The Bruichladdich Distillery at one time looked like it might be a casualty of the lean years. Founded in 1881, it changed ownership multiple times until it eventually became part of the Whyte & Mackay portfolio and was mothballed in 1995. Except for a few months of production in 1998, the distillery stayed silent for the rest of the century. Then, in 2000, a new investor group purchased the distillery and set about reopening it. Michael Jackson lovingly described the moment it opened its doors in the 5th edition of his Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch:
Islanders carried children on their shoulders to witness the historic moment. They lined the Islay shore to watch the reopening in 2001 of Bruichladdich, Scotland's most westerly distillery. The single morning plane, bringing more guests, was running late. The people on the shore scanned the skies. They had waited ten years; what was another hour? Lovers of Bruichladdich had come from London, Seattle, and Tokyo. There were tears of joy, a ceilidh, and fireworks at midnight.
The new owners didn't waste time making an impression. They started releasing a vast number of whiskies, more expressions than any single Scotch distillery had ever released at one time, possibly by a factor of five. They had sherried malt, lightly peated malt and began distilling heavily peated malt. They released whiskies with unconventional names in bottles with unconventional colors.
Probably no bottlings from that first decade are more heralded than the "still" series, a series of whiskies distilled in the 1980s that were released as Blacker Still, Redder Still and Golder Still. The Blacker Still, in particular, became legendary and probably still stand as Bruichladdich's most heralded whisky, certainly of those distilled pre-closure.
Things are different at Bruichladdich today. After an exciting and tumultuous decade, the distillery was purchased by liquor giant Remy Countreau. They now make a wide range of very good whisky, but there don't seem to be as many surprises anymore.
Today I relive some of the salad days of Bruichladdich with my friend Tim over at Scotch & Ice Cream, and many thanks to Tim for sharing these old whiskies and making this tasting possible.
Blacker Still, distilled 1986/bottled 2006, 20 yo, 50.7% abv.
Blacker Still was matured in Oloroso sherry casks. As you might expect, the nose has deep sherry notes. The palate is sweet sherry with a touch of sulfur. There's all kinds of fruit in here: raisins, dark cherries, figs - delicious stuff. The finish is dessert sweet. This is a big old sherry bomb. For a legendary bottling, I didn't find it particularly complex, but it's wonderfully drinkable.
Redder Still, distilled 1984/bottled 2007, 50.4% abv
The Redder Still was aged in first fill bourbon casks and finished in Chateau LaFleur Bordeaux casks. The wine notes come out clearly in the nose with sweet notes similar to dry sherry as well as some herbal notes. The palate is also filled with a dry sherry type note which lasts in to the finish. It's much drier than the Blacker Still and the wine notes seem to have less depth, which may be due to the fact that this is only finished in the wine casks.
Golder Still, distilled 1984, 51% abv
Golder Still was released in 2008 and aged in "hand-made squat American Bourbon hogsheads – experimental 'dumpy' casks that American coopers flirted with briefly in the eighties." The nose is clean and malty with perfume notes and canned fruit salad (especially the grapes). The palate has lots of sweet malt with some peppery notes and then some nice peat notes. The finish is lightly peated. This is a whisky with strong malt notes and a nice, light touch of peat.
These are all very nice. If I had to rank them, I would say I liked the Blacker best, followed by Golder and then Redder. It will be interesting to see how Bruichladdich's new distillate compares to these once they reach the 20 year mark.