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.
The most common difficulty with the travel retail maket that I see is the reaction of whisky geeks: if there’s a good project exclusive to travel retail then the fans will complain; if the offering isn’t as good as hoped then abuse is heaped on the producer. Either way, you can’t win. Add to that high listing fees and stiff competition for shelf space, and you have a market that’s fairly thankless. However, the rewards are big, both in terms of promotion and income, and lots of distillers put themselves through the circus of creating, promoting and selling travel retail exclusive bottlings.
Bruichladdich have had a travel retail range for a while, and the two new whiskies join a couple of Laddies, a Port Charlotte and an Octomore, slotting into the range in obvious places. In true modern fashion, the distillery hosted a Twitter Tasting to celebrate the launch, and I joined in.
First up, there’s the Bruichladdich Laddie Eight. While Mark at Malt‘s opening tweet of ‘A travel retail whisky. WITH AN AGE STATEMENT’ shows the usual impression of travel retail ranges, the shelves of your average duty free shop have a fairly even mix of whiskies with and without age statements. Certainly, the more high status recent rivals – Talisker Neist Point; Bowmore’s recent Black Rock, White Sands and Gold Reef range; Laphroaig QA and An Cuan Mor; Kilchoman Coull Point; Highland Park’s warriors; and Auchentoshan’s various ill-fated attempts over the years – have no age statement, but standard expressions in litre bottles are the mainstay of travel retail shelves, the constants as the experimental bottlings with interesting names and carefully crafted backstories appear and then, inevitably, disappear.
The Laddie Eight looks to be a statement of intent, giving Bruichladdich fans a waypoint on the way to a new 10 year old, that bottling having been retired thanks to high demand decimating the distillery’s stock of appropriately aged whisky. Like the Laddie Ten, it’s a mix of American and European oak casks, although as with the older expression, any sherry-influence is deep in the mix.
Nose: Lemon cheese cake and runny honey, with some leafy tarragon and hints of salt. As it sits, the cheesy, briny, farmyardy notes build – my suggestion during the tweet tasting was a feta cheesecake. With that comes salty butter, a hint of fruity white wine vinegar and creamy porridge sprinkled with plump sultanas.
Palate: Thick and oily but with flavours that head in the opposite direction to the nose – layers of toffee, caramel, woody spice and oak boards. As it softens, the spice calms down, revealing a bit of gummi fruit and shortbread.
Water: Adding water warrants a section of its own, as it definitely changes things. With a bottling strength of 50% ABV, it can take a good amount of water, and it brings things much more round to my taste – less of the farmyard on the nose, more sweet cream on the palate.
Finish: Toffee and oak, with a little bit of farmyard fruitiness, fading to a dark and spicy end.
This is very much along the line of the old 10 year old, and a couple more years of development will hopefully bring that popular dram back onto the market. I’m not the biggest fan of the 10, but this is different enough to appeal to me. A drop of water is essential, with the farmyard notes that I dislike in the 10 dropping back to reveal a pleasantly creamy whisky, with a surprisingly complex and dark backbone.
The yin to the Eight’s yang is Port Charlotte 2007 CC:01. Bruichladdich like using numbers and abbreviations in their titles and I assume that the CC here stands for ‘Cognac Cask’ – this release has been matured for around nine years in French oak ex-Cognac casks. In their usual fashion, Bruichladdich are being coy about where the cask came from, but they mention that it’s from the west of Cognac. A simple guess would be that it’s from current owners Rémy Martin, but they weren’t on the scene back in 2007, and former owner Murray McDavid’s connections in the French wine industry gave Bruichladdich access to a wide range of casks.
Anyways, Port Charlotte is the middle of Bruichladdich’s three makes, measured by peatiness: Bruichladdich is unpeated, Port Charlotte comes in at 40ppm and Octomore gives numbers that are a) much higher and b) silly. PC harks back to the style of whisky that Bruichladdich produced when they still malted on site – the maltings closed in 1961 and these days they buy in barley from the mainland. The official line is that it’s inspired by the whisky produced at nearby Lochindaal, aka Port Charlotte, which closed in 1929 and whose warehouses Bruichladdich still use.
Nose: Not as smoky as I expected and very dry. Black rubber and gravel, hints of ham and a bit of lime. As it sits, more maritime notes appear, with lots of sea spray and swimming pool ozone appearing, along with some meaty notes and a little bit of Laddie farmyard and cream.
Palate: The exact opposite to the Laddie Eight, with a dry and almost austere nose leading into a sweet and fruity body – boiled sweets, gummi fruit and cherry Tunes. The medicinal notes build, along with huge peat smoke, with menthol and Fisherman’s Friends rolling over into bandage and iodine territory. Green leafiness, dark chocolate notes and liquorice appear as the medicinal phase subsides.
Water: Again, it swims well – it’s 57.8% ABV – this time revealing more of the sweetness as well as a less medicinal side to the smoke: brown-sugar rubbed hams and cherry jam.
Finish: TCP and Fisherman’s Friends hang around for a while, before making way for a pinch of cinnamon spice and some chocolate-dipped cherries.
A good companion to the Laddie Eight, with an unexpectedly sweet palate balancing the expected intense smokiness. A solid whisky that stands up to the best in the range, showing both complexity and the peaty face punch that you want from a PC.
The pair drop nicely into the Bruichladdich travel retail range: the Laddie Eight works as either a step up from or replacement for The Organic, and the Port Charlotte CC:01 will take over from PC11 when stocks run out. While they have a relatively large number of whiskies in travel retail – seven at the moment, although I suspect that will drop to five over the coming months – it’s a range that makes sense and offers something different to travellers without stepping far enough outside of the core range to upset stay-at-home geeks too much. Well selected and well positioned: well done.
Thanks to Bruichladdich for samples of the whiskies and to World Duty Free and Signe Johansen for hosting the Twitter tasting – Sig was one of the people who told me to start a booze blog way back at The Blaggers’ Banquet, so this is all partly her fault. Thanks 🙂