Since its revival in 2001, Bruichladdich – “the old lady of Islay” – has had a commitment to terroir and rare barley strains. No product illustrates this resolution better than their Barley Exploration Collection, a set that compromises of three small bottlings, showcasing the subtle changes that barley strains can make to the spirit.
The set includes a 2010 vintage Islay Barley, a 2009 Organic Barley and a 2008 Bere Barley. Each of these whiskies is bottled in a smaller, 200ml format. None of the whiskies are peated, in the classic Bruichladdich style. The bottlings are all presented free from chill filtration and colouration, and at a strength of 50% ABV.
The Islay Barley offering is produced in partnership with local farmers, ensuring the whisky captures the terroir of the island. The bottling uses Optic and Oxbridge strains of barley gathered from eight farms, and was matured in a combination of former Bourbon and French wine casks for 7 years. The dram is fresh and floral, with notes of ginger, melon, chewy malt, slight fragrant tobacco, bright oak, spice and lemon rind.
The Organic Barley bottling uses barley grown at the innovative Mid Coul farm in the Highland region of Dalcross, which rejects automation in favour of traditional methods, and uses no herbicide, pesticide or artificial fertiliser. The whisky has been aged for 8 year in former Tennessee Whiskey and Bourbon casks. The spirit itself delivers flavours of sugared citrus, honeysuckle, sea spray, cream, toffee, biscuit and toasted malt, with some delicate spice notes.
Finally, the Bere Barley bottling offers a taste of a grain rarely seen in the whisky business. Six row Bere Barley is the UK’s most ancient strain of agricultural grain, dating back some 5,000 years. Whilst Bere is well suited to Scottish farming – hardy, and used to both poor soil and long daylight hours in the summer – it is also difficult to mill, and produces a low yield. The grain was grown in partneship with the University of the Highland and Islands’ Agronomy Institute. This spirit has been aged for 10 years in former Bourbon and Tennessee whiskey barrels. The result is a fresh, verdant dram with notes of gooseberries, greengages, green apples, pears, honey, extremely sweet malt, honeysuckle slight oak, mixed spice and almonds.
Three superb whiskies, that illustrate the importance of barley to the whisky making process, something overlooked with the recent emphasis on wood.
This set would make the perfect gift for any whisky lover eager to learn more about the spirit.