There are many common misconceptions about the peatiness of whisky, chief of which is the notion that the peat flavours come from the peat in the dark waters which we draw from the hills above the distillery and use to create our spirit.
This isn't true. If you taste peaty water you'll find it tastes slightly minerally, but certainly not smokey. The peatiness is in the barley itself.
Peat is formed from vegetable matter that has built up over many centuries in acidic and waterlogged conditions. This process has excluded oxygen, and inhibited decomposition, which means that instead of the organic matter being broken down by microbes and released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, it has been preserved in the ground. Peat bogs are therefore considered to be important carbon sinks, the preservation of which is important to the slowing of man-made global warming. It is also very important to Port Charlotte and Octomore whiskies.
There are two main types of oak used for the maturation of Bruichladdich: Quercus patrea or Quercus robar (European oak) and Quercus alba (American oak).
Wine casks are in general, though not exclusively, made from European oak; Bourbon casks are exclusively made from American oak.
The pores in Quercus alba are more densely knit, ensuring that the casks allow less spirit to evaporate, “The Angel’s Share”, than their European counterparts.
These casks are sawn from oak grown in the Ozark Mountains, Arkansas. It is dried in large kilns, machine assembled, and heavily charred on the inside for the Bourbon industry. Bourbon casks are smaller (200 litres) than wine barriques (250 litres).
Bourbon laws dictate that the casks cannot be reused, and must be discarded once the contents are bottled, usually after only four or five years. The redundant casks are shipped to Scotland for whisky maturation.
The tannins, lignins and vanillins present in virgin oak can dominate a spirit in long term whisky maturation. Consequently, at Bruichladdich we use virgin oak casks with strategic care.
Second hand casks are therefore preferred and, bearing in mind the number used, for economic reasons too.
The flavours imparted by American oak tend to be in the vanilla spectrum, Crème Brûlée. The colour tends to be pale gold for first (whisky) fill casks. Pale yellow for second fill.
French Oak imparts a much more complex range of flavours in the ‘buttered toast’ specrum, as well as a wider variety of oak styles.
90% of whisky maturing in Scotland today is in American oak. Sherry casks, though made in Spain, are also primarily made of American oak - not Spanish oak as often claimed, which is usually unsuitable for this purpose.
Confusingly, an increasing percentage of wine casks made in France are also coopered from American oak.
The influence of the oak on the maturing spirit is reduced with each filling of the cask, as the wood flavours are leached out. More than two fillings and the wood effect is neutral – the whisky continues to evolve, but the effect of the wood’s tannins are minimal.
Bruichladdich buys from Buffalo Trace, discards 30% of bottled casks annually, and 70% of the casks used are first fill American oak Bourbon casks, 30% French oak. Around 10% of these are virgin oak.
Three times no. At least as far as Bruichladdich is concerned.
From August 2012 Bruichladdich whisky will now be available in UK Duty Free.
As a small company started in 2000, we have been most conscious of employing our valuable, limited whisky stocks to the best use for our developing brand.
World Duty Free is undoubtedly a fantastic shop window. Tempting as it may be, our policy has been to avoid Duty Free, to wait until both the time and the economics were right for us and our brand.
The time and the economics are now right.
Straight from the still, at zero age, even in this nascent state before the whisky has had a chance to mature, whiskies distilled from different barley varieties are identifiable one from the other.Some of this variation is immediately obvious, even to the novice.
It is relatively easy to detect that Bere barley is different from organic barley which is in turn different from conventionally grown varieties. The differences between this latter group are much more subtle, but they are discernable with practice. An analogy with grape varieties is not exact, but it is useful.
Botanists would in any case dispute the use of the word 'variety' in describing types of both barley and grape - these are really all more properly described as 'cultivars', although, like most people, we continue to use the more familiar word.
We have a passionate belief in barley – the raw material from which all single malt is made.
For many whisky producers barley is merely a commodity product, to be bought from wherever happens to be supplying the cheapest tonnage at the time – be that England, Poland or Lithuania.
For Bruichladdich it is a living, fundamental expression of the land, of the terroir in which it’s grown. Simply put, barley grown free from artificial stimulants and dependancy on pharmaceuticals, better reflects the microclimate from which it takes its nourishment.
Whisky distilled from organically grown barley just seems to have more definition, purity and intensity. It accentuates the barley taste.
This is how farming and whisky production used to be a century ago, before two world wars created the need for super-efficient farming and utterly maximised yields – achieved through the chemical treatment of land and crop: volume at the expense of flavour.
Certainly, organic grapes do not automatically make superior wine; the winemaker must play his part too. And it is the same for whisky.
We lay down casks of Bruichladdich distilled from organic barley - grown not just on individual farms, but individual fields. A fascinating exploration of the influence of terroir on finished spirit.
It’s hardly industrial distilling, but we believe it’s important – land and dram reunited.
Bruichladdich, in keeping with 99.5% of distilleries, has not malted barley on site for around 65 years.
In the post war years distilling capacity could be increased by ‘farming out’ the malting to professionals and using the the labour and time gained to distil more.
There are no rules or conventions governing the number of botanicals in a gin.
Most commercial gins have four or five of the usual botanicals. The Botanist gin uses nine botanicals - the seed, berry, bark, root and peel categories - macerated in spirit and Islay spring water from Dirty Dottie's spring on Octomore Farm.
The maceration occurs in a unique still, Ugly Betty, the first and last Lomand spirit still in existence.