Three new laddies on the block: Bruichladdich Organic 2010, Islay Barley 2011 and Bere Barley 2010

Not one, not two, but three samples landed on my desk this week – and they share a common theme: “Barley exploration series” by Islay’s Bruichladdich distillery. This year they’ve bottled an organic whisky from 2010, produced with organic malt from Mid Coul farms in Inverness, an Islay barley release from 2011, grown by six different farms on the island, and, finally a Bere barley release distilled in 2010 from the ancient barley ancestor Bere, sourced from Orkney. All releases are bottled at a relatively young age, 7 or 8 years and were matured without fancy experimental casks in order to let the spirit shine. The cask makeup is not entirely the same, though, with the Organic and Bere release being fully ex-bourbon matured, while the Islay Barley does feature 25% ex-wine European oak casks, making a direct comparison of the barley influence between all three of them difficult.

It is extremely difficult to quantify the influence of “terroir” in whisky – in other words, the influence of the barley and its heritage. There are also the influences by malting, mashing, distilling, maturation, the casks used and the age of the whisky. While technically we don’t have an equal lineup where only the grain used is the differentiating factor, there is one of these three samples that stands out: Bere. It is drastically different as a grain, at one point it was responsible for breaking the distillery’s ancient mash tun – back when they used Bere grown on Islay. Bere is also different in one other aspect: Nose and taste. The influence on the spirit is remarkable, noticeably different from modern distilling barley varieties. This became apparent when I tasted an earlier release a while ago – will I be able to pick out the distinct Bere influence again? We shall see!

Bruichladdich The Organic 2010

100% Ex-bourbon casks. Distilled 2010, bottled 2019 – 8 years old. 50% ABV, no chill filtration or added colouring.

Colour: Straw
Nose: Yes, this is the light and gentle side of Islay! There is an initial waft of alcohol that takes a few minutes to subside. After that I get notes of light citrus but also red apples, pears, peaches and a touch of flame-kissed vanilla pudding.
Taste: There’s an equally noticeable alcohol influence on the arrival, with citrus, pepper, fresh grapes, white peaches and creamy vanilla later on in the development. Adding a drop of water enhances the oily texture and brings out, yep, notes of grain – as in barley grain.
Finish: Again, there’s the alcohol upon swallowing, making way for an oily short- to medium-long finish that’s at first citrus-y with vanilla, later malty with a slight oak and “grain” note.

Verdict: Very, light, fresh, clean and spirit driven, as the concept would suggest. If you add a few drops of water, the barley notes come to light. Very well-made but not my favourite of the Organic series so far and it could use a few more years of maturation – even if that would mean less influence by the barley and more from the cask.
Score: 83/100

Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2011

75% Ex-bourbon casks, 25% ex-wine European oak casks. Distilled 2011, bottled 2019 – 7 years old. 50% ABV, no chill filtration or added colouring.

Colour: Straw
Nose: Ah yes – not as much alcohol initially but the signature citrus note is immediately noticeable. Beyond that we’ve got berries – blackberries, strawberries, maybe even the odd gooseberry. Sherbet lemon too with the European oak providing a subtle hint of spices in the background. Give it some time and apricots and peaches start to make their appearance.
Taste: Quite thick and oily in texture on the arrival – though the alcohol is still noticeable. In the development we’ve got fruits again – peaches, apricots, grapes, gooseberries, blackberries with a hint of vanilla and some very slight spices in the background.
Finish: Medium-long with a spicy influence by the European oak upon swallowing before a slight fruit influence underneath the citrus notes make an appearance. Charred oak lingers for a bit.

Verdict: Distinctively different from the Organic version we’ve looked at before – but that’s to be expected due to the different makeup of casks, which makes it quite difficult to compare. What’s down to the influence of the different growing region of the barley? What’s changed due to the added wine casks? To my nose and palate those are the main drivers in this expression – still light and fresh but at the same time quite a bit more expressive than the Organic release.
Score: 86/100

Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2010

100% Ex-bourbon casks. Distilled 2010, bottled 2019 – 8 years old. 50% ABV, no chill filtration or added colouring.

Colour: Straw
Nose: Ah yes, there we go again! As soon as the glass reaches my nose I can smell the distinctive aroma of beremeal that’s forever in my olfactory memory ever since buying some on Orkney. This oily, sweet, even slightly herbal note is the main player on the nose here, everything else plays second fiddle. Oh, and we’ve got fresh plums and juicy apricots on vanilla ice cream, with a splash of limoncello and arancello. Maybe there’s also a strawberry hiding in there. Aaaahhh… one to nose for ages but I’ll have to write about palate and finish too…
Taste: Boom! Oily and sweet! An explosion in the mouth. The Bere cereal notes are there but they are almost masked by an intense fruitiness – peaches, apricots, plums, vanilla ice cream with strawberries and honey on top. And, yes, the signature citrus notes are there as well.
Finish: Oily and intense upon swallowing. Yes, the Bere cereal notes are there in the background – and an intense fruitiness (all the aforementioned fruits) that just lingers and lingers until a hint of oak sets in.

Verdict: An orgasmic sensation. Extremely fruity, oily and rich with loads to explore. You can’t help but taste the Bere influence if you’ve ever tasted the grain but there’s so much more. Absolutely worth all the hardship and trouble in producing this malt. As good as young whisky can be!
Score: 93/100

Conclusion

Well, I guess we’ve got a very clear winner here, if you want to view it as a competition. The new Bere Barley release is everything I hoped it would be – rich and intense. I almost feel a bit sorry for the Organic – they are the most fair to compare in this lineup as they were matured in the same types of casks and were distilled in the same year. The difference is night and day. While the Organic is a “nice” young whisky, the Bere has just so much more to offer and is an experience in its own right. One more whisky to talk about – the Islay Barley. I think it’s a bit of a shame it’s not matured exactly like the others which makes comparing it to the other two whiskies very difficult due to multiple factors being different. Still a very nice dram in its own right, just not as “barley driven”. Or maybe it is? In the end all that matters is what YOU like! I know what I’m going to get… please form an orderly queue after me!

What do you think of the Bruichladdich Barley Exploration series? Have you tried any of these – or previous releases? Let me know in the comments section below!

Samples kindly provided free of charge by Bruichladdich distillery. No other compensation was provided.

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