September 04, 2014

Bruichladdich rocks!

If there was a wager for the biggest party of Feis Ile, my money would be on Bruichladdich Day. Most Feis Ile Masterclasses, led by notable whisky worthies, allow one or two dozen people to attend. At best count, some 400 people enjoyed Jim McEwan's morning class on Sunday, May 25th. We arrived well before the appointed hour - a happy little journey from Port Charlotte just along the road. All seemed quiet and gentle as we wandered around the back and into warehouse 12, where the event was to take place. The room was packed with long rows of tables, each one filled with six glasses of golden elixir per place setting.
We were definitely not the first to arrive and quickly scouted out a couple of prime spots. I'm 115lbs soaking wet and could barely (no pun intended) ease my way between the tables to the chosen spot near the front. Once there, it was time to settle down and and stay put. We were going nowhere. With about 2400 drams in the room, the air was heady! Language barriers notwithstanding, everyone was getting to know his or her surrounding neighbours, and the room was a veritable global conference.
The rumours started before the announcement. The impressive looking camera crew, already in action, was from CBS 60 minutes, there to film the day for a Fall program.
Sound checks were performed by a couple of very fine folk singers, who performed during the class and the rest of the day. Robin Laing and Norma Munro were wonderful, delivering songs with great passion, including a couple of songs, by Robin, specifically about Bruichladdich - one about Black Art and the other entitled The Whisky Cathedral. The latter, sung later in the morning, had its chorus enhanced by 400 voices, after a few drams........
"In the warehouse at Bruichladdich, I drink therefore I am. A whisky cathedral where angels are singing, in praise of glorious drams".
The restless crowd, anxious for the main man, (a current day rock star-like whisky legend), roared its appreciation when Jim took the stage. Looking dapper, sprightly and happy to be there, he engaged with the crowd from the get-go. Funny, like a stand up comedian, enthusiastic and confident, like a motivational speaker, involved, like an old friend, he had the entire crowd eating out of his hand.
With stories from the past and present, introductions to other distillery folks, and revelations about the whisky selections, Jim McEwan showed, once again, why he is a unique personality in the whisky industry. Bruichladdich General Manager, Duncan McGillivray, retired now after a 40 year career, was up on stage for some well deserved appreciation.
Adam Hannet, Assistant Distillery Manager and Blender, was also in the limelight, introducing one of the whiskies and checking out centre stage, which he'll be inheriting from Jim.
On to the whiskies - some of which were glorious.....
The first one was distilled in 1984 and matured in a bourbon cask. This was one of the most brilliant whiskies I have ever tasted. I'm not going to do it the disservice of breaking it down into minute elements. It was aromatic, with some vanilla and ginger, elegant, smooth, beautifully balanced, full bodied, reminiscent of crème brûlé. Outstanding. 49.3% ABV after 30 years in the cask.
Jim called number two "Sorcery". It wasn't released, but had been pulled from the cask just for the class, 51% ABV, cask and age not revealed - Madeira, cognac, PX - a mystery! It was beautiful. Jim decided that the colour was Serengeti Sunset. Dried fruits. Luscious. Excellent.
The third one was from a 1986 distillation, matured in a PX sherry cask. Deep amber in colour with a mature sherry character, rich fruit, Christmas cake, oily, smooth and sweet, with a spicy finish. Fabulous.
It wasn't yet noon and we had tasted three brilliant single cask old gems.
Things went a little sour for me on the next one. It was a 2001 Port Charlotte rarity, matured in a Chateau d'Yquem (Sauternes) cask. Either I had a bad glass or a rotten part of the barrel or something, but this one seemed unbalanced, musty, and unappealing. I sniffed some others around and they were all a bit off. Not sure what happened there. Moving on.
Next up was the brilliantly unique Octomore 1695, quadruple distilled festival bottle. Historical records show that the first (and possibly the last) time any whisky was distilled four times was in 1695. At 69.4% ABV, this one packed a mighty punch. A very peaty nose gave way to a smooth, but fiery, whisky on the palate, with a very long, smoky, spicy, smoky again, finish. A bit of water brought out more smoke and a vegetal flavour. This was a really interesting and historically fascinating whisky. I'm sure it was gone by the end of the day.
I have little recollection about the 6th whisky. We were well over time - not that anyone minded - and were invited to raise our last dram and our country flags then join the big procession over to the main courtyard, where the gates had now been opened and hundreds more had arrived to enjoy the dramming bar, cocktails, Islay Ales, food stalls, arts and crafts, pipe bands, dancing, singing, rock music and folk music. This was a party!
Some new friends suggested that we try out an amazing buffet for lunch, a fundraiser for a local charity. It was magnificent! I spoke to one of the photographers, who had just returned from a  particularly war-weary, hostile part of the globe. Bruichladdich Day was providing a welcome change of perspective. We met up with family, enjoyed some more entertainment, then decided to head back to the cottage. With a few whisky vouchers still in hand, we opted to give them to some Danish guys. We couldn't find any Canadians and the Danish flag was red and white. Logical, no? Turned out these were the same folk who had arrived one short at Lagavulin the previous day, enabling us to snag a spot for Georgie's Masterclass. What goes around, comes around.
Click here if you'd like to read my previous post about Bruichladdich. 
Next, I'll be writing about Caol Ila Day. If you enjoy these stories, consider signing up for email updates. You'll only receive one when a new story is posted. Just fill in your email address in the box at the top of the blog in the right hand column.

GrapeScot Islay Tour 2015

We'll be visiting Bruichladdich for one of our great experiences during the whisky tour to Islay (and Jura) in late August 2015. This will be a small group tour with terrific events at each of the distilleries, an opportunity to meet some wonderful whisky people, great accommodations, transportation, food, cultural activities and some very fine whisky. Hope you can join us!