Thursday, August 31, 2017

Bruichladdich, The Laddie Eight

stats: single malt Scotch, Islay, 8 years old, 50%, $60

Regular readers have likely noticed that my posting frequency started to drop off considerably midway through the reports on my most recent trip to Scotland. Summer is a busy season for me with plenty of distractions, but there’s more to it than that. I tend to get bored if I stay on the same subject for too long and drift into procrastination mode. It’s time for me to shake things up a bit and start writing about whatever whisk(e)y topics I’m excited about at the moment. The rest of the 2017 Scotland trip coverage will be interspersed among other posts and will come in due time.

That being said, on to a bottle of whisky that I’ve been itching to open for several months now; Bruichladdich, The Laddie Eight. When single malt Scotch was developing into a product category that could separate itself from blended Scotch in the 1970’s, bottlings with 8 year age statements were fairly common. When the industry hit a rough patch in the 1980’s, years of overproduction would linger in the warehouses before there was a need to bottle that whisky. Naturally, age statements crept up; if you’re competing for a limited pool of consumers and the product’s age is increasing by default, it makes sense to have an elevated age statement as a selling point.

Of course that situation stabilized though the 1990’s and most flagship bottlings had moved to age statements in the 10 to 14 year range by then. When the sales trends had fully reversed and producers were faced with shortages, age statements started to disappear rather than regressing (and of course prices went up as well). Eventually the art of profiteering off of sub-par non-age stated single malts started to hurt the reputation of the NAS category. Finally, younger whiskies with age statements started to make sense again.

Independent bottlers are generally quicker to react to consumer trends, and they led the way with modern bottlings of 8 year age stated single malts. But when Gordon & MacPhail released a series of 8 year olds around early 2012, they were the first company to do so with large enough releases that the bottlings were widely available. A key feature of this series was its modest retail price point. I’ve tasted and written about three of those bottlings; Glenrothes, Bunnahabhain and Highland Park. I also have a yet-to-be-opened bottle of Tamdhu.

While I have seen some online references to a modern Glenfarclas 8 year old, that product seems to be one that is primarily made for Australia and New Zealand. Finally, in the spring of 2016, two new 8 year old official distillery bottlings were announced; Lagavulin’s limited edition 200th Anniversary offering and Bruichladdich’s The Laddie Eight, which would launch as a Travel Retail exclusive.

Fortunately, I live within an hour of a Duty Free store on the US/Canada border. I stopped in on my way home from Montreal at some point that summer to ask if they planned to carry the new release. I was told that it had been ordered already and should arrive by the fall. Like most things in life, it took a little longer than expected, but I finally had it in hand by late February.

Bruichladdich took some criticism when they dropped the 10 year age statement from their flagship bottling. They have done a few limited releases of their 10 year old offering since then, and I viewed this 8 year old as another positive sign from Bruichladdich. I was a bit disappointed with its pricing though. I paid $79 Canadian, which came though as $60.43 on a credit card that doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee. Bruichladdich’s flagship Scottish Barley bottling (which is typically a vatting that averages around 9 years old) sells for $67 Canadian in Montreal and $58.29 here in Vermont. As I noted in my Lagavulin 200th Anniversary post, that too was expensive for an 8 year old, but it was still less than their flagship 16 year old (and bottled at a higher proof), and not too expensive for a limited release.

I did manage to by a bottle of Bruichladdich 10 not long before it became unavailable, and I still have some of that on hand, so I’ll do a side-by-side tasting of the 8 year and the 10 year.

8 year, 50% abv
nose – the briney coastal aromas are most obvious and backed up by grassy notes (a mix of beach grasses and fresh cut grass). There’s a malty underpinning to it all, along with fresh fruit (apple, pear and perhaps a hint of orange).
The palate is rich, with an almost honey-like quality up front. It shows a good range of flavors, from malt and tree fruits to grassy notes, though the mid palate.
As it moves into the finish, a maritime minerality comes through and it becomes more oaky with drying spice notes.
It may lack the integration of its older peers, but not to the point of detriment.

10 year, 46% abv
nose – it’s similar to the 8 but with less grassiness and more oak (in the form of soft vanilla) coming through.
As one might expect, there’s not a huge difference in the flavor profiles of these two. The 10 year old shows less of the grassiness that often betrays a more youthful malt whisky. The individual flavors jump out less obviously and it transitions more smoothly from start to finish (everything is a bit more harmonious). Although, that may be partially due to the difference in bottling proof.

Bruichladdich’s new 8 year old is a respectable whisky. It comes across as youthful but not immature. I’d just like to see it priced 10% to 20% lower than their Scottish Barley bottling. Travel Retail is often a place to test the waters with new products. Perhaps we’ll see this as a more reasonably priced general release at some point in the future.

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