After we had left Jim’s office, we made our way back to the distillery shop and waited for our tour to start. Mary informed us that usually the warehouse tour would be conducted by her and that the cost was £25 per person. However, she had previously broken her leg after slipping on a patch of ice during winter and so her colleague, Chloe, was going to bring us around.
We made our way forward to pay for the tour, but Mary declined. She told us that since the weather was rather bad outside, the tour was free. We were stunned. Could this day get any better? I believe you know the answer to that! Chloe then brought us around the facility and explained the process from malting all the way to distillation and maturation. The pictures pertaining to this process can be found in another post.
After the stillhouse, Chloe then brought us to one of the warehouses where the whisky was being matured. When we entered the warehouse, the now familiar scents of maturing whisky, damp earth and woody casks permeated our senses. I highly recommend whisky lovers to go for a tour of any distillery as the scents are something that you will never forget.
We then heard a familiar voice and turned around to see that Jim was also in the warehouse, no doubt making his way around and sampling some of the casks to ascertain their readiness. He beckoned us over to where he was standing and explained to us that the cask he was inspecting was a virgin oak cask and was filled with maturing Octomore whisky.
He then inserted a valinch into the cask, extracted a healthy measure of the whisky and poured it into a glass. Which he then handed to us. He told us to nose and taste the whisky before giving him our opinion of it. We took turns nosing and tasting it and it was simply exquisite.
It had a slightly wild side to it, which hinted at its youth, but the quality of the virgin oak cask was evident in the way it tempered the harsher notes of the whisky. The colour of the whisky as seen in the photo is all natural, without any adulterations and from the cask itself. This alone was staggering to behold, as it was intensely dark for a whisky so young.
Jim then approached our guide Chloe and whispered something in her ear. Chloe told us to stay where we were and that she would be back in a few minutes. We then watched her climb up a ladder to the second floor of the warehouse. As we waited, we continued savouring the Octomore sample while watching Jim discuss the finer points of the whisky with one of his colleagues.
A few minutes later, Chloe returned from the floor above and brought a glass of whisky with her. I didn’t know what it was, but I started to get very excited about it. Chloe told us that she had extracted a sample of whisky from one of the casks above and told us to nose and taste it. We asked what it was, but she said that she would only tell us what it was after we had sampled it.
I took a whiff of the whisky and the smokiness of it immediately made me rule out the Bruichladdich core range. It was a toss up between the Port Charlotte and the Octomore ranges and so I delved deeper into the nose. I picked up a winey character in the nose, which made me discount the Port Charlotte in favour of the Octomore. At this point, I started to get really excited.
I knew that there weren’t many Octomores with a wine finish, which made the pool of choices that much narrower. I then took a sip and savoured the flavour of it, which at the same time I tried to work out which expression it was. I then told Chloe that it was an Octomore expression and that it had a winey character to it, which hinted at one of the older Octomores, especially those finished in Chateau d’Yquem casks.
Chloe smiled and nodded, hinting that I was on the right track. She then asked me which specific expression was the sample from. I had not tried all of them, and so decided to go with my gut feeling and told her that it was the Octomore 2.2 Orpheus.
She shook her head and then told me that I was close, but wrong. She then mentioned that the sample we had just tried was from one of the rarer stocks in the warehouse, and that there was barely enough whisky left in the casks to fill more than a handful of bottles. We then pressed her for more information on its identity.
It was a glass of Octomore First Edition (1.1). It was at that point that our heads exploded.
We couldn’t believe that we had just savoured something as rare as the Octomore 1.1 and thanked Jim profusely for treating us to it. He winked and told us that it was his pleasure. When we met Jim on the ferry two days prior to our visit, we had absolutely no idea that we were about to experience what was and still is the best distillery tour of our lives.
At the end of our warehouse tour, we said farewell to Jim and thanked him once again for the wonderful hospitality and whiskies. Once we had returned to the distillery shop, we told Mary about what had transpired at the warehouse and she said that what we had experienced was an example of Jim’s generosity and love for sharing insight and experiences with people.
We thanked Mary for her hospitality and were about to make our purchases before taking our leave when she asked us if we were interested in trying out the Cuvee Quiz. I was rather intrigued and enquired more about it. Mary explained that the Cuvee Quiz was a form of blind tasting where she would pour four drams of whisky (three of which were from the Cuvee series while the other was a mystery dram that was added in order to confuse us).
Our goal was to taste all of the whiskies and identify them in the order that they were presented. Extra points were awarded if we were able to determine the identity of the mystery dram. Mary than said that the person who got the most right answers was to be treated to something special.
Seeing as how we didn’t have any other plans after that, we decided to take part in the Cuvee Quiz and test ourselves. Mary and Chloe then went about preparing the drams while we inspected the Cuvee range bottlings on the wall carefully.
Once the drams were prepared, we started nosing and tasting the whiskies to ascertain which one was which. I immediately was able to pick out the Cuvee 640, which was the whisky matured in Cognac casks and as such had a more robust flavour as well as a shorter finish.
Choosing between the other 3 drams was difficult as there was some overlap between all three. It might have had to do with our senses being addled by all the whisky that we had previously drunk, but we appreciated and accepted the challenge either way.
Based on the colours of the respective whiskies, I decided that the last dram in the lot was the mystery dram and concentrated on ascertaining which of the two remaining drams were the Cuvee 382 and the Cuvee 407. The Cuvee 382 was matured in Sauternes casks while the Cuvee 407 was matured in PX casks, which made the flavour profiles somewhat similar in some aspects.
This just ended up making the job even more difficult and it took me a good 10 minutes before I was able to make up my mind on which of the two were the 382 and 407 respectively. I then concentrated on the mystery dram, which was difficult as I hadn’t tried many of the new core Bruichladdich range of whiskies. Realising that I was fighting a losing battle, I decided to make a guess and picked the Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2008 as the mystery dram.
We then passed our slips on to Mary and Chloe to be marked. As they were marking our slips, they messed with us by saying that we had second guessed ourselves and had made mistakes along the way. Finally when it was time to reveal the results, Mary mentioned that two of the three of us had only managed to guess 1 out of 4 drams correctly.
She then said that one of us had managed to guess 3 out of 4 correctly. Seeing as how I had second guessed myself on more than one occasion, I was not confident at all. Which is why to my immense surprise, I was declared the winner. The mystery dram was not the Bere Barley 2008, but the Laddie 16.
Mary then told me that my reward for getting the most correct answers was a dram of truly special whisky. She then brought out a glass that was filled with Bruichladdich Black Art Edition 4.1, which was distilled in 1990 and matured for 23 years in a variety of different casks.
Considering that a bottle of this retails for £205 at the distillery store, this truly was a high honour. Mary told me that I had the choice of either drinking it all by myself or sharing it with my mates. As we had collectively partaked in what was a truly amazing distillery tour, I felt that it was only fair if we also shared this experience.
The Black Art was truly something special and I got the feeling that I was nosing and tasting a whisky that was otherwise peerless and unrivalled in terms of craftsmanship. It is definitely one of the (now many) whiskies that I will never forget.
After the Cuvee Quiz, we set about picking up the items that we wanted to purchase and made our way to pay for them. As I had previously intended to purchase a bottle of the Cuvee 407 from the distillery shop, I went ahead with the purchase, also picking up some dram glasses and whisky flavoured ground coffee powder.
It was at that moment that I realised that I had forgotten to ask Jim if he could sign my bottle for me. I asked Mary if there was a chance that he could do so and she told me that she would check as he might have already left for the day. She then rang his office and thankfully Jim was still around.
10 minutes later, Jim walked into the distillery store and enquired as to what we thought of the entire Bruichladdich experience. We told him that we were truly grateful and humbled by his hospitality and couldn’t thank him enough for treating us to some truly special whiskies.
He told us that he was more than welcome for doing so. We then asked him if he could sign our bottles and merchandise and he told us that he would do so, but on one condition. He then pointed to a large glass jar on the side of the bar counter and told us that we needed to donate £1 each to the jar, the proceeds from which were used to fund education opportunities for children in Africa. We were more than happy to do so and donated various sums of money far in excess of the £1 asked of us.
Jim then signed our merchandise, including the bottle and aluminium can of my Cuvee 407. I was truly grateful for this and thanked Jim profusely once again. After we had completed our purchases, Mary told us that she had one last surprise in store for us. She then directed our attention to the bottle of Octomore 7.2 on the wall and told us that it had only been released at the distillery shop 2 days before and that stocks hadn’t even been sent out to their distributors as yet.
She then poured us each a healthy measure and told us that we were among the first TEN people in the world to have tried the Octomore 7.2, which was staggering. We couldn’t believe that we were being treated to so many amazing experiences and whiskies in just one distillery and thanked Mary for this wonderful surprise.
The Octomore 7.2 was deliciously smoky yet sophisticated and we enjoyed it immensely. All in all, we had imbibed TEN different whiskies at Bruichladdich itself and if we counted the others we had earlier in the day at Kilchoman (not including the two samples we were allowed to bring back home with us), that brought the total to FOURTEEN drams.
It goes without saying that by the end of our tours, we were rather red in the face and slightly tipsy. We then picked up our purchases, thanked Mary and Chloe once again for their hospitality and generosity and then made our way out to the carpark, where our driver Neil (who had taken over from Freddie for the day) was waiting for us.
In the weeks and months that have passed since my visit to Bruichladdich, I can’t help but look back at everything that transpired with a smile on my face. I believe that this distillery visit has well and truly set the benchmark for all future distillery visits and something tells me that it will never be beaten.
I also read that Mr Jim McEwan will be retiring on the 23rd of July, making it exactly 52 years since he started working in the whisky industry. I would like to take this moment to thank him for everything he has done, not just for us but for everyone who has had the pleasure of meeting him as well as savour the fruits of his labour.
Enjoy retirement, Jim, and thank you for the hospitality and the whisky! Slainte! Brendan