Unless you’re a devout fanatic of a brand (and there’s plenty of them out there), it’s likely that your preferences for particular distilleries and styles of whisky will wax and wane. There’s very few (if any) distilleries whose profile and output has remained monolithic over the years – managers with their preferences change, as do owners – sometimes bringing in more sweeping modifications. What is a thing today, was likely a different thing 10, 20 or 30 years ago. Over the course of your whisky exploration you’ll find points in time when the inherent qualities of a distillery’s liquid will align perfectly with your tastes. It might a single year (Ledaig 1972) or a whole decade (90s Ardbeg), but regardless, this fondness and flavour memory is likely to stick with you.
Today’s point in time isn’t mine (though we’ll likely come to cover it later this year) – it comes courtesy of the Whisky Exchange’s all round nice chap Billy Abbott. Whilst knowledgeable about most things boozy-based, Billy, like most of us has his preferences – these do not extend to ‘perverted wine casks’, but do encompass a somewhat fraught period of time for Islay’s so-called bad boy Bruichladdich. 90s bottlings from Bruichladdich are one of Billy’s points in time, and last week (via Whisky Squad), he was eager to show off a bottling which encapsulates aspects of the character of the distillery’s spirit from that point in time. Markedly different, but not wholly unrecognisable from Bruichladdich’s current output.
Bruichladdich 15 year old Duke of Edinburgh’s Award was distilled back in 1991 and bottled in 2006 to celebrate 50 years of the well-regarded youth programme. The whisky provides no information as to the casks which has utilised. The release consisted of a mere 1500 bottles (back when ‘limited’ meant exactly that), bottled at 54% ABV.
Given that the bottling is some 13 years old you’re unlikely to see this being stocked by retailers – but, there’s been a handful pitched on online auction sites - the most recent of which sold on SWA back in April for £75 (plus fees and postage of course). The bottling probably cost somewhere in the region of £40 when originally released back in 2006, so that type of price inflation over more than a decade is far from unreasonable. But, as one of Bruichladdich’s *many* special releases from this period, you’ll likely need to keep a vigilance eye out to locate one.
Nose: Marshmallow and Battenberg cake sit alongside Comice pears and lychee, whilst coffee beans and shortbread biscuits are reinforced with a slightly farmy note – not quite cheese, but heading in that direction. In the background, light tropicals (foam bananas), shaved wood and a twinge of saltpetre. Water reinforces the lacticness that runs throughout – milk whey alongside darker fruits – berries and plums.
Taste: The arrival is relaxed and restrained for 54% - you might even say ‘smooth’ if you wish. Coffee beans are up first – then chocolate cake, engine oils, chip fat and grease. There’s texture and weight here and it’s all rather pleasant. Steeped fruit teas (favouring bananas and pineapples) sit with a foamy latté, whilst an umami meatiness runs underneath – syrupy, caramelised, and supported by cinnamon spices. The addition of water softens things up with juicy berry fruits, melons and kiwis, whilst dusty, pepper and nutmeg sit with vanilla pods and soft oakiness.
Finish: Medium, with charred cask ends, slight coal minerals and fading jammy fruitiness.
An older style Bruichladdich which shows off two characteristics of the distillate – bright fruitiness, and more fuller-bodied dirty mechanised farminess. The two usually sit together quite harmoniously, and that’s certainly the case with this 15 year old. Upbeat and lively, but with an thought-provoking griminess. Well worth looking out for if you enjoy this style.