Creating a multi-vintage cuvee is one of the most complex and demanding responsibilities shouldered by our Head Distiller and blender Adam Hannett. These fascinating single malts, trickle distilled from 100% Scottish Barley, showcase the classic floral elegance of Bruichladdich. They are achieved by carefully assembling a suite of flavours from a wide array of casks.
As a blender, Adam needs a profound understanding of the character of the stocks that are slumbering, salt-soaked by the loch. A multi-dimensional picture of the sensory potential that surrounds him is an absolute requirement of the role.
He is responsible for an inventory of over 60,000 casks. Although the majority are American oak, Adam additionally has a broad portfolio of wood from around 200 different sources. The age of spirit they hold ranges from new make to a very small amount that dates back to the 1970’s.
Empathy with this collection can only be achieved through regular, systematic sampling in the warehouses. This means extracting bungs and drawing liquid from the cask by hand with a valinch, then carefully evaluating the spirits by nose, taste, mouthfeel and eye. It is an intellectual exercise requiring a clear head, intense concentration, and a rigorous approach to note-taking.
The spirit is constantly changing as it matures. An understanding of the rate and character of the change as the influence of the wood increases can only come from experience and constant monitoring.
Each vatting varies, as it is constructed from a selection of different cask types, some of different ages, hence the term ‘multi-vintage’. The majority used will be American and ex-Bourbon but there is usually also some European oak. Once a range of casks that might prove suitable have been identified, sample bottles are filled; it is then necessary to work out the proportions of the different cask styles that will be drawn together for the final vatting.
This is done in the quiet of Adam’s tasting room where trials are assembled using vials, test tubes and pipettes. It is painstaking and difficult work, requiring many checks, pauses and re-evaluations over many weeks.
Once the final recipe is settled on, the chosen casks are pulled from their stows, often by the light of a headtorch, and brought to Warehouse 12 to be assembled, checked, and emptied into the blending vat. An impellor mixes their contents together and the whisky is sampled again. This is Adam’s final opportunity to check the balance of flavour and add any more casks should he wish to.
The component parts of the dram need to ‘marry’ before bottling, to ensure that they all fit together perfectly. This means re-casking before bottling, to give the individual flavours time to meld. This is done in what we call ‘neutral’ wood, usually older casks that are essentially inert and no longer capable of imparting further change. ‘Marrying’ can take months, and only when Adam is happy with the way all the components have come together does he release the casks to the Harvey Hall at the distillery to be bottled.
The casks Adam uses subtly varies from vatting to vatting although the salt-citrus tang of Laddie DNA is omnipresent. Whatever the peating level, a smooth, warm combination of mellow oak, the sweetness of the barley, and the Atlantic freshness of the spirit is always recognisable.
These whiskies are testament to our belief that raw ingredients matter. A consistent style and quality is not the same as homogenisation and Adam never adds the caramel food colouring E150a to artificially darken your dram, just as he would never strip out the natural oils from the spirit using chill-filtration, preferring to bottle using Islay Spring water at the unusually high strength of 50% abv.
When the English admiral/pirate Francis Drake sacked Cadiz in 1587 he seized/stole 2,900 genuine sherry butts from the famous Atlantic harbour.