Water of Life
The Isle of Islay is the mecca for whisky connoisseurs, specifically for ones into the smoky and peaty variants. Bruichladdich is a distillery that reopened its doors shortly after the millennium and one that has first come across my radar with their curiously turquoise coloured Classic Laddie bottle.
Many moons ago we played a show in Connecticut and the after party culminated in the hip hop-phile thugged out club owner handing out bottles of the bewildering liqueur Hpnotiq, a concoction of fruit juices, French vodka and a dash of cognac that made for a fun evening yet resulted in a royal headache the following morning and an aftertaste that kept me from trying the Classic Laddie merely because of the fact that its visual aesthetic catapulted me back to da club.
A huge mistake as sampling revealed – the triple distilled Classic Ladddie is an unpeated single malt of epic proportions, matured in American oak and straight from the epicentre of the Islay region, bottled at hundred proof.
A zesty arrival is followed by traces of nut pervade the thick liquid that rest on a layer of vanilla, sweet fruity flavours on a bed of milky nuances and a bit of sugary salt with a finish that ebbs and flows and slowly fades.
The Classic Laddie is a well-composed introduction to the alchemy Bruichladdich channels as it gives an idea of how they honour the traditional ways of whisky away from prefabricated computerized mass production and one at that, that I would not want to miss on my shelves.
Now, not a bad start at all – specifically for the heathens who shiver on the back when the shores of Islay are mentioned.
Talking of which – you came for peat and smoke? Fret not and fasten your seatbelt.
Port Charlotte is the name of the town in close proximity to the original site of the Bruichladdich distillery and the name of one of their more exquisite expressions. Again, higher in strength yet with the adage of Islay spring water below to make it dial in just below cask strength.
Port Charlotte is in essence an accomplished exercise in peated whisky excellence. Opening the bottle made me sit in awe, indulging in sniffing the cork of the bottle before pouring the first dram.
What materializes in the Glencairn is something else.
Matured in a melange of bourbon, French and Spanish wine casks, it is gentle with subtle flavour nuances running the gamut from lemons via chocolaty honey leading up to sweet smoke – a lot of meaty smoke with a ferocious finish. Peated to 40ppm peat, yet light and friendly, this is one solid dram for both hardcore Islay aficionados as well as an introduction for the uninitiated.
If you are remotely into whiskies of the Islay regions and you think you have found your favourite whisky without having tried the wonderfully crisp Port Charlotte – think again.
Starting with Bruichladdich’s Classic Laddie and building up via the excellent Port Charlotte is quite a build-up, yet we have not peaked yet – the climax is yet to come:
Enter the much fabled about Octomore.
An uncompromising peat bomb.
Peated to 167 ppm.
Manna from heaven.
Smoke, peat, smoke, peat, smoked salmon, peat, smoke, honey, smoke, peat, cinnamon, peaty smoke, bananas, smoky peat and hint of honey.
I have had a chance to try the excellent Octomore 7.1 before, but the 8.1 expression feels, smells and tastes gentler. The eight-year aging in first fill Bourbon barrels has left an inedible mark as the Octomore 8.1. finishes with a long, warming elegant embrace.
The dominance of smoke, tar and campfire is combined in a way that makes one wonder if the angels have collectively decided to distil the best of their Islay shares and sent it back in a stylish bottle.
The Octomore completes a troika of Bruichladdich’s flagship expressions, which make it one of my favourite distilleries from the Islay region.
Each of the aforementioned is one for special occasions and if the circumstances are not special enough, having a dram will dramatically enhance the moment.
For peat and smoke aficionados, I would find it hard to imagine finding something more satisfying than the Octomore 8.1. - having a dram is the ultimate pause button in this busy age and silence the humdrum of white noise.
What a beauty.
Read more Water of Life entries here.
Photos by T