Sunday, the 26th of May – Feis Ile 2013 – Bruichladdich day.
We had bought tickets to Jim McEwan’s masterclass. We can be very short about it. It was great fantastic!
Jim is a first class entertainer and has – with his 50 years of whisky experience, many stories to tell of which at least 90 percent is either completely made up or completely true, depending on how many drams have gone into the storyteller or the listener.
It was suggested by many that Jim McEwan was giving his very last masterclass at this years’ Feis Ile, and that he would retire after working 50 years in the whisky-industry. About a week before Feis Ile however, news ‘leaked’ that he was asked by Rémi Cointreau to stay on for at least another three years, something he proudly confirmed to the (300+) crowd; he would like to stay on indefinite, instead of living in an old peoples’ home, staring at the geraniums. Nonetheless he introduced everyone to his colleagues and successors: master distiller Allan Logan, and master blender Adam Hannet.
Jim and his team had selected 6 drams for us to taste. After each of these drams there was a short intermezzo in the form of a song, performed by Jim’s personal friends. Norma Munro, who is recovering from brain cancer and was thought never to perform again did two songs accompanying herself on the guitar, one after the first and one after the fourth dram. Robin Laing, long time friend and Bruichladdich house-bard, sang us a sung after the second dram, and retired local police man and Gaelic singer Dougie Gillespie did two songs after the third. All good interludes while enjoying our drinks, mostly entertaining but there were some emotional moments too. To celebrate the 50th birthday of Jim’s career, the people of Bruichladdich and Bowmore – where Jim started 50 years ago, had put together a bottle of blended malt of the two distilleries, containing 38 years of Bowmore and 12 years of Bruichladdich, presented to him by his lifetime friend Eddie MacAffer, distillery manager at Bowmore.
.nosing and tasting
First off was the Islay Barley 2006-2012. Jim’s own pride and joy, 100% Islay produced from barley to bottling, bourbon cask matured, non chill-filtered and natural colour at 46% abv. On the nose we immediately got fresh apples, citrus fruits, flowers – especially heather and violets and bees wax and honey. More fruits and citrus on the palate along with a good hint of butterscotch. Finishing with a medium long wow, there is a heavy, quite young and spirity note, accompanied by a white pepper spice and various fruits.
Jim likes to think of this dram as one of his daughters whereas the Port Charlottes and Octomores are seen as sons. For us, this is a bottle to get hold of some day.
Second on the list was the Black Art 4. This version has not been released yet, and the recipe might even be changed before it gets bottled and released, although the general agreement from the audience was that it should stay as it now is. Just like previous versions of the Black Art, this also has no younger whiskies in it as 20 years of ageing, non of which are publicly known. Nosing immediately brings oak and dry red wine notes, along with sweet, malty notes, dark and yellow fruits such as plums and apricots, sweet nougat and some hints of mint. The palate starts out a little dry, together with the sweet nougat again, spicy peppers, spirity and oak, wine and toffee. It finishes really dry, with heavy oak notes, sweetness of toffee that stays for a long, long time. Again, one for the cabinet some day.
Third up was the Laddie Twenty Two. A great whisky, where Jim immediately told us he had nothing to do with making this product. He ‘only’ released it from the casks in time, and most of the people that actually created the spirit are now themselves amoung the spirits. Starting with the nose there are a lot of sweet, smooth and gentle notes of vanilla, sweet citrus fruits have the upper hand with oranges and tangerines alongside lemons and fresh limes. More vanilla on the palate with sugar coated tangerine zests and toffee in the back of the throat, right before swallowing. A never-ending finish with spicy white peppers and sugar sweetness perfectly balanced. We want one.
Fourth was the Feis Ile 2013 bottling. All together it holds whiskies of 100 years of age. Nosing starts with oak, several fresh fruits and sweet marshmallows. The sweet fruit continues on the palate where yellow fruits take the lead over the citrus. The finish is mediumlong and quite lovely. Proper tasting notes will follow soon, because during the intermezzo that accompanied this dram, we had a short intermezzo of a different kind myself. We brought home bottle #548 of 700.
Fifth in line was Jim’s Port Charlotte, exclusively matured in Mouton Rothschild wine casks. It is distilled in 2001 and will never be released since it is a cask that belongs to Jim McEwan and his family to keep for 21 years. At 61.2% abv (!), the nose has obviously some peat, smoke, bacon, gentle fresh fruits, and surprisingly doesn’t give you any hint that is actually has this high on alcohol. According to Jim, this is due to the slow distillation that is practised at Bruichladdich. On the dry palate there is smoked bacon, firm sweet breakfast cereals and raisins, lots of raisins. Finishing sweet, firm and dry again, this also goes on and on.
We would love to get a bottle of this, but other then being adopted by Jim’s family we recon there is little to no chance to obtain one. Best we could do was get a full glass out of the building where we enjoyed it for more than an hour or so while browsing the shop, during a quick lunch and getting an impression of the start of the festival at the Bruichladdich yard.
Sixth whisky was the standard, but nonetheless great Laddie Classic. This was used to end the session with a Highland Toast, where the guests have to stand on the chairs, with one foot on the table, having to down the dram in one go, after which we were ordered to grab one of the not yet empty glasses and were organised outside, in order to march behind a pipe band into the Bruichladdich yard, where the festival just had started.
All in all we thought the event was a great succes. Jim McEwan like to entertain his audience, and with the fifty years of experience in the whisky business, he has gathered a lot of anecdotes, stories, general information and a vaste amount of knowledge that he likes to share with whomever likes to listen. The chosen whiskies were greatly balanced over the morning, starting with a great, smooth sweetie, and technically ending with the fifth, that was a wonderful, high abv product of the man himself.
To us, this masterclass was just that; a masterclass.
My general conclusion on Bruichladdich is that we are becoming a fan of the brand, the distillery, the people working there, and above all their products. Up to this date we cannot recall a Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte or Octomore whisky that we did not like. With their many products, there must be at least one that does not fit our taste.
Now there is a challenge… accepted.