Terroir is almost a cliché concept in the beverage world, but oddly the idea has been largely overlooked in the whisk(e)y space. In fact, only three certified organic whiskeys have ever been released. One of those comes from Islay’s Bruichladdich, the outlier distillery obsessed with terroir. We took a look at three of their recent releases designed, each designed to showcase the pre-industrial barleys at the heart of their mashes:Bere Barley 2008: Islay Grown, The Organic 2009, Octomore 09.3 διάλογος.
Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2008: Islay Grown
As the name suggests, this whisky is distilled from bere barley or ’90 day barley,’ a low yield, heritage grain primarily grown on the island of Orkney. However, this bere was grown on Islay, itself, with a little help from the Agronomy Institute of the University of Highlands and Islands, Orkney.
Bottled at 50% ABV, this vintage is an unpeated, single vintage, single estate and single malt whisky. (Please note the unpeated part; if you think all Bruichladdichs are high on peat, you’re mistaking an entire range for the Octomore expression at the bottom of this piece!)
The juice is non-chillfiltered and aged in used American whisky (American Oak) barrels. After nine years in the oak, only 18,000 bottles were released.
The whisky offers a beautiful, shining gold hue.
On the nose, one is first greeted with notes of vanilla, sweet malt, and the charred oak of the barrels. Gooseberries and green apples offer a second verse, but there is not much more beyond that—which is kind of the point.
The flavors are refreshing. Honey first and then malt, more vanilla, and even more malt provide the next wave. Don’t be fooled by the subdued sounding description, the expression packs a lot of heat (and a few tannins) which tarry for a while becoming increasingly pleasant as they yield to a dry, oaky finish.
Bruichladdich: The Organic 2009
The key element in this single malt is organic (certified biodynamic) barley from William Rose’s Mid Coul Farm in the north of Scotland (near Inverness). This particular mash made use of the 2008 harvest; the year is significant as Rose uses a rotation system on his fields and only grows barley once very seven years.
The whisky is non-chillfiltered and aged in in used American oak (whiskey) casks.
Clocking in at 50% ABV, there are 18,000 bottles available.
The bouquet on this whiskey is citrusy sweet with lots of florals, evocative of a raw, orange blossom honey.
Bruichladdich makes really balanced, elegant whiskies and this one is no exception. The signature barley flavor really dwells in the mid-palate. A greatm fatty, creamy mouthfeel brings lots of malt and a little bit of tar — offset by orange forward citrus oils lending just enough acidity. Then, a band of Islay’s ubiquitous heather comes across the top of the taste like a fog.
The orange becomes stronger on the finish; vanilla and walnut join in the medley, sticking around long enough to savor.
Bruichladdich: Octomore 09.3 διάλογος
The Bruichladdich range is vast, but if there is one expression widely associated with the distillery it certainly is the Octomore. The line is renowned for peatiness, but there is far more to the backstory.
The importance of terroir is not lost here either. In fact, the ninth iteration of the Octomore series is intended to be an experiment with 09.1 serving as “Control” and 09.3 serving as “Naturalistic Observation.” The idea was to reduce the barrel influence in 09.3 in order to greater emphasize the flavors of the barley’s terroir.
The 09.3 was distilled in 2012 from the 2011 harvest of Concerto barley from Irene’s Field, Octomore Farm in Islay.
The single malt, single vintage expression is malted to 133PPM. Maturation involved a combination of ex American whiskey and French wine casks[Five aged years in 1st fill ex-American (25%), 3rd fill virgin oak (25%), 2nd fill Rivesaltes (20%), 2nd fill Syrah (20%), 2nd fill bourbon (10%)].
The non-chillfiltered Scotch touts a 62.9% ABV. 18,000 bottles were released.
You can smell the peat the moment a bottle of Octomore 09.3 is opened.
Campfire is a term often evoked to describe a common whisky bouquet That is true here also, but this is a particular campfire. A deep inhale yields a Proustian experience: One is transported to some youthful moment poking glowing logs in a pit… and then, a strong sea breeze blows in, extinguishing the embers and coating the campground in dew as the sun rises… then it’s time to taste.
The flavors are exactly what one would expect, namely a ton of peat. The mouth is immersed in smoke and oak ash. Yet, still adhering to the distillery’s righteous obsession with balance, sea spray & salt and citric acid mingle with the mix to mellow it out.
You can taste the barley (and a little wort) on the finish-don’t worry, the peat is still there also. And, it’s a really long finish, lingering for minutes.