Which actually also makes this the second-oldest Bruichladdich I've ever tasted! The oldest so far was a 28-year old ex-bourbon 'laddie, drawn straight from the cask during the warehouse tasting at the distillery last year (detailed here), which was exceptional. This independent bottling from Signatory Vintage is from a similar era, but is from a refill sherry cask and is slightly higher in strength, so it should be quite special! It's from Signatory's Cask Strength series, which are mostly single casks, and all that I've tried so far have all been very enjoyable (highlights to date are this Ledaig, and definitely this Port Ellen!). Signatory Vintage would have to be one of my favourite independent bottlers, and their official Australian importer The Whisky Company is doing a great job of bringing us quality bottlings, either from uncommon distilleries or different styles of whisky from old favourites, which is exactly what a good independent bottler does!
This whisky was distilled in 1990, which is the same era that most of Bruichladdich's mysterious Black Art official bottlings were distilled in, at a time when the distillery was owned by Invergordon, now part of the Whyte & Mackay liquor company after a takeover in 1993. That decade was not kind to Bruichladdich, which had been producing on a reduced basis through the 1980s and early 90s, before being closed down altogether in 1995. The distillery then sat silent for six years until it was rescued by Mark Reynier and his group of investors, along with the legendary Jim McEwan, who nursed the distillery back to health, and the distillery has been going from strength-to-strength ever since. In fact they far-surpassed anything that previous owners have accomplished, and Bruichladdich is now unquestionably one of Islay's finest. The Black Art series was very cask dominated though, and used a variety of unusual casks, whereas this is a single refill sherry cask, presumably Oloroso. So it should be quite a different experience.
Independent bottlings of Bruichladdich, along with the distillery's heavily peated Port Charlotte and Octomore brands, are becoming more common these days, reportedly due to a large amount of privately-owned casks being sold off just prior to the distillery being purchased by Remy Cointreau in 2012. But a 26-year old bottling is far from common, particularly one that was matured in a sherry cask, in this case a single 500-litre refill (meaning that it had been used for whisky maturation previously) sherry butt, cask number 172. It was distilled on the 26th of September 1990, and was bottled on the 19th of July 2017, with a yield of 508 bottles at a cask strength of 56.0% ABV. Being a Signatory Vintage Cask Strength Series bottling of course means that it is non-chill filtered and naturally coloured, and you've got to love those very pretty decanter-style bottles. The sample for this review came from the aforementioned Australian importer, The Whisky Company. Let's get to it!
Signatory Vintage Bruichladdich 26-year old, 56.0%. Islay, Scotland.
Single cask #172. Distilled 26/9/90, matured in a refill sherry cask, bottled 19/7/17 at cask strength. Non-chill filtered, natural colour, 502 bottles.
Nose: Ooh very nice, and very interesting! Darker in style than I expected, but in a great way. Musty and nicely spicy, with toffee apples and baked pears, some juicy golden raisins, and waxy candied lemon. Dark chocolate and spicy old (but not tired) oak. A little spicy cologne, some leather, treacle, and a hint of musty dunnage warehouses.
Texture: Excellent. Medium weight, waxy and lightly oily. A slight touch of heat, but nowhere near 56% ABV worth.
Taste: Delicious! There's almost a Campbeltown-like "funky" musty-ness to it, but more towards dank dunnage warehouses than the Springbank farmyard note. Love it! There's more dark chocolate, more treacle, a little salt, and more spicy oak, X-mas spices. Some waxy citrus, more juicy golden raisins, and even an unexpected puff of dry wood smoke!
Finish: Long length, warming. That delicious musty note carries through, that old musty oak and dank dunnage warehouse note. Then a little spicy wood smoke, fades quickly into some dates, more golden raisins and waxed lemons.
Score: 4 out of 5.
Notes: Wow, extremely impressive stuff here. Very nearly a 4.5 score in fact. And quite a different whisky to what I expected! That musty note is outstanding, almost Springbank- or sherried Tobermory-like, which is right up my alley. Really love the waxy-ness as well, and that apple, pear & citrus clearly show that the cask has not dominated the show here, despite it obviously being quite active. There were quite a few surprises in this whisky that I would not normally associate with Bruichladdich, which is one of the hallmarks of a great independent bottler if you ask me, and that little puff of wood smoke was quite unexpected!
Great work as usual by Signatory Vintage. This isn't a cheap whisky if you're just looking at the dollar figure ($380-ish AUD), but for a cask strength, 26-year old single cask it offers excellent value for money, and it's priced very, very well compared to the current official bottlings of Bruichladdich of a similar vintage. Which is yet another hallmark of a great independent bottler! Get it while it lasts folks.
Thanks to Craig from The Whisky Company for the sample of this one, it was gone all too soon!