Whisky Advocate

Bruichladdich “progressiveness”: your thoughts?

December 6th, 2008

Since the new team took over Bruichladdich several years ago, they have been the most progressive Scotch whisky distillery, experimenting with peating levels, the number of distillations, barley varieties and, of course, a dizzying array of finished (“additional cask enhanced”) whiskies. Indeed, they have introduced more new whisky expressions than any other distiller I can think of.

I think it is fair to say that they have also been progressive in their marketing tactics, which included running a high-performance race car on 4x distilled Bruichladdich spirit.

Having visited dozens of Scotch distilleries and interacted with thousands of whisky enthusiasts on both sides of the pond during the past few years, I can’t think of a distillery that has polarized an industry so much in the 20 years I’ve been in this business.

So, what do you think about Bruichladdich and what they’re doing? What do you like? What don’t you like? Let’s get a discussion going.

66 Responses to “Bruichladdich “progressiveness”: your thoughts?”

  1. I think Bruichladdich has the potential to become one the major distilleries in Scotland. I hope that the astonishing amount of releases from them is just their way to trial-and-error distilling.

    I guess if they keep up all these different and inconsistent releases they will start to be known as a distillery that cannot produce consistent quality and consistent flavors which, for standard releases, is very important.

    At the moment I see Bruichladdich more as a company who has found a nice and profitable to toy around with whisky, but an important distiller with a consistent flavor signature? Not yet.

    They do, however, have an enormous amount of high profile releases in Port Charlotte, X4, Octomore, Blacker, Redder and Golder Still.

  2. Joe says:

    Being independent (i.e. not owned by one of the mega-drinks companies, such as Diageo) gives Bruichladdich lots of flexibility and the wherewithal to do fun, limited releases. In a sense, they are “coloring outside the lines” of what most malt whisky have come to expect. I think that a certain degree of playfulness is a virtue in this field, as long as they can still be taken seriously.

    I’m not certain if a distiller needs a consistent signature for the entire product line, as long as the more traditional bottlings of, say, 10-year and 15-year remain consistent from release to release.

    One thing is certain, and that is that Bruichladdich fans keenly anticipate whatever the distillery decides to release next, and I believe that they have good reason to always expect interesting whiskys.

  3. Patrick says:

    Bruichladdich is a bit the bad boy of the whisky industry: provocative, innovative, and fierce.
    The positive thing is they always keep moving and push their ideas. Tasting different peatiness levels, playing with the distillation process, experimenting with different types of barleys, re-inventing the whisky marketing with their exotic bottles (e.g., matt bottles, octagonal shapes)

    Being innovative (“progressive”) is good but not at any costs. When they decide to test a new concept, they do it and release it on the market, regardless of what it tastes like.
    I have enjoyed quite a lot of their early products (e.g. Bruichladdich 1970 or Bruichladdich 20 1st edition, PC5), but I am getting lost and confuse with all their new and other ACEd products.
    As mention by Joe, they should keep producing a consistent core and why not provide x variations out of it.
    For the retailers, the continuous change in their product should be a nightmare. A bottle that you sold or tasted 3 months ago might now taste something completely else, because they might have moved from a Red Wine ACEd to a Madeira ACEd for instance.

    Concerning the fans, I have the impression that the fanatism is going slightly down. For instance, the release of the PC7 was not such a rush as it was for the PC5. This might be also associated to the continuous increased in prices in their new products. Innovation is good, but not at any costs.

    In conclusion, the Bruichladdich Team is enthusiastic, shaking the conservative approach of most distillers, but should try to deliver at least a consistent core range of products. Mark and Jim are the drivers of the progressive company, but they should also think long term. The day they stop being innovative, what would happen to them? Bruichladdich won’t be Bruichladdich anymore?

  4. marcus says:

    As I got in touch with whisky five years ago, I met for the first time Mark Reynier at Limburg Whisky fair. This was in 2003 and Bruichladdich was indeed a sleeping giant. He was so full energy and had a vision of Laddie for the future.

    All these “new ” expressions better known as ACE`d have their root in the quality of the stock when Mark, Duncan, Jim and the other shareholders bought the distillery in 2000. Whyte&Mackay took not much efforts in the cask management.

    In my opinion, in the future there will be less ace`d expressions and more “standard” styles like PC, Octomore and the Resurrect lLaddie with a peat level of 7-10 ppm (sorry, these different styles are now available here in europe).

    I think they are on the right way to become a unique disitllery with a genious marketing strategy aligned with people who still are in touch with the real making of spirit .

  5. Louis says:

    Hi John,

    Way back in 1999, I discovered the older Bruichladdich expressions, the distillery 15 and 21 year olds, and and Murray McDavid and Scott’s Selection independent bottlings. They were a very pleasant surprise, as the distillery was mothballed at the time, and not very well known. The releases over the first few years after Jimmy and co. were even better, showing what the chill filtering had removed.

    Additional kudos are due for creating a peated malt, and the Peat Proposals and Infinity. While young malt often tastes young, and often is in obvious need of additional maturation, deftly using the Port Charlotte (I haven’t tried the PP3 with Octomore yet) to add some punch to standard age malt, was a brilliant move.

    As for the extreme number of releases, this in itself is hardly a bad thing. Not everybody likes the same style(s) of malts, so why not cover a wider space (retailers may well disagree). And I would certainly give them a pass in any event, as they had to manage the existing inventory.

    The one area that I must demure on is the ACE’ing thing. I don’t even understand how the SWA let’s them get away with it. None of the ACE’ed expressions that I have tried or purchased have turned out to be anything special. The Bruichladdich malt is plenty good on its own, it doesn’t need ‘enhancement’, IMHO.



  6. Tim Reynolds says:

    Nice post. Thank you for the info. Keep it up.

  7. lawschooldrunk says:

    First, allow me to notify everyone that I have only tasted the laddie 10 OB and I dislike it. I assume that if I don’t like the foundation of the house, I won’t like its attic. However, I don’t believe that this influences what I’m about to say…

    Bruichladdich’s experimentation is great for the influence it has on other distilleries and companies. I respect what they do, respect what they stand for, admire their stewardship and “grass-root” efforts.

    But, it means didley-squat for most of the consumers. I find it ridiculous when a distillery sells a 5 year old single malt that ends up on the shelves for $135. This is outrageous. What do I care about ACEing and other techniques when bruichladdich deters me from purchasing their products with a hefty price demand?

    Ironically, bruichladdich devalues what is inside the bottle through trumped up marketing and sales strategies. Six different types of tubes for the same liquid? I guess I’m paying for the packaging and “collectibility.” Maybe this is why I’m bothered- my philosophy on single malts is to drink them, not collect them.

    If bruichladdich really wants to break the single malt industry mold, they should stop breaking my wallet.

  8. John Hansell says:

    Great comments so far everyone. Keep them coming. I know that the Bruichladdich people will be reading this, so your voices will be heard.

    I will offer my thoughts along the way too.

  9. lawschooldrunk says:

    Hmm, oddly the following paragraph was left out of my previous post. I must have cut and never pasted.

    —And please don’t play the “demand” card. I have seen too many PC5s, 6s, and 7s that have more dust on them than dustin hoffman (pun intended).—

  10. Henry says:

    My opinion:

    I have tasted many expressions of Bruichladdich and have been consistently disappointed and felt they were mostly overpriced.

    It all seems to be so much marketing hype. A lot of different finishes; many different labels and/or packaging; fancy-silly names; tie ins with sports; a ridiculous amount of limited editions….

    “Limited to how many we can sell you” as Seinfeld used to say!

    Its sad to see all this gimmickry from an independent distillery; especially when when one thinks of all that could have been done with such latitude. For example, using golden promise barley instead of other strains would have been nice…

    To me, bruichladdich has become a brand more than distillery; their managers have focused more on aggressive marketing tactics than on whisky making. A shame and a lost opportunity.

  11. Bill says:

    I, like others, am not impressed with the Laddie’s price point.

    They are innovative, and I do like the fact that they are, but when it’s going to cost me an arm and a leg…..I’ll buy something else.

  12. Red Arremer says:

    A brand more than a distillery… Not impressed with the Laddie’s price point… 5 year old malt that ends up on the shelves for 135$… The ACE’ing thing. I don’t even understand how the SWA let’s them get away with it… Running a high-performance race car on 4x distilled Bruichladdich spirit.

    MAN– I am just sunk… I am so disappointed to hear that Bruichladdich is not behaving itself like a respectable distillery should. I completely agree with you guys that it is the job of the independents to take a stand for the spiritual welfare and integrity of the single malt scotch industry– and be affordable too. Independents must have solidarity with middle-brow middle class, no-nonsense consumers like us. In the hands of conglomerates like Diageo, tradition is just a marketing tool (witness the Classic Malts). For independents it should be a way of life… that’s how Glenfarclas does it– Bruichladdich should just follow suit. I don’t get this ACE’ing thing either: it’s time to cut that crap out and give me a medium size range of whiskies that are all variants of the same flavor profile… like Highland Park. Highland Park has the right idea. It’s also not OK to charge surprisingly high prices for your whisky if you are not a legendary distillery that is heavily endorsed by the most respected reviewer in the industry, i.e. Jim Murray, and your name is Ardbeg. End of story. I hope that I’ve made myself clear.

    But I’m always up to taste Bruichladdich and I do have to admit that I really like their malmsey madeira ACE’d 20 yo 3rd edition. And I’ve also really enjoyed this 15 yo c/s bourbon barrel from GM that I picked up a while ago. That was some good stuff. I’m also interested to see how the new bourbon barrel aged distillery bottling announced a while ago on this blog will be.

  13. Cary Bader says:

    I’ve visited the distillery twice & they are the nicest people, but I agree totally with Henry’s blog of 12/7. The whisky is overpriced, inconsistent & my least favored of the Islay distilleries.

  14. Beanie says:

    Wow- Reading these entries I feel like my thoughts about Bruichladdich have been justified, although I have not been too vocal since I have some investment in the distillery. Many readers have seen that the Bruichladdich releases are far too frequent, often underaged and way overpriced. Even the standard offering, the Bruichladdich 10y, is way overpriced compared to comparable products on the market. I realize that much was invested in the distillery and the owners wanted to see an early profit to stay in business and expand, but $130+ for a 5 year old is probably not the way to do it. I would like to see a consistent standard product (maybe two or three) reasonably priced and then I might actually buy some. As for now I will put my money on other distilleries that provide value.

  15. David S says:

    A few observations on the posted comments. I agree with many that see Bruichladdich’s releases as expensive and difficult to follow. I have avoided much of the recent line-up because of the limited opportunity to taste so many releases, increasing prices of them and because once I have finished a bottle, it often has been replaced by a new version. In short, they lost my attention after grabbing it with the early releases, including the 1970, 1984 and first 15 and 20 year olds, all of which I loved.

    However I am interested in hearing more about the quality of casks left when they purchased the distillery (as touched on by marcus) and the financial needs of running such a distillery. While I agree that there are great examples to follow, remember that Glenfarclas has been in the same family since 1865. That makes for a much more consistent cask management policy as well as a more dependable financial situation. Highland Park, also mentioned above, has the benefit of being part of a much larger enterprise that provides stability.

    So while a consistent core range would be beneficial in my view it would seem that it is/was hardly possible based on what I’ve heard about the stock they had, and the profits they need to survive. If this is true, then the ACE policy was really unavoidable as well as creative, in that it helps them them stay alive (while also staying in the spotlight). As good as some of the none-ace’d whisky is if you don’t have a steady supply then you must make use of what you have. Can more light be shed on the stock Bruichladdich started with in 2000?

  16. Mark says:

    “Not impressed with the Laddie’s price point… 5 year old malt that ends up on the shelves for 135$…” Looks like good value: Try $283

  17. Mark Reynier says:

    As John knows I tend not to write in to these sort of things. I am not sure it ever helps the debate, folk tend to have pretty much made up their own minds, or have their own axes to grind, and the last thing you probably want to read is some limey pontificating away with greasy platitudes and sanctimonious claptrap.

    So for one time only, here I go anyway – pontificating, not the greasy platitudes and sanctimonious claptrap.

    First, please remember this company is 8 years old – not 180. It is privately funded and not part of an international group or industrial conglomerate. Our whisky is naturally bottled, we do not colour, chill filter, standardise, homogenise or add anything to it. 60% of our oak requirments continue to be US Oak. We do not employ advertising or PR agencies to promote our business. The only adverts we have ever paid for were with Whisky Magazine and Malt Advocate. PC5 is currently selling at $290 on Ebay.

    If you’ve seen our bottling hall (check it out on the web and see for yourself) you will note that, by default, each and every bottling of ours is a limited release – granted, some more limited than others depending on cask availability/cuvee size.

    Rules on ‘Finishing’ are laid down by the SWA. About 50% of our releases we ACE (carefully marry with European oak, different in my book from a general ‘finish’) depending on what degree of flavour complexity we are looking for. We don’t have to declare an ACE, we choose to. There are bottlings there for those that like the extra flavour as well as those that do not.

    Some people will be frustrated by our somewhat unusual approach, but then I think we are in a fairly unique situation in the first place. Why should we have to conform to other people’s ideas of what a distillery ought to be or do? Why can’t we do what we are inspired to do? Buy your own distillery!

    If continuity is what you are after, if standardisation is your thing, there are plenty of excellent distilleries and whiskies out there that can satisfy your need – Bruichladdich is clearly never going to be for you.

    We like variety. Oh – and we do use Golden Promise – and Bere, Optic, Oxbridge, Chalice, Troon, Westminster, Appaaloosa, and Publican – in 2008 50% organically grown 50% Islay grown.

    We have distilled annually only what we can afford – all profits are ploughed straight back in to production, we have never paid a dividend (and who is Beanie by the way?). As time goes by, and the increasing volumes (now 800,000 olas) we have been able to afford to distil come on line, different strategic options become available to us. Perhaps some industry folk are just beginning to realise this now…

    We have from the outset made no bones about our intentions. We set out our stall to any one that would listen to be open and frank, to welcome fellow travellers on our own journey of discovery and dispel a few whisky myths along the way. Of course such a controversial route is not going to please all the people all the time. We are bound not to meet every one’s expectations, but hopefully we get it right some of the time. If we didn’t, I guess we wouldn’t still be in business – or have a record year of sales. We enjoy what we do.

    I wrote this piece a few days ago it may explain a little more about oak which one way or another we all evidently feel very strongly about and which I bet we are going to hear a whole lot more about over the next couple of years.

    December 5th marked the 75th anniversary of the end of Prohibition. In those seventy-five years America has changed the taste of Scotch whisky, a cultural dominance as far reaching as the hamburger, as all embracing as blue jeans.

    Casks have been used since time immemorial for storage and movement of goods. Coopering is an ancient skill depicted in paintings on Ancient Egyptian tombs, mentioned by Greek writers, referred to in the Bible several times (1 Kings 18:33 “Fill four barrels with water..”) The Roman, Strabo, writing in AD 21 actually praises the Celts as being particularly ‘fine coopers’.

    Cooper is said to derive from Cupa, the Latin for a vessel. There were three grades of coopering skill – dry, dry-tight and wet – depending on the suitability of a cask for it’s purpose. Wet coopers were so skilled as to make casks that could hold liquids without leaking. The whisky world alone needs 3 million ‘wet coopered’ oak casks a year for whisky – and the UK, having cut down all it’s oak to make warships to fight the French, could never satisfy that level of rapacious demand.

    Renowned for their short arms and deep pockets, Scottish distillers relied on second hand casks. From the seventeenth century onwards various alliances, treaties and wars, meant that the fortified wines of Sherry, Port and Madeira were particularly popular in Britain. Shipped in casks, the wines were bottled at the port of entry (Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Bristol, Liverpool) and the empty casks re-used by grateful whisky companies. It didn’t take long for traders to realise that the original contents, the dark sweet wines, could mellow maturing whisky beneficially – badly distilled whisky could even be made to taste good, young whisky look old. These casks were hand-coopered from European oak, Quercus Robar, widely found across the mid latitudes of Europe. And the French used it too, and not just for wine.

    3,400 oak trees (30 hectares of forest) were needed to build one 74 gun ship-of-the-line. In 1669 Louis XIV’s finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, did what the British should have done, and expanded and reorganised France’s forests planting premium quality oak suitable for building a navy to fight the British. This legacy was built on by Napoleon, who banned all tree felling without authority in 1803, and three years later decreed that every oak felled must be more than 150 years old and replaced by a new oak. Thanks to this far-sighted forest management policy (and steel-plated warships and entente cordiale) France’s forests produce the world’s finest casks destined for the planet’s best winemakers.

    The dominance of European oak casks lasted until the beginning of the twentieth century when the United States were mass producing casks by machine on a scale never seen before. In 1920, George Saintsbury, a celebrated writer and gastronome wrote:

    “I have noticed, in the forty-five years since I began to study whisky, that the general style of most if not all kinds has changed…The older whiskies were darker in colour, from being kept in golden Sherry or Madeira casks, rather sweeter in taste, and rather heavier in texture; the newer are lighter in both the first and the last aspect, and much drier in taste.”

    This observation heralds the changeover from European to American oak with the introduction of Bourbon barrels – with their tyloses.

    The Bourbon barrel is made from Quercus Alba or white oak, commonly known as American oak. The cellular structure contains bubble-like cell structures called tyloses that bulge into the cavities of the xylem – the tube of moisture conducting cells – blocking water movement. These tyloses make the wood particularly watertight, even with thinner staves, perfect for mechanised, mass-production barrel-making.

    Bourbon distillers deliberately seek very dark colours, high levels of vanilla and caramel flavours that Bourbon (distilled from maize) draws out from the heavily charred, newly felled, white oak barrels. After prohibition in 1935 this long established, new oak custom was made federal law. Used once only, the barrels had to be discarded, being cheap, they were eagerly snapped up by voracious Scottish distillers.

    The rapid escalation of the use of Bourbon casks coincided with the weakening in popularity of Sherry, Port and Madeira from the nineteenth century highs. The final nail in the sherry cask coffin was the outlawing in 1981 of bulk cask shipments from Spain to the UK. Today, 97% of all Scotch whisky is maturing in American oak.

    If the nineteenth century was Europe’s era for oak, then like world history, the twentieth century belonged to America. American oak, a benign force for good, has unwittingly changed the style of Scotch whisky to what we know today: American oak gives simpler vanilla and caramel tastes, where European oak gives more complex, buttered toast flavours. A combination of the two we feel is ideal.

    In the twenty-first century oak provenance could change again. Two pressures could have far reaching consequences for Scotch whisky. Firstly, competing demand for second hand Bourbon casks from Japanese whisky makers and rum distillers in Central and South America and the Caribbean. And secondly, the ‘once only’ bourbon maturation law could soon be rescinded.

    Even though Scotch whisky is scientifically proven as the most complex spirit, there is the potential for total ‘Bourbonisation’ of Scotch whisky. As second-hand bourbon cask prices increase, the price gap has closed with brand new American oak barrels. Distillers could be forced to use new oak casks; increase cask-recycling relying on E150; or ignore casks, and resort to oak chips or essence. Equally, premium quality French oak could be back on the menu again – just as it was in the nineteenth century.

    Wine casks provoke an extraordinary polarisation of opinion amongst whisky fanatics, split along the lines of those that are familiar with wine and those that are scared of it’s elitism. At Bruichladdich our artisanal approach means we choose not to use E150, homogenise, standardise, chill-filter etc. preferring the natural, ‘unplugged’ approach. As well as the best bourbon casks, we experiment with the judicious use of more flavoursome, hand-coopered French oak, chosen for its supreme quality thanks to Colbert and Napoleon. For alcohol is well known for extracting flavours.

    Whisky matures because of a micro-oxygenation of the four hundred plus flavour compounds created during fermentation. For wine this occurs through the cork, for whisky through the cask’s wood. In addition, alcohol absorbs flavour compounds. For example, just as alcohol absorbs flavours from lavender twigs to make a perfume, whisky does the same thing immediately the spirit is put in a cask; oak staves are just bigger twigs. The higher the alcohol strength, the greater and quicker the flavour extraction. But like lavender twigs, once that flavour has been extracted, they’re just a bunch of neutral twigs. American oak casks have already had an extractive 62.5% Bourbon in them, while French oak casks may have had wine of only 13%. So when whisky is filled in to these second-hand casks, there is loads more untapped flavour in the French oak waiting to be released. This extra degree and variety of flavour needs very careful harnessing.

    Bruichladdich’s Head Distiller Jim McEwan, before becoming a distiller learnt the art of coopering from the age of fifteen. The best quality casks he has ever seen were made of French oak. These he chose for the First Growth series, part of our journey of exploration, with no hard and fast rules, no map merely an intense curiosity and a thirst for true knowledge.

    75 years of American oak has been mutually beneficial. The Scotch whiskies we know today are strongly influenced by this connection. American oak is a Good Thing, but it’s no longer the only gig in town.

  18. John Hansell says:

    Thank you Mark for taking the time to respond (and a rather lengthy response at that).

  19. B.J. Reed says:

    We have visited Bruichladdich twice (04 and 07) and I have not found a more passionate group – Duncan gave us tour in 04 and Jim in 07 – I was particularly taken by two things. First, that the owners and managers there want to pay homage to the whisky and to the traditions while being flexible, creative and push the industry forward.

    Second, Jim particularly has been stung by some of the criticism that Bruichladdich has received about pushing new ideas and different approaches, especially the criticism of the 4X and its high alcohol content.

    Look, as Mark says, they have just been in business in 8 years and they are an independent in a fierce business with limited stocks and they have to market and promote and price their product to keep them above water until they can begin producing and building inventory.

    So, do I like all their expressions? No, but I will tell you many of the things they are producing are absolutely wonderful. Do I think they may be somewhat overpriced? Maybe but look at what Glenmorangie, Dalmore and Macallan are doing with a lot more resources than Bruichladdich has.

    I love their guts and commitment. I love their willingness to rebuild Port Charlotte and to take chances. I will continue to be a big supporter because its what the industry desperately needs. To Duncan, Jim and Mark – Good show!

  20. Curious says:

    Is Mark the designated spoksman for Bruichladdich? We would like to know what Jim, Duncan, Simon and Andrew think.

  21. The Good:

    Lots of expressions. Bruichladdich gets to experiment with lots of styles of whisky, including peating levels, aging and finishing techniques, etc. I find their stuff to be generally well executed, but given the range of ages and styles it’s not hard to see why some people might not like Bruichladdich, especially if they happen to sample an expression that isn’t aligned with their taste (or expectations). In fact, the chance of a random whisky lover loving a random Bruichladdich expression is probably pretty low…you really have to do your homework before you buy. Personally, I think that’s true in general, but it’s perhaps more true with Bruichladdich. With that said, their vast catalog is exciting and expansive, but…

    The Bad:

    Lots of expressions. Too many to expect that anyone would be able to acquire them all. Targeting “enthusiasts” is incompatible with mass-market success. I don’t get the impression that they want success on those terms. They have their own idea of what success is. OTOH, they need to do a better job of helping people figure out the answer to this question: “If I liked Bruichladdich X, what current expression(s) might I also like?”

    The Ugly:

    Price. This will self-correct. It can only go so high before they find the limits of the market. They are small, and they can quickly correct pricing as necessary. The fact that most of what they produce is limited edition (and thus inherently collectible) will tend to justify a higher price.

    Whether or not you approve of their pricing, they just released their 2008 financial report and they exceeded their own expectations. So *someone* out there is buying Bruichladdich! With results like that, I don’t expect Bruichladdich to get cheaper any time soon, at least not across the board.


    I like their entrepreneurial, innovation-embracing attitude and willingness to experiment (at the risk of making very public mistakes, perhaps). Do I think every distiller should be just like them? No. Do I think there is room in the Scotch whisky market for one or more distillers (like Bruichladdich) to push the envelope? Hell yes. More power to them.

  22. Serge says:

    John’s blog is really getting somewhere, isn’t it? Congrats, John, it’s fantastic!

    As for Bruichladdich’s tactics and strategies, the only thing I would say is ‘can you mention five other Scottish distilleries that would pull 20 long and elaborate posts by various dedicated whisky lovers in a single thread within just 3 days?’ 😉

    As for their whiskies, I think we should make a distinction between ‘the dowry’, that is to say the casks they bought with the distillery, and their own production since 2001. Mind you, there probably isn’t much you can do when the average ‘style’ of what you’ve inherited tastes like Bruichladdich’s older versions (10, 15, 21 – not bad at all, but why do you think the former owners mothballed the distillery?), except bottling the best casks (1970 anyone?) and then doing some kind of ‘modern re-racking’ with the rest and adopt an aggressive ‘multimatricial’ (?) product range management. Last time I browsed the shelves at my local liquor store, I had the feeling that it was working pretty well.

    As for their ‘own’ products (Resurection, PC, Octomore), I really think that they’re in a different league, and that now that the company has improved its ‘notoriety’ mucho, they’re starting to further build their brand image. Remember that you can’t have an image when you’ve got very low notoriety, which was the case in the early 2000s.

    Now, Mark, if you’re reading this and as your exposé about French oak was very enlightening, I have two further questions (no tricks here, I don’t have the answers!):

    – In the 19th century and even until the 1970s, when winemakers would ship wine in casks to Great Britain, would they use ‘regular’ maturing casks just like the ones you’re using for your ACEing, or simpler transportation casks (just made to be leakproof)?

    – Is there a way of using first fill wine maturing casks whilst imparting much less winey notes to the whisky? Some kind of heavier rinsing that would remove the wine (quite a few litres in a regular barrel I think) but not the wood’s components, or not all of them?

    Yes, anorak stuff I’m afraid.

    Santé to all!

  23. Adam H. says:

    So let’s see if we can distill the criticism here:

    1. Too many whiskies released too frequently is a bad thing. All distilleries should put out standard expressions at a slow, steady rate so that we can all keep track of them… for what reason I’m not sure.
    2. Whisky of the same age should be equal in price, and low priced, to ensure some sort of fairness. Price competition is irrelevant and/or ineffective.
    3. Experimentation sucks.
    4. The marketing of Scotch whisky is different from any other product, and should not include any overly-persuasive techniques, creation of “false need,” fancy new-and-improved gimmicks, etc.

    Two words: Sour Grapes. And if the grapes are indeed sour, then people will stop buying them and the market will correct itself.

  24. John Hansell says:

    Serge, I appreciate your kind words about this blog. But to be honest, I’m the one who should be doing the thanking. I really appreciate the thoughtful, passionate, intelligent comments by everyone, and this thread is a perfect example of this.

    As you can see, your voices are heard by the people who can affect change in this industry. This blog is read closely by the whisky producers and they care about what you (and I) think. Let’s keep the momentum going.

  25. Jarvis says:

    This is a rousing debate and one that’s important. For what it’s worth I will add my two bob’s worth (ancient English expression, “two bob” being now the equivalent of about seven US cents).

    Firstly I’ll declare an interest – I work with (not for) Bruichladdich. I am an independent designer and currently design their branding and packaging, including the Port Charlotte releases (the infernal “six tins” were my idea and only came about because I wanted to put all the distillery workers on the tins and I couldn’t fit them on one!) and Octomore and the new 2001 release – all a source of no little irritation I sense to the cognoscenti of the Malt Advocate! But, to be clear, I don’t in any way speak for Bruichladdich – these are entirely my own, personal views.

    As someone who lives and works in London I never cease to be entirely blown away when I visit the Bruichladdich distillery (which I do frequently) – as some of you obviously are as well. The commitment, the sincerity, the honesty, the hard work, the knowledge and the passion are unlike anything I’ve encountered with any other client.

    I understand that the issues of huge gaps in their stock profile (due to the distillery being mothballed for certain periods by previous owners – making all the staff unemployed at the same time it’s worth remembering) mean that they have to make the most of what they have – often by ACEing the spirit to create and explore different flavour profiles. But at the same time I am continually astonished and fascinated by the sheer CURIOSITY and pioneering spirit of the team – Mark from perhaps a more intellectual viewpoint and Jim as a man who lives and breathes (quite literally) the spirit from dawn ’til dusk, and probably again in his sleep. His knowledge is spellbinding and I’ve sat down with him in the warehouse many a time, surrounded by his “work” and listened to him explain his journey, the Bruichladdich journey, not noticing as the hours ticked by.

    Also, I’m aware of and understand the background resentment to Bruichalddich pricing. However, I come to whisky not as an aficionado like yourselves, but as someone who works a lot in the premium sectors, and this seems like a standard dynamic to me: limited quantity, artisanal labour-intensive production, high-quality raw materials, innovation and limited availability tend to lead to a higher price. It is exactly the same if you buy a Morgan sports car, a Frederic Malle fragrance, a Rolex Daytona watch, a Savile Row suit or a plate of pasta with fresh black truffle. This dynamic is as old as trade itself.

    And didn’t Jim Murray just award the Port Charlotte PC6 “Best New Whisky” and “Best Whisky Under 12 Years” with a remarkable 96.5 score? A six year old whisky beating the industry’s most-respected 12 year olds? That’s turning convention and received wisdom on its head. And I think what Bruichladdich are doing – exploring and challenging industry convention; in this case the convention that AGE inescapably equates to QUALITY – poor spirit aged for 20 years is just old poor spirit; just as spirit aged in poor wood for 20 years is still going to command a premium price because it has a big number on the bottle. Isn’t this exciting – I don’t see how some seem to find it offensive (or resent paying for it I suppose).

    And let’s remind ourselves, the Ardbeg “head office” is on the Avenue Montaigne, Paris in the plush offices of the French fashion brand Louis Vuitton (via Glenmorangie); Lagavulin is owned by Diageo (2007 revenue £7.2 billion) – as are Caol Ila, Talisker, Oban, Dalwhinnie, Cragganmore, Glenkinchie, etc, etc, etc; Laphraoig is owned by Fortune Brands, a small $7bn+ company headquartered in Deerfield Illinois (I’ve just checked them on Wikipedia – it seems they also have a “Golf” division and a “Home and Hardware” division which manufacture kitchen cabinets as far as I can tell). By contrast the Bruichladdich distillery was brought out of mothballs by a small group of passionate private investors who bought into Jim, Mark and Andrew’s vision. They have no other operations or sources of income and exist on a shoestring budget (I may get paid one day) – frankly it’s a miracle they’re still in business. And I believe they are now the biggest employer on Islay – that’s important.

    To most accurately position this for you I will betray a confidence and publish a private email Jim sent me the other day – disgraceful on my part, but I think this is important. I’d sent him a quick note saying that I’d opened a bottle of the new 2001 release (Jim’s first spirit at Bruichladdich) and had really enjoyed it. This is from his reply:

    “Its a good feeling to actually see something that you are a part of being cherished by the purchaser it give you such hope for the future of all in Laddieland and again the big picture kicks in? Our success will change the lifestyle of all our employees, this is one of the main drivers for me. Budgie can buy a new car, Neil can buy his council house, Adam can buy his boat, James can take the kids to Pontins -whatever. Our small success is changing lots of the Islanders’ lives and providing a level of confidence and happiness in them which is clearly shown and commented on by the many people who come through our doors. I believe we are only at the start of a journey that like a mighty river starts as a raindrop on a mountain,
    Its good! All the problems we experience are simply learning curves that will straighten out with experience.
    Regards Jim.”

    I feel somewhat guilty sharing that with you, but that for me is the spirit of Bruichladdich. And in this age of globalisation and homogenisation, I have to believe it has a value.

    For me working with them feels how it must have been to work with Colin Chapman in the 60s (the inventor of Lotus sports cars and a legendary visionary and industry maverick who re-wrote the rule book of sports car design and took on the might of Ferrari and Maserati from a “factory” in a shed behind the Railway Hotel in Hornsey, England). And among all the massive corporations and conglomerates who dominate the whisky industry (80% of the whisky industry is owned by just five international corporations), surely there is room for this outrageous and irreverent upstart to challenge convention and push the boundaries?

    Excuse me if this all sounds a bit partisan – I was crucified on another well-respected whisky blog recently for voicing these same sentiments – I am just genuinely fascinated by what they do. I understand how the Bruichladdich attitude, and pricing, can be alienating. But surely for the drop in the ocean they represent in terms of global whisky production isn’t it great that they do what they do?

  26. Red Arremer says:

    It is great that they do what they do.

    Innovation, if it is motivated by understanding and love, sometimes honors tradition more truly than straightforward conservation. Outfits like Bruichladdich, Compass Box, and Edradour understand this.

  27. Serge says:

    Well John, good hosts draw good guests (do you say that in English?)

    Jarvis, I like your analogy with Lotus. They were also fast because they were much lighter than their competitors if I remember well. Not too sure they had good brakes, that is ;-). But fully agreed on Bruichladdich’s ‘passion’ and all that. Agreed also on the fact that we should not shoot at them because they’re doing things differently (and after all, as a French humorist named Coluche once said, ‘It’s not because many are wrong that they’re right’.) And anyway, only the balance sheet is right at the end of the day. Excuse me, of the year.

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t say that I like their new products because they come from a ‘small and passionate bunch of people’. I like them just because they fit my tastes, and if sipping the new Resurrection reminds me of a sunny Sunday afternoon spent at the distillery during Feis Ile, well, that’s just a plus. That sunny afternoon won’t make me like another Bruichladdich that did not fit my tastes either. What’s sure is that I really think, glass in hand, that the newer distillates are of much higher quality than the ‘average’ level of ‘old’ Bruichladdich, and not only the peat monsters.

    Now as for experimentation/innovation, and as I’ve often been kindly accused of being a traditionalist, including within Maniacal circles (which does not bother me at all, honest!), I’d answer that great chefs, for instance, experiment a lot indeed, but they don’t always put everything onto the menu. And remember that Loch Dhu, Jackson’s Row, J&B -6 or even Glen Kella were once experimentations too… And so was the helicopter-bicycle.

    I believe experimentation is not a ‘value’ as such, it’s just an obligatory part of the R&D of any good company. Anyway, I’m not too crazy about the wine-ACEing part at Bruichladdich even if some worked very well (again, glass in hand), but I’m all for what they do using various barleys and various “terroirs” (excuse my French, I mean farms). I tried many combinations as newmakes and I can’t wait to try them when they’ll be mature.

    Gosh, this has been much too long… Ah, yes, one last thing: I’ve met many very passionate and knowledgeable people at the large companies’ as well! I don’t think one can say that ‘small is beautiful and big is awful’ in the whisky world, it all comes down to the people in charge.

  28. Much of what I would have liked to say has been said. I’ve been to Bruichladdich and been a fan, as most anyone who has made the trip would be. But in the past couple of years I’ve fallen out of touch. Like many, I’ve been turned off by all of the ACEing–Mr Reynier said, “Wine casks provoke an extraordinary polarisation of opinion amongst whisky fanatics, split along the lines of those that are familiar with wine and those that are scared of it’s elitism.” I think that misses the point that most of us simply want our whisky to taste like whisky. I could understand it with the old stock, but don’t understand why even MMcD releases are ACEd so often. It seems to have become an end to itself. Unlike Mr Reynier, I think it’s a dead-end. Time will tell which of us is right.

    That said, the thing that puzzles me most in all of this is the hostility Bruichladdich draws. People don’t just give up on what they perceive as an inordinate number of expressions; they seem to be angry about it. I don’t get that. There’s an old saying that the opposite of love is not hate, it’s apathy, and if that’s perhaps a bit too facile for human relations, it might just apply to whisky–love and hate are measures of how much one cares. But ultimately a company doesn’t really care how many people hate its product, just how many love it enough to buy it. Such passion (hatred) is therefore pointless and wasted…if it’s not for you, simply look elsewhere, and leave it alone.

  29. butephoto says:

    Innovation in moderation.

  30. patrick says:

    A lot of posts have been published over the last few days and I read them with a lot of interest.

    I don’t think that Bruichladdich draws so much hostility, but mainly lot of attention. They are very creative and innovative, full of ideas leading to different results. Since they generate so much expectations, some whisky fans will be very enthusiastic about some of their new releases and some will be disappointed.
    Personally, I have been very fond of some their older products (e.g., Bruichladdich 1970 , Infinity, or PC5), as well as some of their new products (e.g., the new 2001), but disappointed by others. Since the Bruichladdich products have such a diversity of flavours profiles, my problem is that each time I see a new Bruichladdich, my first though is : What it is going to taste like?

  31. sam says:

    I am blown away by the diversity and sincerity of the postings in this thread! As an American whiskey lover who has never tasted a ‘laddie, I wish we had a distillery that inspired this much passion and intense discussion (though we have one or two that may be close).

    Regardless of your position here, be thankful just for that!

  32. Greg says:

    What a great discussion!

    Long time scotch drinker but more recent “scotch geek” I’ve been going to tastings, seminars, and learning all I can. I love growing my collection and tasting whatever I can get my hands on. And to that end I’ve become a huge Bruichladdich fan.

    I am *not* looking for consistency. Or rather, when I want consistency I turn to a Laphroaig or a Talisker. But I don’t always want consistency and dipping into the latest and greatest Laddie is always a treat. Sometimes not 100% to my liking, sure, but that’s 1/2 the fun. And when I find something that blows me away (1989 Carmel Wine Finish, PC5, Yellow Submarine) I get as much of it as I can afford. Which ain’t much, I know, but hey – it’s worth it to me.

    Hats off to the good folks from Bruichladdich. I’m happy to be with you on this journey!

  33. lawschooldrunk says:

    Can mark or jim address the price issue? that is my only gripe and I have not seen it adequately answered…

  34. Todd says:

    I like Bruichladdich enough to have visited there. I’ve greatly enjoyed their bottlings before and after Resurrection. I wish I would have bought more of their initial releases including the 1970.

    A number of the previous posts have noted the issue of variability of Bruichladdich releases and the huge number of bottlings. As far as I am concerned, this reflects a combination of Bruichladdich’s needs given the time interval between how long they could rely on stocks they inherited before their own distillate was suitable for market – and their honesty towards us, their consumers. Many of Bruichladdich’s larger competitors have attempted to convince us that their single malt is unchanging. A vertical tasting of Bowmore or Talisker or just about any other single produced over a 30 year period will dispel this notion as marketing myth. So instead of trying to sham us, Bruichladdich has been transparent and up front with us that their whiskies will vary and this is reflected in every aspect of how they present their product from the marketing to the packaging down to the bottling codes (actual dates). Based on their passion for making great single malt, and my tasting of many Bruichladdich expressions, I’m confident that Bruichladdich will rise into the ranks of greatest distilleries. I enjoy the fact that everytime I taste a new Bruichladdich that part of the experience is wondering what it going to taste like. Let’s hope they are not acquired by a giant conglomerate. As for the prices, quit whining – price follows quality and demand.

  35. Willie says:

    Bruichladdich draws attention because of its marketing strategy. They regularly make media-attention seeking controversial pronouncements in order to headline the brand. Fair enough. Much of what is said is quite amusing. However, the there are things said that are not funny and which are quite revealing of the attitude of the company’s approach towards the traditional whisky fan.

    Lets take something that Mark Reynier says above as an example:

    “It didn’t take long for traders to realise that the original contents, the dark sweet wines, could mellow maturing whisky beneficially – badly distilled whisky could even be made to taste good, young whisky look old.”

    Here we get the sense that clever wine traders picked up on the idea that wine casks can be used to improve bad whisky. Ok, fine. I have no problem with that, but lets not forget that all kinds of wine casks have been around for many centuries, so how come the clever wine traders only tended to use certain kinds of casks; usually those of the fortified wines? Perhaps it was that the whisky drinker wasn’t that impressed with the stuff that came out of casks of other types of wines. Why was that? Well Mr. Reynier has the answer:

    “Wine casks provoke an extraordinary polarisation of opinion amongst whisky fanatics, split along the lines of those that are familiar with wine and those that are scared of it’s elitism.”

    What he is suggesting that to appreciate wine ACEd whisky you have to know wine. Presumably only the wine experts can appreciate how the wine cask is ‘improving’ the whisky. For the rest of us poor ignorant slobs, we have just to accept that what the knowledgeable say is true. Unfortunately we will never be able to enjoy the fruits of this genius because we simply do not have the equipment. Nice. There’s nothing wrong with the ACEd whiskies, only us.

    I find this line of argumentation offensive in the extreme. It tries to remove from the whisky drinker the ability to make judgements as to what is good whisky and to place those judgements in the hands of a wine drinking elite. I don’t buy it. Nor do I any longer buy the ACEd whiskies.

  36. Red Arremer says:

    Taken that way, Willie, it is an offensive argument. But is its conclusion–about only the wine drinking elite being able to appreciate and evaluate wine cask ACEd whiskies– true?

    I think it’s not.

    As far as appreciating wine influences in whisky, there’s no substantial difference between appreciating wine cask ACEd whisky and full-term wine cask whisky. A lot of people like the Glenlivet 21 full-term port, the Auchentoshan 17 (it’s 17 right?) full-term bordeaux, and the Bowmore 1991 full-term port. I certainly don’t hear any hostility directed towards them. And I have definetly never heard anyone suggest that only a wine connoisseur is fit to appreciate them or could appreciate them better.

    So those are full-term wine cask whiskies that whisky people take for granted, but what about the Balvenie Port Wood 21. I’ve heard that there used to be a full-term port cask Balvenie, but the one that we’re seeing around now is ACEd. And you don’t hear anyone complaining. Lots of people love that whisky. If there were a cheaper Balvenie on the market that replicated its flavour profile, it probably outsell the Double Wood. Again, there’s no controversy about this whisky and NO suggestion that it’s target audience is port wine afficionados.

    Now let’s talk about peoples reactions to rum full-term/ACEd whiskies– that Springbank and the new Balvenie 17 (I think these are both full term actually). A lot of people seem ambivalent about them. Some people like them. But in fact, I barely hear them talked about. Is this because scotch lovers don’t drink rum or is it just because the product seems a little strange? Probably the latter.

    So what the hell is going on with all this discussion about Bruichladdich’s wine ACEd products? Why do people care so much? Why is Mark Reynier making that weird and wrong argument, which offends Willie and probably some others too?

    Mr. Tattie Heid has the right idea I think with that thing he said about how hate is not the opposite of love. To take that a step further, let’s remember another old saying: desire is the root of all suffering. Bruichladdich’s wine ACEing is making people suffer because it is denying them what they desire, which I guess is a bourbon or sherry finished whisky. The question posed by Mr. Tattie Heid still remains unanswered: if Bruichladdich’s not for you, and there are loads of other things out there that you like, then why not just ignore it?

  37. An Islay Whisky Fan says:

    Red Arremer , Mr Reynier seems to have a knack of getting peoples backs up and , i don’t whether he realises it , saying things which upset long standing whisky drinkers .
    Just to pinch Mr Tattie Heids alter ego Mr Picky , it’s not “bourbon or sherry finished whisky” that most fans of Bruichladdich “Desire” , it’s Bourbon and Sherry “Matured” Bruichladdich , Slight difference .
    Going further back into the postings what’s the location of various distilleries “Head Offices” got to do with it ? Can the French and Americans not run a whisky Company as well as an Englishman ?
    What does count is all the distilleries are on the beautiful little Isle of Islay , the whisky produced is on the whole made by Ileachs and they are proud of what they do !
    Oh “And let’s remind ourselves” Ardbeg was Renovated and re-opened back in 1997 by a Scottish Company…….

  38. whiskygirl says:

    I am always amazed with the amount of coverage Bruichladdich receives from whisky magazines such as Malt Advocate (another small privately held company).

    It’s a shame to me that they almost boast about the fact that “they do no advertising.” How does Bruichladdich expect companies like Malt Advocate magazine to survive if they don’t support them?

  39. A good an lenghty read this has become! Love to see this much passion (it has to be passion to inspire these kinds of responses!).

    As I said earlier, it is hard to keep up with the Laddies, because of all the different ACE’s the release. One of my favorite shops just aquired ‘the sixteens’, adding six new Bruichladdich releases just before Christmas. That brings their stock (and they don’t have everything, not even close) to over 30 different Bruichladdichs on the shelves. It is just too much, unless you are a dedicated Bruichladdich collector.

    There are always the other distilleries of which you want to buy stuff. I think this much releases is bad, in a way, since it scares off most people. Things go right, if you like a certain release, and buy some that are similar, but the big risk is that you end up buying some that are nowhere near what you expected and really let you down. I had this with the 17 year old (XVII). I loved several releases from the distillery, and I worship the 19 year old one by Blackadder.

    The pricy young ones, Port Charlotte are, in my humble opinion, worth the original price, since it is an incredible whisky, if you love peat smoke, and peat smoke. The drawback for the five year old is that prices are soaring because of the limited release. I guess I just should have been a bit more early. Luckily I can call myself a proud owner of the PC6 and PC7.

    If only they would do less releases…

  40. DavidG says:

    Although off topic – Within Mark Reynier’s comments he state “And secondly, the ‘once only’ bourbon maturation law could soon be rescinded” and in the comments to your 12/1/08 post entitled: Bourbon drinkers: good news, bad news, the final comment, by kallaskander seems to note the same sentiment – Bourbon regulation is changing —- can this be right, are bourbon producers going to be able to reuse barrels and still call it bourbon?
    As far as Bruichladdich – I really missed how too much is a problem for the consumer, all it is is greater choice, and the consumer can choose not to buy. By the same token, what they choose to charge is within their purview and once again the consumer can choose not to buy.
    Personally, I love the variety, and i try and try before i buy anything they put out – that is the benefit of a good whiskey bar or a retailer with the ability to sample.

  41. John Hansell says:

    DavidG, I can’t imagine the “once only” law to be rescinded. Bourbon is founded on very strict traditions and rules.

  42. Mark says:

    Ah! Now we are getting nearer. Interesting to hear RACE is brought in to the debate.

    I hazard a guess that this is really at the bottom of this “polarisation” of opinion, the upsetting of the apple cart. In reality It is nothing to do with sherry or bourbon casks or ACEing – after all Bruichladdich currently have on their web site three sherry cask bottlings and three bourbon cask bottlings on the go, more than any one else – even enough to please all the anti-ACE drinkers?

    No, sadly I think the “B” word here stands for bigotry, Scotland’s greatest and darkest shame. Unfortunately, amongst certain sectors, this is still very much alive and kicking.

    The truth is there are some folk that cannot abide the thought that an “Englishman” had not only the balls to resurect a dormant Scottish distillery but to get all the attention of the media, challenging the staid existance of corporate single malt. He did what no “Scot” had bothered to do, and I believe has done it rather well.

    Yet the CEO and founder of Bruichladdich is also founder of Murray McDavid. And on that website it says the company was named in honour of “my grand parents – Jock McDavid and Harriet Murray which don”t sound very English to me. And here, too: And coming to think of it “Reynier ‘ doesn”t exactly look Cockney either.


  43. Todd says:

    hot, hot, hot! I recommend that to put things in perspective that everyone pour themselves a dram of the most recent 12 yo Bruichladdich – it’s a fabulous affordable drink with little evidence of ACEing.

  44. Louis says:

    One more comment about ACE’ing. It’s not the finishing per se that is the issue here, but rather that the tail seems to be wagging the dog. I don’t have a problem with finishing. The recent Balvenie Double Wood is far better than it’s been in a decade. Indeed, finishing lets a distillery meet current demand, rather than having to guess 10 or 12 years in advance. No problem ith European oak either, the first 12 year old ‘laddie was a very nice dram.

    Rather, it’s the notion that ACE’ing automatically makes for a better dram. There haven’t been very many non-ACE’d Bruichladdich expressions recently. So it comes down to should the distillery be selling what they want, or what the customers want? And should the former come at a premium price as well? Mark/Jimmy, please don’t take this wrong. I’ve purchased quite a few of your bottles, and if you sell what I like, I’ll keep on buying.

  45. The fachan says:


    I’m not aware of a Glenlivet 21yo in port full time, please tell me more.

  46. John Hansell says:

    Mark (Renier), one thing is for certain: there sure are a lot of people who care enough about Bruichladdich to take the time to tell everyone how they feel about your whisky. Take that as a compliment. When I put up a post about Bruichladdich and nobody responds because they just don’t care anymore, that’s when you should be concerned.

  47. Jarvis says:

    Yes Serge – early Lotus were very fast, exhilarating ride, no brakes! Very Bruichladdich!

    And as you say, big does not have to mean bad, but in general when you have millions of litres of mature stock sitting in your warehouses, that would tend to favour the status quo over a thirst (sorry) for innovation.

    It really is extraordinary how folk can get so angry/offended, about the ACEing thing. As Todd says above, no one is trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes and pretend it’s something it’s not, and if you don’t like ACE’d whisky per se presumably you will exercise your right as a consumer and not buy it (enough people feel this way they go out of business, simple).

    It seems to me this is just a fascinating journey – which we can choose to join as little or as much as we like. From a personal viewpoint I probably prefer the non-ACE’d bourbon Bruichladdich’s too – I’ve just finished my last bottle of 17YO, am down to vapour on my bottle of 1973 (I keep the empty just to sniff it – sad) and I’m really enjoying the 2001. But then I think of the 18YO first edition – ACE’d in Willie Opitz vin de paille casks and I thought that was a really beguiling dram. Surely this is all just really interesting exploration of the extraordinary complexity that whisky has to offer?

    To return to the automotive theme – should we complain that there are so many different models of car to choose from? Is it an outrage and an insult to our intelligence that BMW makes so many different models? Should Bristol be forced to close down because they have the arrogance to not be Mercedes (Personally I don’t like Bristols but it makes me smile every time I see one on the street)?

    To be fair I think what may be missing is a classic Bruichladdich, un-ACE’d signature “house-style” range. But with their own spirit now coming online with the 2001 and therefore more volume being available I’m sure we will see this in due course.

  48. An Islay Whisky Fan says:

    Mark , no one mentioned Race apart from you , i was trying to make the point that for no apparent reason the ownership and head Offices of the other whisky companies were fetched into this when we weren’t talking about it . Why ? To have cheap jibes at these companies ? Someone connected with Bruichladdich shouldn’t do that , it doesn’t look good and i’m sure someone connected with Ardbeg / Bunnahabhain / Bowmore / Caol Ila / Lagavulin / Laphroaig wouldn’t come onto a prominent Whisky website and do the same !
    I’ve been going to Islay long enough to know that despite the rivalry there’s a good friendship between the distilleries and they’ll always help each out with parts for repairs , odd bits of stuff etc . I’m not sure someone coming on who works with but not for Bruichladdich and saying such things will do Relationships any good .
    BTW i’m English so can i be racist against my own ?

  49. Jarvis says:

    Islay Whisky Fan – I appreciate you are referencing my comments – which again, I stress are my own personal views. And yes, I understand and have witnessed the strong community that exists between all the Islay distilleries, and the many Ileachs who work for them – it’s a great island. My point was rather that I’m always somewhat concerned when the financial and strategic heart of a business is some hundreds or thousands of miles remote from it’s source of production and spiritual home.

    Visit certain distilleries and they are very slick, polished… indeed, corporate. Quality certainly, but somehow “managed” and manufactured.

    Personally I warm to the shambolic nature of Bruichladdich. And I love the way that they can put out a release of a few hundred bottles, just because they want to – even though they get hammered for it on the whisky blogs.

    That sort of eccentricity, curiosity and willful uncommercialism only comes from maverick independents – My only point, in the context of this blog, is that I believe we should cherish those qualities rather than pillory them.

  50. Serge says:

    Jarvis, I’ll have a go at explaining why some (not all) whisky enthusiasts seem to have gotten angry/offended (maybe you’ve been exaggerating a bit here, that is) about the finishing/ACEing thing:
    – It simply contradicts one of the main ‘USPs’ that attracted them towards malt whisky in the first place (only long, unrushed ageing allows malt whisky to mellow and get palatable) and that made many become genuine zealots and proselytes. It’s a cornerstone, a core value, it’s one of the things that made most whisky enthusiasts start to prefer malt whisky over other brown spirits or vodka, cachaça, gin, eaux-de-vie, whatever. Even over wine. Billions and billions have been spent by the industry in advertising these ‘values’. So, the fact that you can dramatically change a malt whisky’s aromatic profile within just a few days/weeks by using wine, rum or new oak barrels sounds extremely shocking in this context. To some, these ‘malt whiskies’ are almost like a Quartz Patek Philippe (even if it’s more accurate) or a Porsche with a VW engine (even if it runs as nicely). In short, hybrids. Prejudices? Of course, but you just can’t go against ‘founding core values’, even if they were factually wrong (the perception vs. reality thing). To go on with car analogies, the Porsche 928 was probably a better car than the 911, but…
    Now, you’ll notice that the new whisky enthusiasts do accept these ACE’d malts much more, because they already existed as such when they started to get into whisky. Some new whisky enthusiasts probably even got into whisky because of these ACE’d whiskies! So, they may now be parts of malt whisky’s ‘values’, but that’s mostly true, I believe, to newer generations of whisky enthusiasts.

    And something else: the fact that Bruichladdich created quite a stir among many ‘grumpy old beans’ with the ACEing thing (whilst several other companies did more or less the same, Edradour, Arran, Benriach, Springbank, Glenmorangie of course, Balvenie, Diageo with the Distillers Editions and several others) came from the fact, I believe, that many have been thinking that ALL new Bruichladdichs or even PC/Octomores were or would be ACEd (and all Murray McDavid as well). It’s obviously not the case, and I’d bet that things will now quickly settle down (especially when everybody will have tried the new 16 bourbon, 2001, Octomore, and many, many others).

  51. Jarvis says:

    yes – that’s a good point Serge.

    Do you think there was the same furore when Sherry casks were used for the first time: “Whisky… in Sherry casks? It’s madness – what are they THINKING!”

    And Bourbon – Bourbon casks have only been around for 100 years or so, almost the blink of an eye in the history of the Scotch Whisky industry – who let those Edwardian shysters get away with it???

    And is there not some statistic that OAK accounts for upwards of 60% of the final flavour of mature whisky? Surely we would be better off running down those in the industry who rattle on about how the purity and subtle qualities of their coveted local water contributes to flavour! As if.

  52. An Islay Whisky Fan says:

    “Visit certain distilleries and they are very slick, polished… indeed, corporate. Quality certainly, but somehow “managed” and manufactured.”

    Bit of a mixed Statement Jarvis , things have to be managed to get Quality , just look at Cask Management and i’m sure Mark (R) will agree with this , you have to have a good system otherwise you will return to the days of where whisky was put into any old cask lying around and you ended up with an inferior product , hence the need to transfer to “other” casks to enhance the whisky . Back in the early 90’s both Bruichladdich and Ardbeg were just been used for effectively making spirit for Blending so they (Invergordon in Laddies case and Allied in Ardbegs ) didn’t seem to be bothered about the casks the spirit was put into . Luckily for us at this time Glenmorangie were getting pretty good at cask Management and when they reopened Ardbeg put it to good use . I’m all for Managed if the end result is excellent whisky !

    “Personally I warm to the shambolic nature of Bruichladdich.”

    Now taking this after the previous statement , if i was Duncan i wouldn’t be too happy with you saying his Management is shambolic……

  53. Douglas says:

    I count myself as a fan of the revitalised Bruichladdich.

    The people are passionate about what they’re doing and so happy to share their time and knowledge with you. Speaking as a Central Belt Scot, I’m certain that Islay is the friendliest place in Scotland. The whole experience fills you with optimism about the future of the whisky industry.

    And that is still the point. It is an industry and Bruichladdich need to sell their whisky. Bruichladdich are a major local employer and must succeed to be able to continue as this.

    The first phase of releases under the new regime were particularly memorable, in particular the older bourbon-cask releases like the 20, the 1970 vintage, and the first Legacy – all stunning.

    For the second phase, Bruichladdich have been very inventive, partly through the necessity of selling inherited stock of varying quality, and partly because they are small and agile enough simply to try things out. I don’t like everything I’ve tried but some have surprised me (a Recioto finish – who would have thought!)

    We are acclimatised to bourbon and various sherry casks. Yet this tradition is only a few decades old. How much of the reaction to Bruichladdich’s ACEing is due to the fact we are sometimes (well) out of our comfort zone? In the future I suspect that Sauterne finishes could become established as an entry point for new whisky drinkers.

    And so to the new whiskies. They are still young and they are pricey but they scream good quality spirit matured in good wood. Each Port Charlotte release is taking us towards a new standard in the catalogue.

    As an Octomore Futures owner I do share some of the concerns about the immature notes on this first release. I would have waited the eight years. But maybe I am just outside my comfort zone again – I do have 12 bottles to change my mind!

    Bruichladdich is a business that is still in transition. Judge them when their own stock is fully mature. And enjoy the experiments while they last. No one is forcing you to buy them!

  54. Jon W. says:

    First, just echoing others’ comments that this is a great discussion! I would have liked to have jumped in at several points but was ultimately held up by my lack of eloquence and original thought.

    However, I do want to chime in on the comment made by Mark Reynier
    “And secondly, the ‘once only’ bourbon maturation law could soon be rescinded.”

    I completely agree with John that this specific scenario seems extremely unlikely, but I don’t think Mark’s point is moot. We’ve been reading (here and elsewhere) about all of the experimentation being done by various US distillers.

    While I can’t recall reading specifically about the use of refill casks (please correct me if I’m wrong), it doesn’t seem too outlandish that someone could produce a solid American whiskey with the right grain recipe and a 2nd or 3rd fill barrel. It just couldn’t be called Bourbon, right? We’ve already got some rye, wheat, and other whiskies on the market that don’t have the word “Bourbon” stamped on the bottle. Who know where this will go.

    So maybe when thinking about the mid-term horizon (10-20 yrs perhaps?), considering the possibility of a severely diminished supply of ex-Bourbon barrels is smart.

    Just a thought. Sorry that it’s a little off topic.

  55. Jarvis says:

    “if i was Duncan i wouldn’t be too happy with you saying his Management is shambolic……

    I said the style was shambolic, not the outcome.

    Oh dear, I’m just digging myself in deeper aren’t I?


  56. Serge said: “Jarvis, I’ll have a go at explaining why some (not all) whisky enthusiasts seem to have gotten angry/offended (maybe you’ve been exaggerating a bit here, that is) about the finishing/ACEing thing:
    – It simply contradicts one of the main ‘USPs’ that attracted them towards malt whisky in the first place (only long, unrushed ageing allows malt whisky to mellow and get palatable) and that made many become genuine zealots and proselytes.”

    I’m not angry or offended–just not very much interested. They may not be finishing all of their whiskies, but it sure seems like an awful lot–it feels as though they’re doing it for no other reason than that they can (talk about clachan a choin!). A few weeks or a couple of months in a wine cask can’t possibly add much of anything in the way of real maturation, and seems designed only to leach some flavor from the cask’s former contents. Is there any real difference between that and just tipping a few ounces of wine into the cask? My preference is for whisky that tastes like whisky–if I wanted some weird whisky/wine cocktail, I could easily make my own.

  57. Jarvis says:

    just had a look at the Bruichladdich 2008 releases – 11 out of 14 weren’t ACE’d.

    “My preference is for whisky that tastes like whisky”

    What exactly IS that? 100 years ago you would have been screaming about the adulteration of whisky with Bourbon casks (I imagine this is what you now call “whisky that tastes like whisky”), 200 years ago your gripe would have been whisky “tainted” by Sherry casks.

    “if I wanted some weird whisky/wine cocktail, I could easily make my own”

    I doubt it. First you would have to have the balls to put yourself on the line and raise the (not insignificant) money to buy a distillery with some quality old stock. Then have the insight and vision to bring a distiller and cooper with the quality and experience of Jim McEwan on board. Then have the presence in the industry, the gravitas and contacts to source the finest oak casks from the greatest wine domaines on the planet (they’re the same as quality Sherry casks only better quality oak). Then walk a tightrope with your bank and your creditors to allow you to further mature these casks in your own warehouses for 9 months to 5 years.

    yes, then you could easily make your own.

  58. John Hansell says:

    Jarvis, I have not been keeping track of ACE’ed releases as much as you, but I know that the “First Growth” press release I was sent listed six alone. And there were others…

  59. Jarvis says:

    that’s right John – i was counting that series as one release 🙂

    six variations on the same spirit.

    I just don’t get the anger. You don’t like it, don’t buy it. Bruichalddich have one of the best distillers in the business and they’re exploring the nature of fine whisky. Bourbon casks and Sherry casks were radical in their time. Given that the British trade with Bordeaux pre-dates the trade with Spain, and obviously America, by some centuries, it wouldn’t be surprising if Bruichladdich’s First Growth series wasn’t truer to the roots of whisky?

  60. John Hansell says:

    No anger here, Jarvis. I was just trying to clarify your previous posting.

  61. Jarvis said:

    “if I wanted some weird whisky/wine cocktail, I could easily make my own”

    I doubt it. First you would have to have the balls to put yourself on the line and raise the (not insignificant) money to buy a distillery with some quality old stock.


    No…I would just need a bottle of whisky, a bottle of wine, and a glass.

    I’m not angry, either–I’ve been to Bruichladdich and love the folks there. I don’t get a lot of the criticism of them, either. As I said, I’m just not much interested in wine-finished whisky. I don’t think it’s the way forward.

  62. Jarvis says:

    Yes – sorry John I didn’t make that clear. I wasn’t referring to your comment, more some of the more negative/polarised reactions that one comes across.

  63. John Hansell says:

    No worries, Jarvis. Merry Christmas!

  64. butephoto says:

    I’m now on my second bottle of Resurrection and it’s all the better for being straight down the line malt whisky. No finishes, no fancy stuff. Just whisky.

  65. […] storage needs. Mark Reynier, CEO of Bruichladdich, wrote extensively on this topic in a blog comment on the What Does John Know blog (the “John” in the title is John Hansell, […]

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