Monday, July 30, 2007

Last Night's Tipple

It seems that every other distillery in Scotland has a harrowing story about how it cheated death more than once. Given the great whisky bust of the late 1890s, government-mandated closures during the World Wars, hard times during the Great Depression, and the second great whisky bust of the late 1980s, this is not surprising. Bruichladdich has endured more than its share of hard times, most recently between 1994 and 2001, when Jim Beam Brands decided that the Isle of Jura distillery was more valuable than it and that there wasn't a place in their brand portfolio for both. Given the quality of Bruichladdich's whisky, this seems like a ridiculous miscalculation today.

For its present owners, that seven-year silent period makes things difficult. Whisky is not like beer or wine or vodka or white rum; you can't sell any of it for years after it's produced. This means that the present owners (who, being independent, don't exactly have deep pockets) have to finance present production and aging with the stock that they bought with the distillery in 2001, but that seven year silence before they took over makes selling bread-and-butter 10 and 12 year old bottlings difficult. Do the math. The whisky of those ages is gone and cannot be had again until 2011. Stocks of older whisky still remain, but bottles of Scotch over $50 are a hard sell. Necessity is the mother of invention, and the owners have introduced a number of interesting variations to help keep the money flowing. Among them: Octomore, the peatiest whisky in the world, with the 2003 version clocking in at over 129 ppm of phenols (Laphroaig is typically around 45 ppm), and various non-traditional wood treatments like ex-d'Yquem casks. Their efforts have been remarkably successful, making Bruichladdich the darling of the whisky press and a favorite of Scotch geeks, er, enthusiasts.

As for me, I finished my bottle of 10 year old last night. It is a shame. It's fantastic whisky, elegant, creamy, and malty. Bottles of the 10 year old can still be had, but they're around $50 a fifth now. That's a lot of money, even for a profligate spender like me. And I do like to experiment...

(Incidentally, the comment from Armin in the post about Black Bottle is absolutely correct. There are 8 distilleries on Islay. Kilchoman is a microdistillery that recently started up operation near Bruichladdich on the Rhinns, the western portion of the island.)

Edit: See the followup to this post.

1 comment:

The Laddie said...

For some strange reason, which turned out to be most fortunate, in the summer of 1998 Bruichladdich was reoppened and distilling recommeneced for a few months under the Jura team management. This stock has been invaluable to the distillery as a stepping stone during that closed period.