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.
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.