Every year when these special bottles get released, I usually get a few phone calls from customers all over the U.S. looking to stake a claim on their share. It seems that the respect these bottles demand has permeated into regions far beyond the usual bloggers and malt societies. Some people I've talked to drink ONLY Celtic Heartlands whisky and when I asked if they liked Bruichladdich as well, they answered, "Brook- what?" It's a wild idea to me that one can be aware of the Celtic Heartland series, but not understand what makes these casks so special - they were chosen and enhanced by one of the world's best palates: Jim McEwan.
Bruichladdich's independent bottling arm is called Murray McDavid and is known for taking whiskies from other distilleries, aging them further in various wine barrels, and then releasing them with to the world with a bold new flavor profile. They are almost always released at 46% abv. The higher end of this series is the Mission Gold line up that features more mature single malts, bottled at cask strength, and many times without any cask enhancement. The top shelf of the series is the Celtic Heartland label that does this same process as the Mission Gold, but with very old whiskies, usually turning out malts with remarkable, if not mind-blowing, quality. Previous releases have been bottles like a 1975 Banff 33 year, a 1964 Dumbarton 42 year, and a 1968 Bowmore 35 year. Search any of these whiskies online and you'll likely find a blog or two describing a near religious whisky experience.
Two of this year's releases really stand out as some of the best CH whiskies I have ever tasted, and I've sampled more than ten of the previous bottlings. The 1980 Caol Ila 30 Year enhanced in Italian Amarone cask is sheer Islay perfection in my opinion. The rich, thick, sweet fruit from the raisined wine barrel seeps deep into the core of the whisky and is now rooted firmly inside of it. It's difficult to find the seam and understand where the true foundation of the Caol Ila lies. The inital sip releases mounds of chewy red fruits and slowly leads towards smoked sweet grains and a roasted nut finish. It's a true masterpiece in every sense of the word.
The best metaphor I can think of to accurately describe the fantastic 1977 Glenlivet 33 year finished in Chateau d' Yquem cask is a scene from Willy Wonka. There's a moment where that madcap genius introduces the meal in a gum to young Violet Beauregarde and she explains the flavors as she chews - first it's a soup, then a steak and potato entree, and then a dessert. The Glenlivet morphs in the mouth in much the same fashion. The entry is very grainy, almost like single grain whisky, before suddenly changing into bright lemon custard with flowers in a viognier-like palate. The mid-palate then becomes a faint serving of vanilla pudding before finishing off like an oily Highland a la Clynelish. I usually don't get so descriptive in my tasting notes because I either don't taste specific flavors or I don't care to delve that deep. My focus is usually on whether my customers will like it or not, however I had to sit down and just stare at the floor while I tasted this, and try my hardest to break it down. It's one of the more fascinating malts I've had the chance to try.
I think we might pour these at Martin's West next week, so stay tuned if you want to taste greatness (at cost of course!).