Bruichladdich (10 year) – The Laddie Ten

I really, really wanted to like Bruichladdich’s first official standard bottling after its re-opening and re-vitalization in 2001 by Mark Reynier and Jim McEwan. After a mad flurry of special releases, most sourced from the maturing stock left by the previous owners in questionable wood, Bruichladdich was finally producing its own whisky. With barley grown in Scotland (some of it organic, some of it from heirloom ‘Bere’ barley), distilled and aged under Jim McEwan’s watchful eye in ex-bourbon barrels, and bottled at a laudable 46% ABV without chill-filtration or added coloring, it was bound to make a big splash. It ticks all of the boxes for me: independent ownership, responsible quality-minded production, craft presentation, and all with medium levels of peat to better showcase the character of the spirit and the quality of the wood. I really wanted to like it.

I didn’t.

Sometimes, I hazard, a reviewer’s own tastes get in the way of objectively evaluating a product. While many people might love The Laddie Ten and be joyous at its statement to the industry at large – that quality can be mightier than efficiency – I just can’t get over the bitter notes that overwhelm the palate and finish. This is actually my second negative tasting of The Laddie Ten, but the first (at WhiskyFest) I dismissed as palate fatigue. I would love to hear in the comments from readers who tasted and enjoyed The Laddie Ten. It should be noted that my sample was poured from a bottle produced before the July 2012 sale of Bruichladdich to conglomerate Rémy Cointreau, the news of which rocked the spirits business and saddened the hearts of craft whisky lovers everywhere. The blame for my experience must lie in my taste buds alone, and not in Reynier or Rémy. Don’t let my rating dissuade you – seek it out, taste, and let me know what you think!

(Update: Here’s a review of The Classic Laddie, the NAS entry-level malt from Bruichladdich.)

Nose: Restrained peat – mossy and herbal. This is peat that wafts, but doesn’t punch you in the face. Beneath the peat lurks honey lozenges, pear drops, and lemon custard. A nice, well-integrated, if snoozy set of aromas.

Palate: Somewhat nutty. A little bit on the dry side. Unexpected amount of bitter barrel tannins up front, with a tinge of acrid smoke and wholly absent fruit.

Finish: Lightly smoky, but the bitter barrel influence continues. Charcoal, menthol, and honey. Fades with some herbal notes.

With Water: Several drops of water brings some florals to the nose – reminding me of peated Balvenie. The water doesn’t improve the rest of the experience for me, however.

Overall: The nose on this one is impressive, with very well-integrated fruits and middling amounts of elegant peat. However, this all falls apart on the palate for me, with disjointed notes of bitter wood and acrid smoke. The finish appears short, and while it delivers on the peat aftertaste, there is little else to recommend it. Some people are very into this release, but I have been wholly underwhelmed at both tastings. Ah well, perhaps my sensitivity to bitter tastes has doomed this release for me.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

An Islay distillery of another sort, Bruichladdich (“brook laddie”) or “The Laddie”, is now known for bucking the trend. In an era of more and more heavily-peated island whiskies, Bruichladdich produces a mildly-peated whisky with character derived more from oak and stone than peat. Bruichladdich captured the hearts of craft whisky adherents with its rebellious approach to revitalizing the distillery after its 2001 reopening, producing numerous fancifully-named one-offs using maturing stock inherited from the previous owners, who mothballed it in 1994. It used these stocks to raise money each year until its ten year-old official bottling was ready. It also began marketing heavily-peated spirit under the name of nearby closed distillery Port Charlotte. Soon thereafter in 2012, however, it sold (or sold out?) to multinational spirits conglomerate Rémy Cointreau. The distillery’s process water rises through stone veined with iron, and runs over peat bogs. All Bruichladdich releases are of natural color and are not chill-filtered.
Bruichladdich (10 year) – The Laddie Ten
46% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $50 - $60
Acquired: (30ml sample bottle) Master of Malt.

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  • There will probably be a fair bit of batch to batch variation, because their malt spec changed over the first few years of production. I had a dram a couple weeks ago that wasn’t anywhere near as peaty (or oaky) as the sample you describe. It had just a touch of vegetal peat and pretty light oak influence as well.

    Maybe worth giving it another go from a different bottle? Though I can understand if you’re disinclined – it only takes so many less than favorable experiences before a feeling of ‘is it really worth it?’ sets in.

    • Turns out I had tried the old version of the 10 Year that was made with pre-Reyner stocks. Finally cracked open the new Laddie 10 and it is rather peaty. More importantly, very different than the ultra-clean flavors of the old stuff. I’ve seen all sorts of theories about why – different malt spec to peat phenols being impossible to scrub from their stills (similar to Caol Ila and Ardbeg’s ‘unpeated’ whiskies still being kind of peaty). But I’ll give it some time and see if it mellows out.

  • I love the Laddie 10. My bottle tastes strikingly like Old Pulteny 17: floral and fruity estery in the nose and up front in the palate with plenty of salty sea airs and a kiss of peat in the tail – apparently from cross contamination as it is intended to be an unpeated product. I wonder if your sample was off in some way. Would you like a sample of mine?

    • I agree. I really like this dram. In fact, I just had two more drams tonight. I like the Rocks also, but this one is significantly better. I don’t get any bitter notes at all, just a bourbony floral whisky that is good quality. I’d say it’s worth trying, especially when the weather is.warm. I’d say a “Must Try” on your scale.

    • I agree with you JF. I opened a bottle late last year and it has sat at midlevel for at least eight months. You mentioned a fruitiness in the foreground. Watermelon hard candy is what comes to mind. Then the salty herbal notes come through. The hint of peat lingers on the finish.

      Man, this is a decent dram for the money spent.

  • Not a big fan either. I finished the bottle, but this, the 2006 Barley, Peat Project and the Organic have failed to impress me. I am off the Bruichladdich train for a while. I miss 2nd Edition.

  • The first time I tried The Laddie 10, I felt that it just didn’t hit me with anything new, especially with all the hype surrounding it. However, after sessioning it a few times I realized what was so special about it: a sense of balance that is almost flawless, which creates an energy to the flavour and makes you go back to the glass. Exactly like a red burgundy, which might taste light and lacking at first until it eventually reveals its magic when you let it breathe and have it in the right setting.

    A few notes as well for an edit: There have been 2 vattings of Laddie 10, most likely you had the first in which 2 barrels of Port Charlotte were mistakenly added (hence the faint peat notes). Also, the material for the original vattings were from malts prior to the Bere and Organic projects, which started after they had an issue with their Port Ellen maltings and began doing barley experiments on the mainland and Islay.

  • I should add as well, in my experience Bruichladdich bottles need a few months to really open up and give all they have; maybe it’s the heavy oils in the non-chill filtered spirits made since the new team took over.

  • I thought the laddie 10 was a solid well balanced dram, although i didnt have any smoke in mine. Maybe it was the other vatting. Creamy caramel (op 17ish) herbal vanilla. I did start leaving it in the glass for 20-30 minutes and it would open up nicely and did get better as the bottle diminished. As an aside, finished a bottle of pc 8 recently and this spirit heavily peated and bottled at cs i thought went very well together. Dont let it stop you from trying port charlotte.

  • The Laddie Ten was the first scotch I ever bought so it holds a special place in my heart. It’s not my favorite dram but I do think it’s a well balanced and very drinkable whisky. I recently got a bottle of the PC Peat Project and I think that’s nice as well.

  • This really shows that there is ‘no accounting for taste’!!
    I enjoy many different styles of scotch from Auchentoshen to Laphroig and I must say that at present the Laddie 10 is my favorite! Yes it has some bitter notes but with time in the glass (and a few drops of water) some nutty sweetness comes through…delicious and very complex.
    P.S. I am not trying to be contrary,as I have enjoyed your reviews in the past.
    Sincerly Robert Wolin

    • Thanks for your comment, Robert. I indeed recognize that I’m in the minority on my Bruichladdich opinions, but your point is valid – everyone has different tastes, and not every whisky resonates with every taster. Cheers!

  • Your comment about the previous owners maturing stock in questionable wood makes me a little gun-shy about getting older Bruichladdich. My local liquor store has two different Bruichladdich 16s, one with what appears to be some kind of wine cask finish – are these the questionable cask varieties you mention? Would you recommend avoiding those?

    • Eric, that statement was based on an off-hand comment made by a retailer, backed up by some Googling (which of course now I can’t find). I’ve personally tasted two pre-McEwan Bruichladdichs and found them both unsatisfactory. However, as you can see from my review above, even newer Bruichladdich doesn’t resonate with me, so I wouldn’t take that as evidence. The once exception is the Bere Barley release, which was excellent.

  • My first dram of the Laddie Ten was just fantastic. Upon the addition of a little water the nose opened up almost like a vanilla pound cake. I was so enthralled with this that I went out and bought my own bottle. I must say though, even now I still don’t enjoy it as much as that very first dram. Whether that be because of excitement at something new or just batch variance I’ll never know. But everyone’s palate is different and that’s what makes the wine & spirits world so great!

  • I had just begun collecting whiskies in earnest when it was announced that the Laddie 10 was being discontinued. Having read many reviews and posts from people who loved it and were heartbroken over this news, I bought 2 bottles from an online retailer. Then, a few months ago I found another retailer who had some stock left, so I bought 2 more. I now had 4 bottles of this heralded whisky — which I had never tasted!

    I had a few friends over about a month ago, and we cracked one of the bottles. I was quite excited to try it, but to my shock and horror, I didn’t like it. At. All. It was bitter and just had an “off” taste to me. I went back to it a few times over the next several weeks, and while it seemed to improve somewhat, I was still feeling like I had made a rookie mistake of jumping on a bandwagon and buying all these bottles sight unseen (and untasted).

    This evening I poured another dram of the Laddie 10, and to my surprise and delight, I can say that I finally understand what all the fuss is about. It has a wonderful, clean, seaside nose (I get the comparisons to OP), with just the slightest whiff of smoke. The palate is fruity, spicy yet subdued, and finishes beautifully with more smoke on the end.

    I’m glad I stuck with this whisky and gave it time to open up. And, yes, I’m also glad I have 3 more bottles to savor later.

    • Alas, I haven’t tried it. I generally don’t spend that much on whisky, and only occasionally get free samples to try from marketing companies. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to try it!

  • I wonder if you had a chance to try the Classic Laddie and how it compares as a NAS to it, I did see several reviews preferring it to the ten? So much choice, so little time (and money)…