Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Bruichladdich 'Black Art' 1990

In the last decade or so (on and off) I've been selling whisky, Bruichladdich have been probably the most frustrating distillery, with new editions seeming to arrive on shelves almost every time I've taken a couple of days off. However, from a whisky lover's perspective I think what they do is great, if perhaps a little difficult to keep track of. That's not to say I've always got on with their whiskies, I haven't, but some whiskies seem to be more of a product of a marketing department than a distillery and I think that Bruichladdich offer more than that; a human side that for me is an essential part of a great drink, be it whisky, beer, wine or whatever you choose to while away your evenings.

Much as I'd like to say that it is, this fourth edition of the Black Art is not the sort of whisky I get to try every day. The other week I was fortunate to be at a tasting hosted by Joanne Brown, the Brand Ambassador for Bruichladdich. She was on her way to the Midlands Whisky Festival but kindly popped to Nottingham on the way to show off the core Bruichladdich range to a group of whisky fans. It's a pretty special whisky, constructed from stock that's at least 23 years old, from way back when Whyte & Mackay were the owners of the distillery. The whiskies were selected, moved into different casks, and blended by Jim McEwan, using a mix of the myriad of different oak types that Bruichalddich have experimented with over the years to a formula that only he knows. All very well and good of course, but how does it all come out as a finished article?

When I first tried it I was nosing this for a long time, I just loved the rich berry fruit (mainly strawberry, but some sweet grape) that came off it, suggesting a red wine (maybe port) cask was in its make-up at some point. Once past that initial berry hit it became a bit more like its stablemates, with the honey and vanilla notes I pick up from the Classic 'Scottish Barley' edition I'd tasted earlier coming through. As you hold it in your mouth I got notes I associate with sherry casks; dried fruit and nuts, then leading on to an oaky finish.

Its bottling at a cask strength of 49.2% means you can play around adding a little water, which I didn't think was necessarily needed (it's that mellow at 23 years) but nevertheless brought out more of the sweeter elements; the berry fruit and the marzipan. Overall for me it's a stunning whisky. I know that experimentation with various casks gets maligned at times but for me when it's done properly it can add layer after layer of complexity - and in this case it does. I certainly don't feel my meagre tasting notes do it justice, but then words are rarely a substitute for drinking the best around!

Just as a post-script, I didn't ask what the text on the box meant. I'm guessing it's Latin and it seems to translate as 'Not to deceive, nor himself be deceived.' Or words to that effect. If you've got a better idea feel free to let me know!

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