Bruichladdich – Barley Exploration Series 2019

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It’s well documented that Bruichladdich have an obsession with, well, pretty much everything when it comes to whisky making; peating levels, terroir, transparency, additional cask evolution-ing (‘finishing’, to you and I), and of course, barley variety. This last facet is perhaps the least investigated across the industry as a whole, with distillers and maltsters alike largely focussing on yield and efficiency.

However, over the past few years that’s been changing, and the movement of exploring different barley strains, and their effect on flavour, has largely been spearheaded by this Islay distillery.

The distillery has previously released several different expressions created using Bere barley, organic barley, and Islay-grown barley across not just their eponymous range, but also their smoky counterparts; the heavily peated Port Charlotte range and the *super*-heavily peated Octomore range.

With the introduction this year of the Barley Exploration Range, Bruichladdich are making a more concerted effort at allowing the consumer to tease out the flavour differences found in different whiskies produced using different barley strains. I’d have loved to have seen all of these whiskies matured solely in refill bourbon hoggies in order to truly see the effect of changing just one variable, rather than one of them being partly matured in European Oak, but hey, I’ll struggle through.

You just have to look at the amount of info on the shiny new section of their website to see how committed they are to going right down the barley rabbit hole. For example, they’ve planted 60 different barley varietals in test plots on the distillery’s croft land with the aim of finding out which varietals may be more suited to Scotland’s wet west coast. Additionally, they recently announced that they’re looking to have on-site maltings up and running by 2023, with a view to malting all ‘uber-provenance batches’ on the island. Commitment.

The newly launched Barley Exploration Series consists of three expressions, a 2011 Islay Barley, a 2010 Bere Barley and a 2010 Organic barley. Time to get my geek on.

Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2011 6yo
Barley Exploration Series 2019
Grown on 6 Islay farms
75% bourbon casks & 25% European oak wine casks
50% ABV
£55 here

Nose: Raw cake mix, fresh bread, thick porridge, lemon sponge, green crunchy apples, pear skin, unripe pineapple, and some damp hay.

Palate: Root ginger, with a touch of mustard seed and some herbal notes. Then creamy citrus – lemon posset, yoghurt coated banana chips, lemongrass, and freshly sawn oak.

Finish: White pepper, gingersnap biscuits, and sawdust.

Bruichladdich The Organic 2010 8yo
Barley Exploration Series 2019
Grown at Mid Coul Farms, Inverness
100% bourbon casks
50% ABV
£75 here

Nose: Very clean – rock salt, lemon peel, a real apple-y acidity, white grapes, and soda water minerality. Then some floral fabric softener, Love Heart sweets, and parma violet.

Palate: Tinned peach halves in syrup, ripe pink grapefruit, candy sticks, pink wafers, lemon peel and some salted caramel. There’s a real oiliness here too – almost paraffin-esque.

Finish: Gingery spice, with mineralic notes and some sawdust.

Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2010 8yo
Barley Exploration Series 2019
Grown on Orkney
100% bourbon casks
50% ABV
£70 here

Nose: Farmyardy, earthy and slightly dirty – damp straw, used tempura oil and old barns. Some canvas, sack cloth and lanolin too, along with some tropical fruits – mango, peach, pear and a custard creaminess.

Palate: Fatty and waxy, with linseed oil, sweet herbal notes, medicinal notes, and some lemon peel. That farmyard thing is back too, along with driftwood, and charred twigs. There’s some tropical fruits in there too – remarkably complex for a young whisky.

Finish: Fatty BBQ embers, balanced with salt and citrus.

Overall: I’ve got to be honest, I wasn’t expecting these whiskies to be *that* good. Individually they are very impressive, full of character and unique in their own right. The flavour differences are abundantly clear, and despite the Islay-grown barley expression being partly matured in European Oak, the influence of those casks is pleasingly minimal. The Islay barley is more citric and doughy, the organic barley is clean and coastal, and the Bere barley is fatty and farmyardy. It’s a tough call, but the mouthfeel, depth, and uniqueness of the Bere barley sets it a notch apart from the other two in my book.

The price points are also to be commended – they could easily have each been priced another £20 up the ladder, but instead they’re accessible to those of us who want to get our geek on and explore barley-derived flavour differences. I cannot wait to see how the rest of these barley trials go, and how these whiskies develop into their teenage years and twenties. Progressive tradition. Me likey.

 

 

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