Vatting ‘The Classic Laddie’

IN

Creating a multi-vintage cuvee such as The Classic Laddie is one of the most complex and demanding responsibilities shouldered by our Head Distiller and blender Adam Hannett.  This fascinating single malt showcases the elegant, floral style of Bruichladdich, and it is 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 in our salt-soaked loch side warehouses on Islay – so carrying 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 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 and an understanding of the rate and character of the change can only come from experience and constant monitoring.

Each vatting of The Classic Laddie varies but it will typically be constructed from a selection of around ten different cask types, some of different ages, hence the term ‘multi-vintage’.  The majority of casks used will be American and ex-Bourbon but there is usually also some European oak.

The spirit is constantly changing as it matures and an understanding of the rate and character of the change can only come from experience and constant monitoring.

The casks Adam uses in The Classic Laddie subtly vary from vatting to vatting although you will always instantly recognise the style; fresh, lively and clean with our signature citrus salt tang.

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 racks by head warehouseman Grant McLellan and his team before being assembled and checked ahead of being emptied into the blending vat in Warehouse 12, affectionately known as The Vatican.  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 that The Classic Laddie has to be re-casked 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 in The Classic Laddie subtly vary from vatting to vatting although you will always instantly recognise the style; fresh, lively and clean with our signature citrus salt tang.  Consistent themes are powerfully present, with sweet malt and barley sugar melding with dark fruits and a bouquet of wild flowers.

This complex Laddie is a celebration of natural whiskies and time and circumstance will introduce fascinating changes in nuance.  Even the colour, of gentle sunlight moving across a Scottish barley field will delicately change – just like the real thing.  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 at the unusually high strength of 50% abv.

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