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Interview and tasting with Bruichladdich Head Distiller Adam Hannett

Bruichladdich has long been an Axis favorite. We admire the Islay distillery for their blend of iconoclasm and tradition, their sense of adventure–and most of all for their malt.

Bruichladdich Head Distiller Adam Hannett brought all of this with him on a recent U.S. tour. Thane, J.T. and I had the great pleasure of catching up with him in Chicago.

It’s hard not to start with the obvious question: How did a man of his tender years reach such lofty heights so soon? (Adam’s in his mid-30s, but could still be mistaken for a university student.)

Adam Hannett
Photo from bruichladdich.com

“To be honest, I worked hard,” he said. “I wanted to be there. I had a passion for it.” That said, “I recognize I’m very fortunate.”

An Islay native, Adam started work at Bruichladdich as a tour guide in 2004 after dropping out of university. He remembers being given a bottle of Murray MacDavid GlenDronach at the end of his first day as part of his single malt education. It was a very good bottle.

“I was hooked,” Adam said.

Then-master distiller Jim McEwan and General Manager Duncan McGillivray became mentors, feeding Adam’s growing hunger to learn every aspect of the craft and the business.

He first voiced his larger ambitions at a Bruichladdich Christmas party “after a couple of drams.” He was several years into his tenure at the time, and working in Bruichladdich’s warehouses. Then-CEO Mark Reynier (who founded Bruichladdich in 2000 and left in 2012) asked Adam about his long-term goals.

“I’d like to be manager,” Adam said. Somewhat to his surprise, Mark replied: “You should do it!”

It was a reflection of Bruichladdich’s ethos of “creating opportunities for young people, for local people. The approach is: Go for it! Give them a chance!” Adam noted Allan Logan as another example: Logan rose from “shoveling shit” as a groundsman in 2001 to being Distillery Manager at age 28–the youngest in Scotland–and is now Production Manager.

Allan Logan and Adam Hannett
Allan Logan and Adam Hannett. Photo by bruichladdich.com

Adam is now two years into his time as Head Distiller. What has it been like filling the shoes of Jim McEwan, a 50-year industry veteran and whisky legend?

“The honest answer is: I try not to think about it,” Adam said. “Jim said to me, ‘You’re your own man. You’ll do it your own way.'”

Speaking of which. Adam was eager to share his first four releases while we talked. Fittingly, three of them were 10-year-old bottlings of whisky that came off the stills in 2006, when Adam began distilling: the Laddie 10 Second Edition, Port Charlotte 10, and Octomore 10 Second Edition.

Bruichladdich 10s
Photo from bruichladdich.com

“It’s amazing to see the journey the spirit’s gone on from being a blank slate,” he said. “And it’s quite special because of the journey I’ve been on myself.”

What a way to begin! All three are bottled at a hefty 50% ABV.

The Laddie 10 Second Edition is the comeback of a release so beloved that Bruichladdich couldn’t keep it on the shelves. It was discontinued in 2014. (I’ll confess to doing my small part in contributing to the shortage.)

The new Laddie is every bit a worthy successor, and has a heft and density that set it apart from the no-age-statement Classic Laddie. The unpeated malt was matured in 60% first-fill bourbon, 20% second-fill sherry, and 20% second-fill Syrah casks.

I got banana chips on the nose. Orange saltwater taffy. Vanilla and jasmine. On the palate, lemon custard and creme brulee. Buttery texture. Grape brandy. Very subtle smokiness–from the oak char, not peat–on the finish.

The Port Charlotte 10 is all about “sweet and smoke,” as McEwan would tell Adam. It’s peated at 40 ppm–a healthy level, though sub-Ardbeg and well below Bruichladdich’s Octomore. Matured in a mix of first-fill bourbon, sherry, Tempranillo, and French wine casks.

The nose is quite light at first, with caramelized banana, Meyer lemon, and buttery biscuits. The palate has sweet toasted grain, toffee, and distinct but still subtle peat prickle. The finish is earthy and warming, with the peat taking a turn toward the bonfire.

The Octomore 10 Second Edition is one of the oldest of the notorious cask-strength peat monsters. (A previous 10-year-old release came in 2012.) Peated to 167 ppm, matured in first-fill bourbon and second-fill Grenache Blanc casks, bottled at cask strength of 57.3% ABV.

Naturally, any Octomore is going to lead with the peat. But it’s fascinating how much the extra time does to tame the beast. (Other things being equal, the younger a peated whisky is, the brasher is tends to be.) The nose on the Octomore 10 Second Edition leads with creamy, buttery vanilla, followed by morello cherries, and a tickle of the peat that will rush forth on the palate. The palate also has toasted sweetbreads, and the peat twines with cinnamon spice. The very long finish adds sweet barbecue pork.

To my palate, all three 10-year-olds were and are unequivocal successes.

Then Adam brought out the bottle that kept him up at night.

Jim McEwan took special pleasure in brewing up a periodic limited release called Black Art, for which he would disappear into the warehouses and emerge with a very mature, cask strength bottling that no one else at Bruichladdich had the recipe to.

Bruichladdich Black Art

“It was Jim’s creation,” Adam said. “It was his baby.” Naturally, when Adam set out to make his own Black Art, “I approached it with trepidation. To follow Jim, it’s got to be the best thing you can do.”

It was a true passing of the torch when Jim approached Adam one day in 2015, jotted down the secret proportions on a post-it, and handed it over.

And what could’ve been more in the Bruichladdich spirit than Adam’s thanking him, then tossing out the recipe so he could make a Black Art that was truly his own?

The Black Art 5th Edition is unpeated and bottled at 48.4% ABV. It’s a massively complex, coiled, enigmatic dram. Like previous Black Arts, it draws on malt distilled in the pre-Reynier/McEwan era, before the distillery was shuttered in 1993 (to be reopened by Reynier 2000).

Those old stocks have their eccentricities, Adam said. “They were working with old, imperfect casks. The spirit was excellent, but the casks were poor. They needed to be recasked, which Jim set about doing. His approach was to add layers.”

It shows. The nose is dense, with sherry and dry red wine notes predominating. The age is unmistakable, but there’s a freshness to the dark berry scents that’s a welcome surprise. The palate is dark and brooding, with mushrooms, old leather, and decaying parchment. The finish takes you from the library to the wine cellar, with cool wet clay and old-barrel funk. And like the best older malts, it constantly evolved and unfolded in the glass.

Not a beginner’s whisky, but one I loved–and I actually preferred to Jim McEwan’s Black Art 4. The memory of it stayed with me for days.

Back at the start of Adam’s whisky journey, his father encouraged him to take that first tour-guide job with Bruichladdich. “He said, ‘You’ll get a free bottle of whisky every month if nothing else.'”

He’s gotten much more than that. And so have we.

Cheers, friends! – BO

Thanks to Bruichladdich for the opportunity to interview Adam Hannett and sample the four whiskies mentioned above. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Laddie 10 Second Edition Review

Distiller: Bruichladdich. Region: Islay. ABV: 50%. Age: 10 years. Price: $60.

The First Edition of the Laddie 10 was the kind of never-fail daily dram I wish I’d bought a bunker-full of. Alas, it’s long gone…and the no-age-statement replacement, the Classic Laddie, has only been, for my money, a partial substitute.

But with the arrival of Bruichladdich’s new head distiller, Adam Hannett, we have the very welcome arrival of the Laddie 10 Second Edition. It flew off the shelves at K&L Hollywood, but I was lucky enough to snag a bottle first.

The proper way to taste this unpeated Islay would be side-by-side with the First Edition, but having long since finished that, I tasted it alongside the NAS Classic Laddie.

Age-stated whiskies and their NAS replacement are always fun comparisons. (See our side-by-side of the Hibiki 12 and the NAS NAS Hibiki Harmony, for one example.)

So how do these stack up? Let’s start with the new Laddie 10. In short, it’s as good as I remember the last one–if not a touch better. Toasty nose, with roasted almonds, marzipan, a seesaw between milk and white chocolate, and sweet oak. Some rich Syrah cask influence (20% of the malt is finished in Syrah casks, I believe), and (call me crazy) a slight whiff of jicama.

The palate is potent, concentrated, dense. Raspberry jam. Brown butter. Nice tannic backbone of barrel char. Longish finish, on the dry side, with charred marshmallows. Immediately I was wishing I’d picked up two of these. A tough act for any NAS to follow.

The Classic Laddie has an immediate family resemblance, but seems the less mature of the two. It’s a touch lighter in the glass–pure gold, without the 10’s orangey tint. Perhaps that tint is the Syrah in the 10, as there’s less of that on the nose with the Classic. Similar toasty marzipan on the palate, but a bit grainier, with a touch of raw oak that’s not in the 10.

There’s that raspberry jam on the palate. Some butteriness here too, but less depth, less integration than the 10. Ground ginger and lemon pith on the finish, with a touch more sourness than I’d prefer.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Classic shows up just fine on its own, but suffers a bit by comparison with the 10–which I consider an unalloyed success. Now I’ve got to do a side-by-side w that long lost First Edition!

Slàinte, friends! – BO

Buy Bruichladdich Whisky online at Mash + Grape

Valentine’s Day Gifts for Whisky Lovers

All right, guys and gals. It’s around the corner, and flowers and chocolates aren’t going to cut it.

For the whisky-lover in your life, we’ve got three can’t-miss gift picks. And if your beloved isn’t already a whisky-lover, these should make one out of them.

Bruichladdich Wee Laddie Tasting Collection

Three core offerings from one our favorite Islay distilleries, and one of our favorite distilleries, period. This tasting pack includes 200 ml bottles of Bruichladdich’s Classic Laddie, Islay Barley, and Port Charlotte Scottish Barley. A great introduction to the one of the most interesting distilleries out there, and a great preview for a row of exciting Spring 2017 releases coming from Bruichladdich’s new head distiller Adam Hannett. (More on both soon.)

Available at most well-stocked retailers who carry Bruichladdich, and online here.

Benromach Tripack Gift Set

Are you noticing a theme here? Benromach is a tiny Speyside distillery owned by Gordon & MacPhail, making “1960s style” (very lightly peated) malts that for me are old-school in all the best ways. This gift set has 200 ml bottles of their flagship 10-year-old single malt, their Peat Smoke, and their Organic bottling. (Our reviews here.)

This may be the trickiest of our picks to find, but if you happen to be in the L.A. area, they’re frequently carried by our friends at Bar Keeper in the Silverlake neighborhood.

Glenmorangie Collection Gift Pack

Last but not least, a fine introduction and/or refresher from a staple distillery for any single malt-lover: Glenmorangie. This pack has 100 ml bottles of four core offerings from the honeyed Highlander: the Original, the LaSanta, the Quinta Ruban, and the Nectar D’Or. For those who like the sweeter side.

Widely available at better liquor stores.

Happy Valentine’s Day to you and yours, friends! Slàinte! – BO

 

Bruichladdich Octomore 7.4 Virgin Oak Review

Distiller: Bruichladdich. Region: Islay. ABV: 61.2%. Age: 7 years. Price: $250.

One word could sum up the Bruichladdich Octomore 7.4 tasting event I attended in Chicago: unforgettable. Islay-born and raised head distiller Adam Hannett was in my home city to launch the United States arrival of the newest Octomore–the 7.4 Virgin Oak.

I’ve been drinking Octomore since edition 1.1, and have experienced the bold innovation that has been showcased in each subsequent release, but the 7.4 takes Octomore to a whole new place. This is a bottle of superlatives suited for the adventurous.

This inaugural 7-year-old release is bottled at 61.2% ABV, with 25% of the liquid matured the full seven years in French virgin oak casks, and 75% matured three years in classic first-fill bourbon casks, then 2 years in virgin oak, before a final 2 years again spent in first-fill bourbon casks.

The 7.4 has a familiar nose of powerful smoke, which you’d expect with it being peated to 167 ppm, but that’s where the familiarity ends. Unique sweet BBQ notes from the virgin oak reveal themselves and balance the smoke. On the palate the sweetness transitions to lovely dried fruits with rich oak and spice. The distinctive mix of sweet smoke and spice continue on the finish, and as the oak fades you’re left where you started, with lingering smoke.

This powerful Octomore is unlike any of its predecessors, and recommended for anyone looking to go where no Octomore has gone before. Cheers! – JTR

Buy Bruichladdich whisky online at Mash + Grape

Bruichladdich kindly provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Bruichladdich Laddie Classic Edition 01 Review

Distiller: Bruichladdich. Region: Islay. ABV: 46%. No age statement. Price: $60 (750ml, current release).

What’s better than a bottle of the Bruichladdich Laddie Classic Edition 01? The one liter version of it.

I’m sure glad I picked up a couple of this release when I was traveling abroad a few years back. It made a great addition to my growing Laddie collection. Though Baldo’s had mixed experiences with the more recent releases of the “Classic Laddie” (confusingly renamed from the initial “Laddie Classic,” and confusingly packaged almost identically to the beloved and long-gone Laddie 10), this first no-age-statement Laddie release is a beauty.

On the nose is salty ocean spray, orchard fruit, and earthiness. The creamy palate has interesting sweet and oak notes–like barrel-aged honey drizzled over a piece of salted caramel. The finish adds subtle smoke that reminds me of a smoldering campfire off in the distance on the beach.

Wonderful pour. Cheers! – JTR

Buy Bruichladdich whisky online at Mash + Grape

Bruichladdich First Growth Cuvée A Review

Distiller: Bruichladdich. ABV: 46%. Age: 16 years. Region: Islay. Price: auction.

The Bruichladdich First Growth Series is a collection of six 16-year-old releases (designated “A” through “F”) that have been finished in French oak barriques that previously contained Bordeaux wine.

This Cuvée A was finished for 18-20 months in barriques that held Pauillac wine from Chateau Lafite, and was limited to 12,000 bottles. Paulliac, interestingly, is not a grape, but a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdoc.

On the nose there are light floral notes mixed with wild berries and honey. On the palate, slight smoke is mixed with more subtle honey, pepper and fruity notes. Earthy notes predominate on the short finish.

Overall it’s an interesting dram and I would recommend trying it if you come across it, but as Bruichladdich rarities go, it’s not a life-changer. Cheers! – JTR