Friday, May 23, 2014

Whisky Review: Bruichladdich Rocks, Waves, and Peat - or "What Was Jim McEwan Thinking?!?"

Some years ago, Bruichladdich put out a number of young (~7 years old) single malts that were designed to provide an introduction to the brand at a more reasonable cost. It was all distillate produced after the buyout by Mark Reynier, in contrast to the stocks that came with the distillery. I picked these up as a set of miniatures from The Whisky Exchange, but it appears that they are sold out now.

As with most Bruichladdich releases, all were bottled at 46% without chill filtration or coloring.

Bruichladdich Rocks

Nose: Laddie malt core, milk chocolate, overpowering sour red wine, sweaty sock funk, bad sherry casks, new make/vegetal peat edge, jammy raspberries - everything gets worse with time. After adding a few drops of water, there is more malt, some maritime notes and cinnamon peek out, it becomes creamier, but overall everything else is worse - grain notes become musty.

Taste: begins decently but blandly - some malt and barrel sweetness up front with a touch of cinnamon, there are notes of sour milk that start in the middle and hang around far too long, then it segues into off-notes of red wine and sherry. After dilution, much sweeter overall, the oak notes become musty, more sherry comes out but there's a horrible sourness to it all that ruins the palate, the taste won't go away - kill me now.

Finish: grows worse and worse with time - sour/bitter oak and wine dregs, plastic, nasty peat reek

Rarely do I try a whisky that tastes like it actively wishes me harm. This is absolutely everything wrong with new style Bruichladdich releases - bad red wine casks, terrible peat reek, and a complete lack of coherence. I know tastes vary, but this genuinely makes me question what's wrong with Jim McEwan. This was designed to be Bruichladdich's introduction to the brand - the first taste that many people would get of their whisky. Why they would go this route instead of playing it safe, I do not know. But I am becoming more and more convinced that I want to avoid anything from Bruichladdich that was distilled after 2001. It just doesn't work for me. Good riddance to this whisky.

Bruichladdich Waves

Nose: fresh, salty, gentle peat, something meaty, rubbery undercurrent, malty core, Playdough, some Laddie funk. After adding a few drops of water, it remains more or less unchanged.

Taste: malty sweetness and polished oak throughout, mild peat/seaweed and oak near the back, a bit of funk and salt. After dilution, it becomes flatter and more integrated but actually more pleasant, the bitterness become coffee-like, there is more oak, and there's an overall sense that the whisky is more mature.

Finish: mild peat/funk residue, salty malt, lightly bitter oak

While simple, this is at least not bad. I would consent to drink this whisky again, which was refreshing after the terribleness of Rocks. There is just enough peat to provide some spice to the underlying malt and the lack of wine casks kept it uncomplicated. While I think this could actually benefit from a few sherry casks, I'm not sure I quite trust the hands at Bruichladdich to pick them well.

However, Waves was discontinued some time ago, so it's a bit of a moot point.

Bruichladdich Peat

Nose: vague peat reek, new make, malty, almost no oak, Playdough, vegetal, more clearly peated with time but still surprisingly gentle. After adding a few drops of water, some salted caramel notes come out, there is more obvious oak influence, and the peat integrates with the malt.

Taste: intensely sweet up front (almost seems artificial), surprising lack of peat, very little oak, bourbon barrel fruitiness in the middle. After dilution, everything amps up - the start of the sip is pure sucrose, the peat is finally assertive, there is more bourbon barrel influence, but nothing really makes it great.

Finish: mild peat, lingering sweetness, alcohol edge

Despite what it says on the label, there wasn't a lot of peat influence. This is rather surprising, as Peat was supposedly a 50/50 mix of young Port Charlotte (50 PPM) and Ocotomore (100+ PPM). It may be that this is due to sampling this from a miniature (which are often flawed), but it may be that's just how this one worked. Either way, it didn't do much for me. Which is kind of irrelevant, as this one is also long gone.


  1. I wonder whether indeed this was a flawed sample - especially for the Rocks. It doesn't sound like the kind of thing that anyone would willingly bottle and sell. I also suspect Bruichladdich to be one of the more fragile whiskies in terms of withstanding time and elements in the bottle (especially a mini). This being said, I recently had a 'meh' (but not 'uugh') Bruichladdich - the Organic 2013.

    1. I have met people who genuinely enjoyed Rocks, so it's possible, but it still speaks to a distinct lack of quality control. Again, these are supposed to be an introduction to the brand. Any distiller with an ounce of forethought would want to make sure those were absolutely on-point.

    2. I've had the Rocks twice and got two completely different experiences from it. The first time it was very wine cooler-ish with lots of berries, almost no whisky to be found. The second time it was extra sour and extra oaky. A strange whisky. Another of McEwan's releases wherein he seems to be putting lipstick on a pig, but the lipstick is the wrong shade, is uglier than the pig, and is made out of pig.

    3. For official samples my concern is not what goes in, but what happens in the bottle. Too much sun, heat, or oxygen can turn the whisky bad, and the risk is 1-2 orders of magnitude greater than in a regular-size bottle.

      For "unofficial" samples such as Master of Malt there is also the fact that you don't know how long the original bottle they are pouring from has been open; presumably they use the whole bottle at once, but I don't have any info in this respect.

  2. Rocks was initially (at its introduction) at least drinkable. Later versions are not good. I question what they are doing at Bruichladdich the last few years. I was a huge fan of the distillery when Reynier, McEwan & co. reopened it and their early bottlings of the purchased inventory were often wonderful. I also commend them for many of the things they have done to encourage local production of barley and their devotion to Islay sourcing. But with many of the new releases it seems they are pushing product out the door just to generate some sales revenue and are less concerned with the quality of the product. Many (though not all) of their NAS releases are just not good. Where I live we can buy Laddie Classic which in reality tastes nothing like what I remember Bruichladdich tasting like, and also more recently their Scottish Barley has become available, which is slightly better than the Classic but both still seem unbalanced, with an excess of heavy, one-dimensional wood/butterscotch notes. I miss the signature flavour of the Bruichladdich I remember, a clean, almost talc-like quality that their current releases sadly lack.

    1. I have a vertical tasting of the old 10, 12, and 15 Year expressions coming up. It'll be interesting to compare them to the new Laddie 10. From the what I've tasted before, they seem like night and day.

  3. Well there is in fact a difference in the taste of the whiskys recently being released by Bruichladdich. The NEW rocks is not the same as the release from 5+ years ago. I taste the same flavor profile as their "ORGANIC" bottling which to me IS simply NOT GOOD. In my opinion the mashbill has changed. This is disappointing to me, as I thought some of the bottlings that were released 4 , 5 and 6 years ago to be EXCELLENT. Now it is CAVEAT EMPTOR!