Peated whiskies these days are strongly associated with Islay, a small group of islands on the west coast of Scotland. Only two distilleries on Islay produce unpeated whiskies as their house style – Bruichladdich, and Bunnahabhain.
The Bruichladdich distillery has somewhat of a reputation for being non-conformist ‘bad boys’ of the industry. The self-styled “Progressive Hebridean Distillers” aren’t part of the Scottish Whisky Association, they produce an unconventional style of whisky (unpeated, which is rare for a distillery in Islay), and for an industry that seems intent on drumming home the image of tradition at every given opportunity, they embrace a distinctly modern image and product packaging.
And as if to drive the point home, visit the distillery and this is the first thing that greets you: a pair of legs sticking out of the head of a pot still.
Of course, we’re not going to be on the receiving end of that sort of treatment from Murray Campbell, the regional brand ambassador for Bruichladdich; even though we’re clearly trying to hustle him into divulging information on their most secretive bottling – the Black Art 4. The Black Art series is one of Jim McEwan’s (Master Distiller, Bruichladdich) most enigmatic Scotch whisky creations, and its fourth edition was recently released in Singapore.
SSG: Can you tell us the origins of Black Art?
MC: Black Art explores the influences of oak and cask types on the whisky. This is the one expression in the Bruichladdich range where our master distiller, Jim McEwan, can let his imagination run free and showcase his ability to fully utilise the exceptional array of casks in our warehouses.
SSG: How many bottles are made available with each release? Also, it’s a long shot, but I’ll ask anyway – which wine casks were used?
MC: Black Art will always be a small batch release. We have a number of “exotic” and interesting casks available to us, which will allow each Black Art edition to have a unique new flavour profile. Many people have already asked Jim which casks go in to his Black Art, but unfortunately he will never tell! There are whispers from the distillery, however, that Jim is already working on his next Black Art!
SSG: (According to the Black Art press release) Jim worked with ‘the finest American and French Oak’ and is his ‘personal voyage into the heart of Bruichladdich’. Are those two barrels definitive of the quintessential style of Bruichladdich now? Or does it mean that the Black Art is the definitive modern Bruichladdich?
MC: Bruichladdich have released a mind boggling amount of expressions since reopening in 2001. Our recently released “Bruichladdich: The Classic Laddie” has seen us hit the reset button so to speak, and remind everyone of the classic Bruichladdich style – unpeated, clean, elegant and fruity. In that respect Black Art would not be considered as the definite modern Bruichladdich.
Instead it is our avenue to explore, to experiment and to challenge conventional thinking in the whisky industry. Black Art embodies the spirit of being a non-conformist. When the first edition of Black Art was released, people told us that consumers would not purchase a whisky if they couldn’t see what was inside the bottle. They were wrong.
SSG: Will there ever be a peated incarnation of the Black Art?
MC: Black Art belongs to the Bruichladdich range, meaning that it will remain unpeated. There had been peated Bruichladdich releases in the past, but from now on all our peated expressions will come under our Port Charlotte range, while the releases in our Octomore range will be extremely heavily peated whiskies.
SSG: How will Black Art be positioned in Singapore?
MC: Black Art, similar to the rest of the Bruichladdich range, will be positioned as an unconventional whisky targeting an audience who enjoy their whiskies and appreciate something that is out of the ordinary. We aim to create the most thought provoking whisky possible.
SSG: I find that for every aspect of Bruichladdich, right down to the packaging and tasting notes, there seems to be a desire to evoke an emotional response. Can you share with us the philosophy behind the brand or the distillery?
MC: We at Bruichladdich are proudly non-conformist, as has always been the way in these Western Isles – Oirthir Gaidheal, the Coast of the Gaels, the land of the outsider. We believe that whisky should have character; an authenticity derived from where it is distilled and the philosophies of those who distil it – a sense of place, of terroir that speaks of the land and of the raw ingredients from which it was made. Hence, we communicate these elements through our products and our tasting notes.
Tasting notes (official): Bruichladdich Black Art 4
Previous Black Art Releases
2009: Black Art 1 (1989, 19YO, 51.1% ABV)
2011: Black Art 2 (1989, 21YO, 49.7% ABV)
2012: Black Art 3 (1989, 22YO, 48.7% ABV)
Unpeated and matured in American Oak and wine casks, the 23YO Black Art 4 (1990 vintage) is bottled at cask strength of 49.2% ABV. No colouring added and non-chill filtered. Jim McEwan is an amazing storyteller – talk to him if you ever get the chance – and we’ve included his colourful tasting notes here.
Colour Albuquerque Sunset
Nose The aromas rise and mingle beautifully creating an olfactory symphony in your hand. Little notes of rich, plump, crystallised grapes flirt over heavier notes of honey. Go deeper and you will find the tang of lemon and lime – this is the DNA of our Bruichladdich spirit; there terroir of ancient peat lands and Islay’s exposed coastline, living, breathing proof that magic really does exist.
Palate Without water the first thought that enters my head is wow! This is strong and my cheeks flush, my eyes water but my heart is in heaven. It’s so, so mellow and mature and yes, you can find all of the aromatics on the taste buds and more!!! I get chocolate and coconut, tangerine, and papaya and a wonderful infusion of barley sugar with a pinch of cinnamon and aniseed. Completely mesmerising.
Finish Grilled peach and apricot sprinkled with demerara sugar, quite outstanding.
Mood Drink whenever you wish, with whomever you wish. The last to leave will be the angels who danced with the devil and won.
Photo credits: Remy Cointreau Singapore, unless specified