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.
Bruichladdich are well known for their experiments, and, over the last decade, a scary number of them have hit the market – when I wrote about them four years ago, they had 68 distillery bottlings available on Master of Malt’s website, and most of them were small runs of craziness. They’ve calmed things down considerably these days, but you can still find some of the older bottles around, including, X4+3, one that I’d been deliberately avoiding a while.
X4 was the name they gave to a quadruple distilled experiment. The spirit was distilled at 11.30am on February 27 2006, a year before they produced the quadruple-distilled, heavily-peated spirit that became this year’s Islay festival bottling of Octomore Discovery. While their first release of the spirit was unaged, they also produced the +3, aged for three years, the minimum amount of time that whisky legally has to be aged for.
While you don’t see much in the way of quadruple distilled spirit – most Scotch whisky is distilled twice, with a few exceptions and most Irish distilled three times – there is historical precedent. Back in the early 1700s, proto-travel-writer Martin Martin produced his “Description of the Western Isles of Scotland”, including some of the first written mentions of early Scotch whisky:
“Their plenty of Corn was such, as dispos’d the Natives to brew several sorts of Liquors, as common Usquebaugh, another call’d Trestarig, id est Aquavitae, three times distill’d, which is strong and hot; a third sort is four times distill’d, and this by the Natives is call’d Usquebaugh-baul, id est Usquebaugh, which at first taste affects all the Members of the Body.”
The Usquebaugh-baul, ‘perilous spirit’, also gave rise to some of the first whisky tasting notes:
“…two spoonfuls of this last Liquor is a sufficient Dose; and if any Man exceed this, it would presently stop his Breath, and endanger his Life.”
While the next line (“The Trestarig and Usquebaugh-baul, are both made of Oats”) detracts somewhat from Bruichladdich’s experiment, they (using malted barley) produced both Trestarig, released in a very limited fashion, and Usquebaugh-baul: X4.
It’s quadruple distilled spirit, taken up to 90% ABV, removing much of the flavour in the process, which is then matured for the shortest amount of time they can get away with: it’s a recipe for whisky that I’m not going to like. Hence my surprise when I did.
Nose: Butter icing and royal icing sweetness, balanced by sharp fruit – unripe mango, pink grapefruit, grapefruit skin, lime fruit gums, Seville oranges and granny smith apples.
Palate: Strangely soft to start, with butter and the fruit from the nose. Intensity grows, with sweet liquorice, citrus pith and peel, and lots of sharp apple. Touches of woody spice creep in around the edges, but are overwhelmed by fruit.
Water (it is bottled at 63.5%): On the nose it gets oilier, with a touch of two stroke and linseed oil, the fruit combines into a single citrus heavy mess and some spicy grain notes come out. The palate softens and gains a bit of sweetness, as well as a slug of new make spirit.
Finish: Very short, fading away to nothing in a burst of sweet, green grassiness.
Scarily, it works best at full strength, although it can take a good slug of water if your tastebuds still have some life in them, and is incredibly fruity. It focuses on the grapefruity end of citrus, which is something I search for in whisky, and it’s what sold me. You can still find it around, and it’s definitely worth seeking out a dram.
Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 63.5%. ~£75
As usual, Jim McEwan’s tasting notes are worth a read