What do you get when you cross Springbank with Bruichladdich? The terroir of whisky (broadly: it’s relationship to a specific natural place) has become quite the talking point over the past decade. Whilst arguably more applicable to wine-making, some distilleries have experimented with local barley strains in an attempt to translate a real sense of place into their products. Both Springbank in Campbeltown and Bruichladdich on Islay have run different barley strains through their stills to produce diverse malt spirits which they believe express their terroir. So, if terroir is in the barley can it also derive from the location of maturation?
For an answer to this, it's worth looking at past Bruichladdich owner Mark Reynier. Reynier is now heading up Waterford Distillery in Ireland where he's selected barley from forty six farms from across the country - to be separately mashed, fermented and distilled - resulting in remarkably different outputs. The processes are all the same, the only difference here is the origin of the barley itself.
So, back to today's tasting - The story goes that Reynier visited Springbank and purchased cask number 118 (sherry hogshead). After 13 years of maturation, he moved the cask back to Bruichladdich where it slumbered for its remaining 8 years. The tasting notes/blurb indicates that the time spent at Bruichladdich has added 'some maritime influence' given the 'Atlantic winds and foreshore influences' of the distillery's exposed coastal location. The implication here is that Bruichladdich's environment (part of its terrior) has impacted on the maturation process and therefore the eventual flavour profile of the whisky. It certainly seems ‘renegade’ in provenance, so let’s give it a go:
Nose: Pronounced and oh so inviting. Toffee apples and lashes of demerara sugar and baked goods. Autumnal spices from cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. A fresher note which is quite vegetal, almost like celery. A simply wonderful nose, up there with the very best I've experienced.
Taste: A sun blessed greenhouse of fruits and vegetables (yes both!). Green bell peppers get funky with those toffee apples and bring along stewed red fruits to join the party. Deep sherried notes including dried raisins and some real Mortlach-like meaty quality going on here. A saline-tang is present on the tongue, expressing the north-Atlantic as promised. More delicate than one might expect but wow, it's full of intrigue and yet harmony at the same time.
Finish: Ah, shame, it couldn’t last could it – rather short and a touch hollow compared to the truly wonderful nose and development. Favouring the meaty quality mentioned above but with a good level of tannic astringency overall. Nothing bad here, just not up to the past glories of a few seconds back.
A rare treat which I encourage all of you to try if you get the opportunity. A world-class nose is not to be sniffed at (haha), but the palate more than backs up this experience with a rollercoaster of sweet and umami flavours all at the same time. Slightly maddening that at the end of it all, the finish is not in the same league, but hey, you can't have it all – and by golly the journey was more than worth it.
As to the question of terroir - well, salt and maritime notes are most certainly present, much more than you’d expect from a Springbank produced distillate. Have these come from Reynier's decision to relocate the cask part way through it’s maturation? Well, who’s to say for certain, but sometimes it doesn’t matter - this journey was more than worth it regardless.