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Day 3 - January 25th 2006.                                                                                                 Back to Islay 2006

Robbie Burns Day and Jackie’s Mom’s birthday.  Happy Birthday Mom! 

They don’t celebrate Robbie Burns Day on Islay – it’s much bigger a deal over in Glasgow, nearer his birthplace.  Nonetheless, we have had a magnificent day.  One to go down in Dipsophilia history, as well as Bruichladdich history!!

Bruichladdich Distillery

We caught a bus, which dropped us off at the Bruichladdich distillery at 2:35 pm.  We went in to the reception area where Mary was quite pleased that she had a tour to do.  She was bouncing off the walls because at exactly 2:10 pm she had “made the middle cut” from the low wines to the “Spirit Run” for a unique whisky using 100% Bere Barley. This is the grain that early Britons gathered thousands of years ago to make bread, beer and, in relatively more recent times, perhaps Uisage Beatha; The Water of Life, the forefather of our present day Single Malt Whisky.

It is a short and stocky grain with barleycorns that are smaller and darker in colour than the “modern” strains of barley most commonly used by brewers and distillers. This Bere Barley was organically grown specifically for Bruichladdich by Chloe Randall on the Dunlossit Conservation Estate near Ballygrant, Islay. At 1 ton per acre, the yield was lower than the expected 1.5 to 2 tons, and considerably less than the 2.5 to 3 tons per acre most barley strains now produce in this region.

As Bruichladdich do not currently have operating malting floors, they malted the barley in Northern Scotland, and brought it back to the island for milling. Bruichladdich use an original Boby Mill dating from 1881 (as does Ardbeg). The milling process was very challenging due to the very small amount of flour obtained from each kernel. Normal grain will produce about 14-15% flour; the Bere Barley produced only 9.4% flour. There were concerns with the mashing since the mixture was very bulky, much thicker than normal, however they endured and produced two mashings.

And here we were arriving during the “Spirit Run”. The whole event was on the web cam broadcasting to Bruichladdich lovers around the world.  There were 2,000 people logged on, even though the spirit run came a couple of hours before they had originally planned and advertised on-line.  Everyone involved was there; we met the Mark Rainier the CEO, Jim McEwan the Production Director, Duncan McGillivray, the Distillery Manager and even Chloe  Randall, the farmer, and of course Neil Mactaggart the “World’s Best Stillman”. Another cool thing was that Angie was there. 

We had been rather surprised when Mary brought us up to the Still Room and introduced us to everyone as reporters from the Telegraph!! “For a laugh” she said. Although we’re not sure that she ever did ‘fess up. Aidan had his notepad out (as always) and was looking very official in a reportery type of way, and Jackie was taking photographs on her 35mm. It must all have looked very pro. We were treated marvelously and even had the opportunity to sample the spirit as it flowed from the still at several different percents of alcohol. It cannot be legally called whisky until it has matured for 3 yrs, so at this point we were sampling “British Plain Spirit”. During the “Spirit Run” the alcohol starts at about and 72% and flows until about 60%.

Initially, Jim McEwan described the spirit as “not as fruity” as the normal Bruichladdich, instead there were notes of “green forest” and “moss”. It was not a heavily peated spirit.

For this run, the middle cut was still at 67% after about 1 hour. We sampled again but the character had changed to apricots and “boot polish”, both very pleasant notes. As Jim pointed out, at this stage what you fear most are negative notes such as “child vomit” and a few other colourful but descriptive terms. None of that here. It was wonderful.

The spirits were expected to run for about 2 hours and yield 2,000-2,500 litres. It was not known at this stage what age it will be bottled at, but somewhere in the 8-10 yr would be expected.

Some things you must know about Bruichladdich:

- It is employee owned and operated and is the only Islay distillery not owned by a corporate giant.

- Expect to produce 500,000 litres in 2006.

- They employee 40 people and are the largest employer on the Island (compare that with 9 at Lagavulin).

- They are the only distillery on Islay that bottle their own whisky on site. Each cork in every bottle of Bruichladdich is pushed in the bottle by hand; each label is applied, by hand.

- They are experimenting with all types of Single Malt variations: quadruple distilled whiskies, extremely peaty whiskies, unusual finishes and something unique developed by Jim McEwan called “ACEing” , Additional Cask Enhancement, which involves maturing a whisky in a different cask for less than 6 months (the minimum period to be called “finishing”).

Mary provided us with some wonderful whiskies to taste.  We tried a 1989 Bruichladdich which had spent 15 years in bourbon-oak casks and had been ACEd for 8 weeks in Marsane Hermitage Blanc casks.  The cask was called the “Palace Partnership” in recognition of the awards received by the distillery from Buckingham Palace.   It is also known as the “Valinch Bottling”.  It was an excellent whisky, and we were able to bottle our own 70 cl bottle, cork it, and apply the label.  Mary ran upstairs and had the bottle signed by Jim McEwan.  All for a mere £55.

We tasted a second edition Chateau Yquem finished whisky, bottled at 46%, 15 years old and non-chilled filtered.  This too was an extremely enjoyable whisky, the wine notes truly enhancing the flavours. 

Next was the Moine Mhor, Gaelic for “big moss/peat”, a 3D second edition, bottled at 50%.  The 3D stands for three decades and three dimensions, and contained a 1989, a 1998, and a 2001.  Jackie loved it!

Since Jackie liked the big peat flavours, Mary gave us a taste of the 70.4% spirits of the second batch of Octomhor.  This will be a very heavily peated whisky at 167 ppm phenols, making it the peatiest whisky ever produced, and may bottle in 8 to 10 years. The first batch only contained 80.5 ppm phenols. Based on the flavours in the spirits, Jackie will also love this one!

But the sun was setting and the last bus to Bowmore was leaving.  All good things come to an end.  So off we went, Angie too, back to Bowmore, picking up Ken on the way. Deja vu?  This is how we all met the day before.   

Back at the hotel we ran into Paul the chef in the sitting room, and let him know we’d be down for dinner at 7:30 pm.  We headed up to the Bowmore Hotel to sit on the pub side (last time we were on the lounge side with all the whiskies).  Jackie started with a Black Bottle and Aidan had a Tartan Special.  Angie joined us, and as Aidan chatted to a Mason at one end of the bar, Jackie and Angie tried the Laphroaig Quarter Cask,  a whisky matured 5 years in a bourbon cask followed by 8 months in a “quarter cask”, which is a smaller (75 lire) bourbon cask and presents more oak to the whisky to accelerate the finish.  The nose was peaty, it was fresh and vibrant, with a long smooth peat finish.  Very good for a young whisky! 

We headed back to the Harbour Inn, where Aidan had a Belhaven Best and Jackie sampled a 10 year old Bruichladdich, which had quite a “back bite”. 

Dinner was fantastic.  Jackie started with confit of duckling on a fondant potato with a plum and ginger sauce.  Aidan started with 6 Loch Gruinart oysters baked with creamed leeks and melted Orkney cheddar cheese, accompanied by Bowmore 12, as recommended by the proprietors. 

For the main course, Aidan had local scallops and proscuitto on a vegetable base.  Jackie had a Prime Islay Fillet steak resting on Lochaber haggis with a duxelle of forest mushrooms and a Bowmore whisky sauce. Wow!

Jackie retired for the evening and Aidan returned to the pub for a 1973 Bruichladdich which was rich in colour, had notes of toffee, candy floss, pears and the unmistakable salty, smoky Islay flavours.  A very mellow whisky, a “heavenly” way to finish the visit to Islay.

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