Bruichladdich "The Laddie Ten" is a phoenix rising from the ashes. Bruichladdich ("normally pronounced brook-lad-dee, or by some Gaelic speakers as broo-ee-clah-dee" according to the wiki article) was built in 1881 with the highest stills in Islay - to produce a pure and lovely spirit. It had a characteristically Hebridean history of conflict, struggle, and many instances of changing hands until 1994 when it was closed - apparently forever - for being "surplus to requirements".
It was purchased by a group of investors led by Mark Reynier of Murray McDavid on 19 December 2000 and Jim McEwan was brought from Bowmore (where he had worked since the age of 15) to manage the operations. McEwan's creative vision has made Bruichladdich one of the most dynamic and exciting distilleries in Scotland in the years since - mainly through the use of creative finishes on old stock produced before the shut down, and through the creation of young strongly peated expressions. The classic style of Bruichladdich - unpeated, sweet and floral with a hint of sea, takes time to mature. That meant waiting until at least 2011. And indeed that's what happened. The Laddie Ten is the classic style, made entirely by the new Bruichladdich team.
"The ten year old single malt, the first distilled under the new regime, went on sale following an emotionally charged ceremony as the bottles began to come off the Islay bottling line."
"Managing Director Mark Reynier, the man behind re-establishing Bruichladdich, said “It’s an inordinately proud and emotional moment for all of us. This is our first spirit we distilled once we got the old girl going again. And it’s not been easy; the Laddie 10 is the very hard-won fruit of a decade of unrelenting blood, sweat and tears by the whole team.'"
"The Laddie 10 is created by whisky legend Jim McEwan, designed to show off the timeless, Bruichladdich qualities of elegance, balance, purity and fruit, with that famous sea breeze tang."
It's a moving legacy for a dram of whisky. The question is - is it good enough to honor the legacy?
Bruichladdich The Laddie 10 46% abv.
Color: new 14 carat gold
Nose: honey, heather floral blooms of sweet roses and magnolias and less sweet lilies and daffodils - rich and lovely. A hint of citrus. Then a whiff of band-aid vinyl, salt air from ocean breeze. A classic Laddie aroma.
Entry is gloriously honeyed, sweet and floral with a lovely silky mouth feel. Notes of yellow pear and bourbon vanilla seeds billow. The mid-palate expansion is spicy and rich. Floral vanillas, creme broullet custard (without baking spices) fill the mid. The turn shows a whiff of peat, not as smoke or earth but as a dusky note and a tingle of spicy warmth. The finish is long, gentle, warm and only slightly oaked. Few tannins, but some lingering spice of peat heat. A delightful sweet lacy floral yet spicy and character-filled dram. This is better than the Laddies of the 80s and 90s by far - but squarely in that classic style. McEwan has fully redeemed Bruichladdich and then some. Way better than I was expecting. A superb standard expression of Laddie.
A few drops of water amps up the less sweet floral notes at the expense of the sweeter perfume in the nose and makes the hint of sea a bit brighter. On the palate sugars are accentuated, but at the expense of some mid-palate richness. Pear comes close to turning to melon. Water is marginal at best. Perhaps just one or two drops. It's the conflation of sea and peat that complete as a foil the white fruit sweetness and floral entry that is so beguiling here. Borderline 5 stars and as pleasing as any $50 bottle of Scotch Malt that exists on the market.
(samples are 3cl bottles from Master of Malt)
A lengthy discussion on twitter concerned where the peat flavor notes in this expression (and Rocks) comes from as these use unpeated malt. The consensus (led by Oliver Klimeck of Dramming.com) is that it isn't coming from the water, but rather from cross contamination from stills, mash tuns, and other distillery equipment that is used to produce peated expressions at other times.
The news about the planned buy out is igniting a firestorm of controversy. John Hansell writes on the Malt Advocate blog
"Am I sad about this? Sure, a little bit. But this is the nature of the business. Distilleries get bought and sold. Even fiercely independent ones… Hopefully, a deal like this will be good for the consumer in the long run.
What is more painful to read, however, was Mark Renier’s comment to my post back then:
“No we are not interested in selling. Life is too exciting where we are just now with all the things we have been working on over the last decade finally starting to come to Market…”Now that, my friends, makes me sad."
Olly Wehring, on Just Drinks, provides a pragmatic counterpoint:
"So, the purists may be aghast at today's news. But, ask yourself this: if somebody came to you to buy what you have found to be "a rollercoaster, not just a financial rollercoaster; it's been an emotional rollercoaster" since you bought it for US$10.1m 12 years ago, and offered you around US$52.8m, what would you do?"
(note - subsequently Mr. Wehring has informed me that the final figure is around half that . However when the news of the deal finally broke, the final figure is 58 million pounds - quite a bit more than the original estimate).
Sure enough, the purists have been publicly wringing their hands on twitter with comments like the following:
Indeed, the Laddie 10 has been a frequent topic in the issue of concern over the future of Bruichladdich - as a touchstone for the quality work that the team has wrought.
The twitter discussions have continued. I'll post a few of the highlights below:
Ian Buxton, Author of 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die (and 101 World Whiskies to Try Before You Die) nails the essential question of expansion:
Seems to me the interesting question is, will Remy build new Port Charlotte distillery?
Tim Read of Scotch & Ice Cream and I get to the emotional heart of the issue with Mark Reynier:
Follow up. The deal was confirmed on July 23, 2012. Read Mark Reynier's moving account in his statement - briefly up on the Bruichladdich site, but still up on his own Facebook page: