toy that sits unused in the closet, waiting to realize its fullest potential in the eyes of an unassuming young child. Like an instrument that sits upon the shelf, waiting for a master to come and make it sing again. Like a beauty who is continuously passed over for younger, more photogenic women and wonders if someone will ever bother to look at her heart again.
I knew there was a deeper story behind this whisky. After walking around the store for an hour, picking it up, putting it down again, I finally took the leap and brought it up to the register. Upon arriving home I set the box upon the kitchen table and took a long look at it. It seemed to tremble slightly as it stood there, as if it were afraid that it would be judged and found wanting; I placed my hand upon it softly, reassuringly. There was no sound in the room, only the faint sigh of wind and the occasional creak in the wood floors. I waited for the whisky to speak to me, but no sound ever came.
So I reached for the latches, swinging open the hinged lid and beheld that malt resting there, rich as mahogany, pale as silk, demure in all its splendid beauty. When I pulled the bottle out of the box, unwrapped that fragile cork cover, poured the spirit, and tasted, a song as old as time began to fill my soul.
The trick with port maturation is knowing when you've got the result you want. All maturation is, by its very nature, experimental, as each individual cask touches the spirit in unique ways. Glenmorangie's Quinta Ruban was only finished in port pipes, having spent its first 10 years in American white oak. Talisker just this week has announced a permanent addition to its lineup, the Port Ruighe, again finished in port pipes after time in American and European oak. But this spirit... this spirit has spent its full 16 years below sea level with that soft, pleasing wine. The result is that we have something very mature on our hands, knowing much about the world, and much about the nature of hardship and commitment.
On the nose, it's beauty and the beast. Port finishes have never been my absolute favorite, but the influence is undeniable. Dark chocolate and fruits, walks along the beach and making out in the rain. This fragrance gives us a portrait of the spirit's youth, freewheeling and unencumbered. She met a man, a smoky, rugged, handsome type, and she pledged her life and love to him. It's The Notebook in spirit form, but the smoke here is subdued, even for a Bowmore.
A little water opens this up. With port finishes (or any unctuous wine finish) I think just a little water does good (even though this one's at cask strength - whew!). It brings out the floral, fruity notes - but not too much, or it gets a bit waxy. This guy knew how to strike just the right balance. Courtship must have left her head over heels. :-)
The palate is complex and heavy. You get the sense that in 16 years of marriage not everything went right all the time. And if you've ever been married, you know that this is true. We sometimes believe that life and love are like the movies, except the movies always end at the wedding scene and rarely show us the candid moments that come during the "happily ever after". We spend so much time worrying about the wedding, when what we should be investing in is every day that comes after. This spirit may not have always had the right tools, but faith, hope, and love prevailed to give us this remarkable dram.
Some fights and tiffs spring out of the glass here, mostly as the smokiness and sweetness contrast. The nature of the port pipes is a brooding one; this isn't a bourbon-finish, southern belle sweetness or a soft french oak vanilla, it's a woman who knows how to speak her mind. The very dark chocolate entry gives way to playful, creamy cordial cherries. I get the feeling there was a lot of fighting and making up here - fun!
The Bowmore malt, and its accompanying warm smokiness, are the strong vessel here, the master of the house and the spiritual head of the dram. He's the one who loves her when she's spiteful, comforts her when she's lost, and asks for forgiveness when he's brash or insensitive. He's the well-respected man about town, doing the best things with confidence and imperfection. As the flavors fade on the palate, the lasting impression is largely that of sweetness; he even lets her have the last word :-) Together, they make quite a team.
What seems experimental turns out to have been divine provenance. Only 24 casks of this spirit were ever made, and in that 16 years it never lost that signature Bowmore balance. Although it's been a crazy ride, neither the malt nor its finish ever once went back on their word. For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, they love and honor each other. If you can get your hands on this incredible expression / love story, it's well worth the cost.
Vevo's got some proprietary lockdown on that video link above, but if you let it open in another tab you can play it in the background. Or more likely you're going to watch the entire video ;-) Sorry for the inconvenience - I realize many of you simply won't bother - but the song really captures the vibe of this dram pretty damn well, and I'm sticking to it.
It's that time of year when the world falls in love, only at the moment there's no mistletoe or caroling or pumpkin spice flavored whiskey to be found. We're standing here with the second in a line of seasonal whiskey releases, specifically a young, hopped whiskey from the craft distiller Sons of Liberty Spirits Company in Rhode Island. Yes, you read "hopped" correctly, it isn't just those tantalizing spring zephyrs going to your head. Time to put on your Five Fingers, unbutton the collar a bit, and embrace winsomely your significant other, because this is a whiskey that brings the seasons together.
This is a very limited release; one third party source said the distillery was only putting out 1800 bottles of this product, at least this year. I have no idea if it's true or not, but the fact remains that this is a very rare whiskey. Or rather... it looks like a whiskey. And it does say "Hop Flavored Whiskey" (emphasis mine) on the label there, which is something that you'd definitely have to call a "spirit drink" by law in the UK. And right now I can hear prominently two elite camps of readers marching to Twitter and Facebook to express their indignation.
First: "Cereal Alchemist, Y U NO WRITE ABOUT WHISKEY EVERYONE CAN BUY??"
Because it's boring. Why would I spend all of my time writing about spirits that you can acquire and try for yourself with $40 and ten minutes of driving? In that case I guarantee that you can make up your mind about it faster than I can blog about it, and would you rather be reading or dramming? It's science. Let's face it - time is your most precious resource, and you come here to find out what's happening in the most thrilling, innovative corners of spirit distillation. The idea behind our reviews is to give you a detailed analysis of craft, spirit, distiller, and terroir before you pay a premium or embark on some damned idealistic crusade like your father. Knowledge is power.
We're not going to blog about only the premium spirits, but they have their place in the cannon, and in many cases they provide a glimpse of the future.
Second: "I have nary an interest in reading your "spirit blog" if you're going to speak of these abominable flavored whiskies. You, sir, are an imposter (elite sniff - evil look through monocle)."
Get over it. I'm perfectly willing to accept your personal taste in whiskey and whiskey production, but I have only one rule that I ask you abide by before you start trolling the message boards: Don't knock it before you try it. I'm pretty elitist about my distilled spirits in general, but even I gave Dewar's Highlander Honey a try at Whisky Live just to see what all the SWA brouhaha was about. Again, for science ;-) If you're going to be a true shokunin, you have to open your mind and have a little intellectual curiosity, accepting that you don't have it all figured out. That's true for life as well as whiskey.
Sons of Liberty is also one of those distillers that we're going to have to profile eventually, such is my interest in them. But I don't really want to spend time on the distiller as much as the process behind this particular craft release. Trust me when I say that I've gotten to know the team working at this facility in South Kingstown pretty well, and I've followed their distillery closely since their first small-batch release in 2011.
Sons of Liberty famously pioneers a very grain-forward whiskey in their distillation. Founder Mike "The Revolutionary" Reppucci graduated with distinction from a business school in London, and while he was there he acquired a taste for stout beers. And since all whiskey starts life as beer anyway, he thought "what would happen if we made the best beer possible and carried that over into the whiskey flavor profile?" He came back to the states, commissioned his own still design, and enlisted the help of Master Distiller David Pickerell (formerly of Maker's Mark) to get their enterprise off the ground. The result was Uprising Single Malt American whiskey, a spirit made from a combination of deep-roasted ("chocolate malt") and non-roasted barley - and aged less than a year in roasted oak. I thought the first batch release was rough - something close to a white dog whiskey (although certainly quite drinkable), but with skill and improved maturation this spirit has improved dramatically. We'll review Uprising on a later date, along with the rare and elusive "1765 Release".
In 2012, Sons of Liberty began their first in a line of "seasonal releases", which are essentially flavored craft whiskies based on the signature Uprising malt. Their winter release, Pumpkin Spice Whiskey, just garnered a Best in Category award from the American Distilling Institute. It makes a mean twist on a White Russian.
It was then with great anticipation that we awaited the coming of the summer release. What mysterious elixir would this local legend have in store? Would it be apple flavored? Honey flavored? [Editor's note: YAAAAAWN] But then I started thinking about the Sons of Liberty ethos.
If all whiskey begins life as beer, what would a whiskey made from an IPA taste like? Yes, I am telling you that I guessed the release at least 2 months before reports hit open source. I was even *this close* to creating such a whiskey from a brew kit at home out of sheer curiosity, but Sons of Liberty did my work for me. They enlisted Cottrell Brewing for the wort, distilled it, aged it less than a year in 10-gallon oak barrels, and then actually dry hopped the whiskey itself before bottling it (Citra and Sorachi hops - brilliant!). So while it's labeled a "hop flavored whiskey", it is truly a hopped whiskey in the spirit of the craft.
On the nose we have pure, fresh-mown lawn without the lawnmower fumes. I'd like to call this "summer forward" instead of grain forward, all chlorophyll and honeysuckle, Vitamin D and cicadas. The cereal malt forms the perfect foundation, almost as if you can feel the barley grains mashing between your fingers. You know that opening scene from Gladiator, where Maximus is dreaming of being home (or heaven)? A sniff of this and you will be transported.
These spirits are bottled at 40% ABV. For those of you crying "Wuss!" I will remind you that this is the same strength as Jack Daniels (which has not received any Maker's-related PR blasting for their watering), and really, can you blame a craft distiller for wanting to stretch supply a bit? Besides, to quote Daniel "The Mayor" Murphy, Sons of Liberty is out to make a whiskey that's very easy to drink and access. Given how few people I know understand the importance of adding water to whiskey, this may prove a clever move.
What that 40% ABV means for you is that you can choose to drink this neat if you want to. Really - I find 35-40% ABV to be the sweet spot anyway. But if you add just a little water, you will bring out those fruity, citrus notes - grapefruit, lemon, tangerine. Good stuff.
Upon entering the palate, this spirit shows that it has a very easy mouth feel. [Editor's note: you will never, EVER, see me use the word "smooth" in a spirit review. Amateurs, heed my example.] There is a slight bite that comes from the bitter IPA origins here, but in all the spirit coveres the entire palate. I should say it works the entire palate, as IPA's (in their genius) tend to engage the senses a bit. Doubt me? You've got fruit, you've got IPA bitter hops, you've got IPA sourness, you've got salty sweet malt. You've got the entire tongue in play.
There are a lot of herbal notes coming out now. Hops definitely, but strong hints of menthol (mint), dill, bay leaves, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme; we've clearly entered Scarborough Fair territory. The point is, at this point the spirit starts to resemble a gin more than a whiskey. In fact, if I were into scientific classification, I'd say what we have here in my specimen net is not the flavored whiskey we started with, but a rare species of un-Junipered, deliciously aged, malt-forward gin. BOOM. Nailed it.
As the finish works its way out, leaving my breath smelling like Harpoon's latest iteration, I have an idea. What if we were to substitute the gin in a Negroni with Sons of Liberty's Hopped Ginny-Whiskey? This is a treat - just for those of you who've read this far.
A cocktail named after Count Negroni. You see, back in the last century Italians in Europe were greatly enjoying a popular drink called the Americano that was made with tonic water, bitters, and vermouth. Legend has it that one day the Count walks into a bar (not an joke setup) and decides he wants a little more oomph to his drink - smart man. The bartender substitutes gin for the tonic water and the Negroni was born! It's also popular now because Mad Men.
Recipe: Equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari (an Italian bitters, and really, what bitters aren't Italian?). Stirred - although shaken is your prerogative - and poured into a martini glass. If garnish is desired, orange peel works quite well.
I made one tonight using Sons of Liberty's hopped whiskey instead of gin and it was amazing. As someone partial to Negronis in all their forms, this is my favorite so far.
I've enjoyed drinking this spirit neat as much as I have enjoyed treating it like a gin. In fact, a whiskey and tonic based on this flavor profile produces something truly refreshing as well, like a mojito or a mint julep. I'm going to need to hunt down more bottles in time for June! I guarantee you that this whiskey will put Sons of Liberty on the map in a whole new way.
Like a cross over the lost and found.
"But since it falls unto my lot
Some friends have asked me which whisky I would choose as a "parting glass", owing to that Celtic song made famous by warrior poets and heralds. My answer would undoubtedly be Bruichladdich's Octomore "Orpheus" - one of the rarest and most elusive spirits in my cabinet. My brother (well versed in all things music history) tells me that the Clancy Brothers used to end every live performance with "Parting Glass". Internet research tells me that it was once the most popular song in Scotland, until Robert Burns introduced "Auld Lang Syne". The beauty of the song, linked above, is that it's a toast, an homage. It recognizes fellowship and those who have gone before. I first heard it shortly after a dear friend committed suicide last year, and it has been a song of tribute for me ever since.
This is an update of the Orpheus review I posted last night. I was admittedly tired and out of sorts from the Boston bombing news. In my weariness I somehow broke one of my cardinal rules of blogging: never write something you don't want to write. The review was meandering, unfocused, filled with fluff and metaphor and very little tangible benefit. I have found that if I am writing something I care about, the words and thoughts tend to flow deftly from my fingers. It's as if God gives me one little moment to speak with authority, and then I'm back in a rut, staring at the screen and wondering how it happened. If I stare too long, I risk upsetting the sacred construction that now stands on its own. So I'm rebuilding. It's like Bikram Choudhury (well established Yoga hack, but yogi just the same) says: "It's never too late to start from scratch."
My goal with these reviews is not to reinvent the wheel, but to challenge some of the well-established moors of spirit blogging. If you read it and learn nothing about the spirit, the maker, the terroir... well then, I've failed to do my job. So let's start over. You can still take a moment to listen to that marvelous rendition of "Parting Glass' from the Wailin' Jennys above, and then perhaps have a moment of silence for those affected by the evil in Boston.
Among those well-versed in whiskies, the words "Bruichladdich Octomore" carry an almost mythical amount of weight. I'm guessing that part of it stems from the sheer difficulty of acquiring whiskies from this series (although I am blessed to have a local liquor store that still stocks several of them). It is helped by having the reputation of World's Peatiest Whisky, although I understand now that it is tied for this title.
Orpheus is edition 2.2 in the Octomore series, but perhaps the word "series" here requires a little explanation. After all, if I told you to go buy me a bottle of Glenlivet's 12yo you wouldn't be concerned about a series number - you'd just reach right off the shelf and deliver. Perhaps more challengingly, I could ask you to fetch me a bottle of Glenfiddich's Solera Vat series (worthy of commentary, to be sure, but then we haven't reviewed it yet). It would take some sticker searching, but eventually you'd realize that I'm talking about the 15yo and that the Solera Vat is an ongoing expression from this distillery that imparts a special, unique flavor profile outside of the normal barrel maturation process.
Octomore is little different, except that this particular distillery (Bruichladdich) is on an experimental tear as their new batch of spirit continues to age. We'll probably do a distillery profile on these guys in the near future, such is my fascination with them, but suffice it to say that no whisky sold to you comes promptly out of the still - it must be aged (by law, in fact) to even be called a whisky. This makes cash flow a bit of a problem unless you're looking to sell some very young (comparitive to the industry) whisky in the meantime. To do so risks derision at the hands of critics, as there is still a great deal of "older is better" mindset in the public mind.
You will not be surprised then when I tell you that Orpheus is only 5 years old. You may indeed be surprised to hear that it is phenomenal. Each release of Octomore has seen slight changes - ABV, phenol content, flavor profile - but Orpheus was one of the first to really shake up the foundation. Instead of simply waiting a year and bottling a 3.1, Jim McEwan had the foresight to put that Octomore spirit in some Bordeaux casks (Château Pétrus to be exact) and let it sit. The result is a distinct departure from the fundamental malty character of young Bruichladdich spirit. Let's pop that cork.
Ahhhhh, I can already smell the ashes. There's no doubt, that reputed peatiness leaps straight out of the bottle, a very forward presence. Alright there, laddie, hush a bit. Let's see what hearts beats beneath that obsidian veneer.
Upon the pour, we get a very elegant color: golden, red, warmer than the non-ACEd (Additional Cask Enhancement) Octomore. This color is obviously from the Bordeaux enhancement, but what's interesting is that the warm red hue fades to gold near the edges of the glass. I once likened it to a candle flame, flickering softly in your palm. In fact, I'd be surprised if your face didn't glow a bit (or perhaps it's just those peaty embers) if you lowered yourself down to it. Either way, you're holding your own little Glencairn vigil every time :-)
You don't want to nose this one straight out of the glass, not at 61% ABV. You'd burn the hair out of your nostrils (that is, if you have any left anyway)! Here comes the careful process of adding water. I can tell you from experience that this spirit can take quite a bit, but you need to add it in measures. As soon as you can nose it without blinking, stop. Add any more water and it quickly goes to soggy spirit hell, and trust me, there's nothing sadder than realizing you just ruined a pour from at $150 bottle :-(
On the nose we have that intense farmland smell, and I'm not necessarily referring to manure (wouldn't that be repugnant). It's definitely cow pasture though, which is fitting, because Octomore is named for the farm on Islay that sources this malt's barley. Earthy. Dirty. The sound of insects chirping in the mid-day sun comes to mind, along with grainy grasses sighing in the ocean breeze. If you're a lover of the earth (not the world, but the earth) then you'll dig (pun fully intended) the nose on this thing. That ABV heat is radiating something fierce. A little more water then.
Reveal your secrets! It's in subsequent dips that those winey notes finally make themselves heard under that barnyard symphony. A faint, subtle meaty sweetness. Alright then, I think I'm ready to go swimming!
As the spirit enters the palate, the first sensation is a an angry heat. This comes partly from the ABV, partly from those Octomore phenols. The peat takes a different form in this dram than your usual Islay affair. It's purer, less boggy, and decidedly not what you were fearing when you read it was 140 ppm phenols (phenols in parts per million are how we measure the "peatiness" or smokiness of most whiskies). I think one website likened this flash of heat to white pepper, but I'm going to go straight ahead and say that it's like biting into a fresh-picked cayenne pepper. Welcome to your first OC-flavored whisky ;-) Just kidding. Sort of.
Now that Laddie malt starts to shine through, and it is a sweet one. Take it from someone who generally abhors cereals (I know, Cereal Alchemist - who knew?) that this is one of the purest expressions you'll find in a whisky. In fact, I think Bruichladdich showcases the malt better than any Scotch on the market, always making it the star of the show. I credit this first to their extremely traditional malting method (despite their motto "progressive Hebridean distillers") and to the oldest operating spirit stills in Scotland. I do believe I like the cut of their jib! (and their whisky).
Just before the malt gives way to that winey finish I always notice a somewhat vegetal tone. This kind of makes sense - after all, we're talking about cayenne peppers and farms and what-not. I likened the flavor to the smell of tomato vine. If you could extract that scent and place it into a whisky, that's what you'd find here.
Where's the Bordeaux? It was hiding, but now it steps out into the sunlight, blinking as it stands amid the smoldering farmland. Take a bow, good sir! I love this finish in a whisky. Spoiler alert: I got to sample all of Glenmorangie's cask finishes for their next private edition at Whisky Live this year (part of their cask masters project). I thought the Burgundy finish was too much at war in the glass, and the Manzanilla wasn't distinctive enough to draw a line with Glenmo's existing flavor profile, but the Bordeaux was fantastic. I maintain the same here - of all the wine finishes I've sampled in a whisky (Bordeaux, Burgundy, port, manzanilla, sauternes, "Super Tuscan", Madeira), Bordeaux has to be the most intriguing. The finish is long (I'm still tasting it all in my mouth 10 minutes later), smoky, but predominantly sweet. It's like quenching a cajun-food fire in your mouth with a delicious red wine. Make sure you don't skip the water.
To quote master distiller Jim McEwan: "Wow! A single malt life support system! Massive, power-packed yet not aggressive. Petrus and Peat – who would have guessed that such diverse flavours could create something so amazing? Single malt sorcery! [...] Cunning, conspiratorial, Machiavellian. Whatever next?"
I do love how this man writes about his product! I'm reminded of a line from Dostoevsky: "We all come out from Gogol's 'Overcoat'". Only this time, we all come out from Jim McEwan's thesaurus ;-)
Tasting is a synesthetic experience. In this blog, every whisky gets a song - one that describes, suits, and evokes. I review any whisky that suits my fancy, and some that don't. I don't give scores. You'll know whether it's a winner or loser when we peel back its mysteries and start putting pen to paper.