Monday, February 22, 2010

Flora McBabe - Bruichladdich Valinch Bottling

"Always remember, a cat looks down on man, a dog looks up to man, but a pig will look man right in the eye and see his equal"
-Winston Churchill

It is with great pleasure that I post some tasting notes for this very special bottle of whisky: Bruichladdich's Flora McBabe Valinch expression. As described in the "Daddy's Dram" posting, this particular bottle was brought back from Scotland after being bottled at the Bruichladdich distillery by yours truly. It is a sherry-finished Bruichladdich, distilled on the 5th of September and bottled on September 9th, 2004. My bottle is # 691 of 700 and I had the pleasure of watching the distillery staff empty out the last of that cask (#3666) while allowing the visitors who were present that day to fill the last dozen or so bottles.

Bruichladdich is an Islay distillery built in 1881 that is located on the Western edge of Loch Indaal. After being closed in 1994, it came under new ownership in 2000 and promptly re-invented itself to become a prime example of how successful a small, privately-owned distillery can be in this new age of interest in single malts. The owners have done a masterful job in marketing their product with innovation and a small measure of panache. Bruichladdich is one of the few distilleries that distills, matures and bottles their whisky in-house. Master distiller Jim McEwan, who is both well-known and respected after 40+ years in the industry, brings a special flair to his craft and has been given the freedom he deserves to experiment with the expressions at Bruichladdich. Your blogger had the opportunity to meet Mr. McEwan at WhiskyFest 2006 in Chicago. He was charming and very approachable. It is immediately obvious that he loves his job, enjoys meeting whisky enthusiasts, and believes strongly in what Bruichladdich is doing.

The Valinch bottlings are somewhat smaller than traditional bottles, with a volume of 50cl (500ml) as opposed to 70-75cl (700-750ml). They are bottled at natural or cask strength; in the case of Flora McBabe a tongue-tickling 55.2% abv. Bruichladdich whiskies tend to be very fresh and complex. As they are not chill-filtered and no colouring is added, you get the full natural flavour of the whisky. The 10 y-o expression is one of my favourite drams in this age group, and though floral and fruity, it has a touch of peat and is as crisp as a breath of fresh sea air - with an almost effervescent quality. Tasting notes for the Bruichladdich 10 y-o will appear on The Spirit Safe very soon.

So what happens when to Bruichladdich when you add the influence of a refill sherry butt (cask) and a wee bit of porcine inspiration? The tasting notes for this whisky are a collection from several drams shared with close friends and acquaintances: Groomsmen, bridesmaids, siblings, old friends, and the minister who baptized our daughter. In short, they all represented a celebration of our daughter's birth and we couldn't have chosen a better whisky. Samples were sent to a couple of friends by mail which allowed us to do a tasting over the phone. Not as good as doing one together in person, but a great way to share a dram nonetheless!

Bruichladdich Valinch Flora McBabe bottling
Nose: Heavy sherry, molasses with cream. Blacker S says Grape-flavoured cough syrup (not as bad as that sounds!)

Taste: sweet sherry, some nuttiness, woody vanilla and cream notes

Palate: oily and salty, feel it on the back of your tongue and inside of cheek. Finish is long and delectable, with lots of sherry flavour. Some enjoyable bitterness and lingering woodiness.

Value: To be completely honest, I can't remember how much they were asking for the Valinch bottlings, but my memory tells me that it was around 30 pounds, which would make it around $70 CDN. Although this bottle is only 500ml, it is still a good value. As McBabe was bottled at cask strength (~55% abv) you could add another 25% of the volume in water just to get it down to the standard 40% abv.

It's hard to put a price on the novelty of bottling whisky yourself at the distillery. Following through on a promise to save it for the birth of my first child has added immeasurably to its value for me. In this way, the context of a particular bottle of whisky can make it shine in a crowd and stand above the rest. Everyone who has sampled it with me has agreed that Flora is a very tasty whisky. The happiness of that moment (the first dram in the hospital room) makes this a very special malt for me and I hope that everyone reading this post gets the chance to share in a similar moment - with or without the whisky. I never had the opportunity to meet the actual Flora McBabe, but if this pig deserved such a fine whisky, I regret having missed her!

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