One of the most coveted tickets of the yearly Islay Festival (Feis Ile) is the Bruichladdich Feis Ile Masterclass – a chance for a few hundred of the distillery’s biggest fans to try not only the yearly festival bottling, but also taste hidden delights from deep in the well-stocked warehouses. This year, I finally made it along.
It’s impressive how quickly 12 months can pass by. This time last year, I was trying to work out how to both get to the Islay Festival of Malt and Music – Fèis Ile to its friends and about 50,000 Scottish gaelic speakers – and travel around the island once I got there. My companion during this ‘planning’ was a dram from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, their first bottled in celebration of the festival. This year I can’t make it to Islay, so instead I’m looking at other people’s plans with a new whisky compantion – the SMWS’s second festival bottling, 127.44: Cantina Mexicana.
Travel retail is a strange market. Not only are the shops in some of the strangest on earth – liminal spaces constructed with a strange dual purpose of quick movement and opportunities to spend cash – but it’s a hard market. Bruichladdich are no stranger to the vagaries of travel retail and they’ve just unveiled a pair of new whiskies – Bruichladdich The Laddie Eight and Port Charlotte 2007 CC:01.
Today is a special day. By the time you read this, Star Wars: The Force Awakens will have not only been released, but I will have seen it. I’m booked in to the midnight showing, so as not to have to avoid the internet due to it being filled with spoilers for the film.
When looking through my whisky collection, there was only one dram that could possibly fit the day. Maybe the geekiest bottle on my shelf, and one of my favourites: an independently bottled Bruichladdich 1992, the Save Lars Whisky.
As I said in my post from last week about the third Bruichladdich Micro Provenance tasting –aka #LaddieMP3 – I have a complex relationship with Bruichladdich. There are a couple of drams that have shaken my dislike of the whiskes which have been made since the distillery was revived in 2000, but the one that weakened my resolve the most was Bruichladdich X4+3.
As I said in that blog post, it was a whisky that I should have in no way liked – quadruple-distilled and only matured for three years. Yet, I loved it. At the second of the online Laddie Micro Provenance tastings, they dropped in an older version, but I wasn’t involved and just watched as people enjoyed it, only to entirely forget about is existence moments later.
However, the lovely Ben Cops of Ben’s Whisky Blog, who had tried the X4+3 at Whisky Squad with me, remembered the my look of consternation as I realised how much I liked it, saved me a bit of the X4+9 and pressed it into my hand the next time I saw him. I finally got around to trying it this evening, so it is now advent calendar whisky #5 – Bruichladdich Micro Provenance Cask #060, aka X4+9.
I have a confession to make: I don’t really like Bruichladdich’s whisky. They’re the geek touchstone; the independent Hebridean distiller that showed that the little guy could go it alone; the home of Jim McEwan, his crazy experiments and his even crazier tasting notes; the one with their own shade of blue. However, with a very small number of exceptions, I’ve not enjoyed a bottle with the word Bruichladdich on it since I got into whisky. So, when I found one I liked, I thought I’d better make a note of it, especially as it’s one I assumed I would hate – Bruichladdich X4+3.
After years of trying, I’ve finally made it to what is often seen as an essential pilgrimage in the life of a whisky geek: I’ve come to Islay for Feis Ile – the festival of malt and music. Each distillery has an open day and at least one limited edition whisky, most of which are only available on the island. I’m staying a few minutes walk away from Bruichladdich and tried their Feis Ile bottling during their open day on Sunday, the quite ridiculous Octomore Discovery.
[The sale has now gone through – there’s an update at the bottom if you’re interested]
So, the buzz on the whisky interwubs over the last few days has been all about Bruichladdich (other than the potential for a Twitter organised cask-share, that is), ‘in negotiations’ to be bought by Rémy Cointreau. No numbers have been announced, other than The Scotsman saying that analysts had said that £25m ‘was a number’ (I paraphrase), but it looks like Mark Reynier and the other investors will be getting their money back, having spent somewhere between £5m and £10m on the distillery back in 2000.
However, rather than everyone slapping each other’s backs and doing the happy dance there’s a lot of downcast eyes, wailing, blatant and annoying metaphor, and gnashing of teeth. For why?
I’m so very tired. It’s over a week since I got back from The Netherlands and still I am a broken wreck who looks on the concept of being a ‘shell of a man’ as being a step up. And what is to blame for this? Maltstock 2011 – the best whisky festival I’ve been to so far. A gathering of whisky fans from mainly across Europe organised by a group of whisky fans and with the intention of being pretty much the least commercial whisky festival in the world.
The weekend took place at an old Cub Scout lodge in Nijmegen, near the German border, and the plan was simple – turn up, bring whisky, put the whisky on one of the tables provided, share, talk toot and maybe sleep. A few companies had organised tastings, including my employers who had commented “do you want to do a tasting?” when I tried to blag some whiskies from our tasting cupboard to take along for the table, and I ended up showcasing some upcoming releases in the Elements of Islay range. There was also the promise of music and a BBQ, but mainly it was focused around sitting down with a bunch of new friends and drinking, talking and generally contemplating whisky.
Another month and another chance to show my dedication to the cause that is Whisky Squad. We were in The Gunmakers as usual but my head was partly elsewhere – it was IPA day. I’m a big fan of beer and IPA day sprang up quite quickly and quietly, thus clashing with Whisky Squad – nothing should happen on the first Thursday of the month apart from The Squad, this I decree. Anyway, I focused on the whisky and missed out on the rather epic looking IPA Day dinner at the Dean Swift, although I will be making a pilgrimage there to sample their wares soon enough.