I've spent the last week exchanging emails with Jim McEwan and Simon Coughlin - the two men running the show at Bruichladdich these days. They used to be two guys I knew via Susan Purnell, our old spirits buyer and Bruichladdich enthusiast. Then they became two guys we visited when we went to Islay. Now, I'm very lucky to say, they're two guys I can call on when I need information, a favor, or when I just want to say hello. Last time we were on Islay we had dinner at Simon's house and bonded over our mutual love for wine and spirits. Simon fell asleep while we were talking to him, David OG was plastered after too much privately-bottled Lagavulin, and I drove us back to Bowmore with my head hanging out the driver's side window as I navigated us through thick fog and pockets of roaming sheep.
When Bruichladdich sold to Remy Cointreau last year, I think every Bruichladdich fan felt a pang in their heart. We not only loved the whisky, the passion, the enthusiasm, and the progressive spirit, we loved that these guys were doing it without a corporate sponsor. Being independent allowed them to do things others wouldn't dare to do and say things corporations wouldn't think of saying. It felt like Remy Cointreau would stifle this energy. However, we're more than a few months into the new regime and I haven't noticed much of a change. Bruichladdich is still releasing a ridiculous amount of wacky new expressions, Jim is still a raving romantic about his spirits, and the booze keeps getting better and better like it always has. Mark Reynier is out as the head of the company and my friend Simon is in. Simon wants to focus more on the barley. He says Remy is the perfect owner because they leave Bruichladdich alone to do what they do best. He's still keeping in touch just as he did before.
Not a whole lot has changed. Maybe it was just the idea of corporate ownership that scared us?
I emailed Jim last night after tasting the newest release in Bruichladdich's local barley series. The 2006 Bere Barley $69.99 that is made from an ancient strain of the grain, supposedly brought by Norse invaders when they occupied the Hebrides during the 9th century. I was flabbergasted by its quality. I had to share this with Jim. He wrote me back this morning:
The Bere is so young and pure, no make-up just as nature intended. Its history, honesty, and the harmony of guys working on a dream which the consumer can experience and wonder just how the seed survived since the 9th century, brought by the Vikings to Scotland. What a living timeline!!!!! It's incredible and once again it's Bruichladdich that recognised this is a national treasure and cannot be compared. A miracle in a bottle from a seed that was planted over 1000 years ago.
He was excited. I was excited. We were both brimming with excitement as we exchanged notes. I could keep going about how fascinated I am by the different flavors Bruichladdich is creating by focusing on different barleys from various farms and genetic backgrounds. It's a wet dream for us whisky geeks (and even beer geeks). The thing about the Bere barley whisky, however, is that it's not just an interesting dram - it's an absolutely delicious one! It's unbelievably round, full of vanilla and oak, with a grainy aroma on the nose that actually speaks to the barley itself. It's young, but it's not hot, out of whack, or full of quarter-cask wood like so many craft spirits today. I'm not sure I would want to mature this whisky much longer because that would detract from the barley flavor and showcase further the barrel maturation.
I don't want the barrel in this case. I want to taste the barley. That's what you taste, but in perfect balance with the oak.
I asked Simon this morning if they had any more of this at the distillery. They don't. I called their importer WineBow to see if there were any more bottles sitting in their warehouse. There aren't. What we have today is all we're getting. Ever.
One bottle limit per person. I don't want any one person hoarding all of this. I would get a bottle if you like whisky. I won't even mention the collectability aspect. You need to be drinking this if you like single malt.