Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2004 (Kentraw) Review

Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2004 (Kentraw)

50% abv

Score:  81/100


Ahhh…provenance.  What’s it worth really?  No distillery places more worth in this concept than our friends at Bruichladdich.  We’re not talking about terroir here.  No, no.  We’re discussing the idea that the prime marketing tool for some of these ‘Laddies is the fact that they have ties so deep to the island (Islay) that they become almost the purest expression of an Islay malt.

Is this so?  Well…in some ways, yes.  In others…no.

There is an absolutely unbreakable metaphysical connection many malters draw between the briny, citric, smoky, iodine-rich peat reek of brands such as Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig and their beloved mecca of Islay.  These smells (from the moment the bottle is uncorked) are the truest sensory picture that can be drawn to help describe the island.

This, to some of us, is the ultimate in provenance.

On the other hand, how about a distillery that can claim roots back as far as 1881 and has boldly (and very VERY loudly) proclaimed its ties to the land?  This is a distillery that employees many, many locals…that sources barley locally…that plasters its packaging with the images of places and people of Islay…that works to a minimal environmental footprint…that retains even the act of bottling on the island…and on and on.  This is a distillery that has declared such a fierce pride in its home that it is simply not possible to not like ’em.

Now…one step further.  These Islay Barley releases are farm specific.  That means that not only is the barley Islay barley, but it is specific to one, and only one, of the island’s farmers.  This is what ‘Laddie are calling Uber-Provenance.  And I f*cking love it.

Pure.  Heartwarming.  Refreshing.  In this, the day and age of Roseisle…to see something so…anti-commercial (yet paradoxically commercial in and of itself) is a thing of joy.

So…do we like this one?  Quite.

Nose:  Young grains.  Buttery with vanilla, cranberry and faux white chocolate.  Fruit candies.  Lightly floral.  Lemon pledge.  Fresh orange.  Vanilla fudge.  A young clean oaky malt.

Palate:  Malty grains.  Peppery, grassy and zesty.  Wax and oak.  Kinda bitters along the sides of the tongue…almost tannic feeling and quite drying.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

13 thoughts on “Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2004 (Kentraw) Review

  1. Jeff

    I find provenance, much like being “organic”, to be, like patriotism, the last refuge of the scoundrel – all largely a distraction, and intended to be so, from the quality of the product at hand. The “passionate” selecting of barley from one farm vs. a number of farms doesn’t matter to the consumer, even if Jim McEwan handpicks all the barley himself while humming traditional Islay sea shanties, if it doesn’t result in a better product. Knowing exactly where to find the bottling facility on Goggle Maps doesn’t matter if the whisky bottled is mediocre.

    In short, what is there to “f*cking love” about Bruichladdich’s approach to “Uber-Provenance” (and what’s traditionally Scottish about THAT term) when it can result in whisky that’s only 81/100 (and what is there to “quite like” about it either, quite frankly)? Even if Dunlossit IS much better than the Kentraw, where is the evidence that this necessarily has much to do with provenance? I don’t doubt Bruichladdich “means it” when it comes to their whisky, but their implication that other distilleries are inferior because they are “less passionate” about things like terroir and provenance (and yes, this IS clearly implied) has yet to be proven. Taking a step back, Bruichladdich, despite its “fierce” reputation, puts out some very average whisky and if that’s the net effect of “passion”, maybe it’s time that some cooler heads sometimes prevailed. There is nothing paradoxically commercial/anti-commercial in Bruichladdich’s approach – it’s all a pure marketing insurance policy: where the whisky isn’t really exceptional, provide the reviewer with something else to talk about (it’s “purity”, provenance, “passion”, what farm it came from, something… anything).

    I much prefer your skepticism concerning Bruichladdich’s marketing in your review of Bruichladdich Organic: “In short…my thoughts are: organic ≠ better taste” and “not awesome, but it’s alright, I s’pose. Not my favorite malt profile, but commendable nevertheless.” Certainly MORE commendable, at any rate, as the Organic scores 83 vs. the 81 here.

  2. ATW Post author

    I’ve heard Jim speak of this subject in a way that suggests Bruichladdich is more pure an expression of Islay malt than, say, a distillery that matures on the mainland, makes their whisky from malt sourced from all over Scotland (and outside of Scotland, for that matter) and bottles, etc off the island. I’ve never heard him say ‘we’re better because of that’. What is implied/suggested/interpreted…well…that’s up to you.

    Further…I’m not suggesting I LOVE the whisky either. I simply love this marketing. Contrary to popular belief, it IS possible to appreciate a marketing angle, especially if it is legit. The fact of the matter is that Bruichladdich IS legit. They don’t preach ‘Islay, Islay, Islay’, then do something contrary. This isn’t just ‘Islay is best’ flag-waving, it’s also a ‘let’s be Ileach, and show the world we can do something special on our own’ (they are the biggest employer on the island, doing the whole process themselves for a whisky like this). What’s wrong with that?

    You refer to Bruichladdich’s average whiskies. Fair ‘nough. Many are. BUT, I would argue, this is a great whisky for 6-7 years old. Miles better than most distilleries could put out in youth (proven by so many middling 10-15 year olds on the market). This may be an 81, but Dunlossit is much higher.

    Regarding Organic…completely different argument.

    1. Jeff

      I didn’t say you loved the whisky (although I still question what there is to “quite like” about an 81/00), but I don’t know what there is to love about the marketing approach either, when that’s all it is. Jim McEwan can talk about the “Islay purity” of his product until the cows come home, but that talk is very cheap unless it is linked to higher quality (again, generally unproven) – and, in fact, meaningless, unless such linkage can be made. As for being “the biggest employer on the island, doing the whole process themselves for a whisky like this”, there’s nothing wrong with that (who said there was?), but it’s all beside the point of whether it makes better whisky – again, something else positive to talk about when the actual achievement is 81/100.

      As for what I “interpret”, the following is from Bruichladdich’s website (please forgive the length, it isn’t all my long-windedness this time):

      “We are proudly non-conformist, as has always been the way in these Western Isles – Oirthir Gaidheal, the Coast of the Gaels, the land of the outsider.

      At Bruichladdich, we believe the whisky industry has been stifled by industrialisation and self-interest – huge organisations have developed that require a stable status quo to ensure that their industrial processes can run to maximum efficiency, producing the maximum “product” with the minimum input and variation, all to the lowest unit price.

      We reject this.

      We believe that whisky should have character; an authenticity derived from where it is distilled and the philosophies of those who distil it – a sense of place, of terroir that speaks of the land, of the raw ingredients from which it was made.

      We believe in variety, in chance, in progress, in irrationality, in a stubborn refusal to accept prescribed “process”; we believe in following the distilling Muse wherever it might take us. Above all we believe the world needs an antidote to homogeneity and blandness. Since our first spirit ran from our stills on 11.09.01 we have been on an adventure – sometimes a white-knuckle ride, but a journey that has seldom been dull, often a challenge, throughout a joy and a thrill.”

      Reading this, I’m to take that, unlike Bruichladdich, other whiskies are “stifled by industrialisation and self-interest (still on the webpage AFTER the distillery was flipped to Rémy Cointreau for £58m)”, that other distilleries don’t have, or don’t believe they should have, character or authenticity, and that these other whiskies are characterized by “homogeneity and blandness”. Further, I’m to take that the difference between Bruichladdich and other whiskies is, indeed “an authenticity derived from where it is distilled and the philosophies of those who distil it – a sense of place, of terroir that speaks of the land, of the raw ingredients from which it was made”. Bruichladdich clearly claims superiority over other distilleries here, and predictably enough not on the basis of actual product quality, but on the basis of “authenticity”, “philosophy” and “terroir” (and even, further down, chance and irrationality (?) – so maybe it doesn’t matter if any of this makes sense) – all presented as superior, yet resulting in just as many average whiskies as anyone else.

      And it might be “a great whisky” for 6-7, but, if so, the standard for greatness is, apparently, set very low for young whiskies, and it’s hardly the point that Bruichladdich can do it better than other distilleries at a similar age when the score indicates that maybe it shouldn’t be done at all. As for organic being a completely different argument, I’d only submit it’s all the same to Bruichladdich: something else to trump up the virtues of when the overall achievement just isn’t there.

      1. ATW Post author

        When I finally kick it, and it comes time to plead my case at the pearly gates (assuming at some point I reject 35 years of ingrained atheism) I hope like hell (pun intended) that you will speak on my behalf, mate. I’m sure with my sordid history of…well…misbehaviour, I’m going to need help from someone who can make a case better than I. Wish you were local to Calgary so we could hold some of these conversations in person over many a dram (of anything but Bruichladdich or Amrut, I promise.) 😉

        1. Jeff

          I’d be honoured to plead your case, although I would expect it would take some time, as discovery would be extensive (and potentially damning) and I’d have to get up to speed. In the end, it won’t be so much a question of whether you or I believe in God, as whether there’s a God there who believes in us.

          And it could be drams of Amrut or Bruichladdich; I don’t stand against their whisky on principle, only against some of their marketing. This is an important distinction for me; I’m not a distillery “X” or “Y” hater and I have no axe to grind against anyone’s interests in particular (when it comes to excess hyping of unavailable whisky, for example, I don’t care what whisky it is). While I do keep it, in the back of my head, that “it’s just business”, I simply refuse distilleries the license to say things that don’t make sense without calling them on it (Macallan and colour-indexed character (read quality) being another example).

          While I believe that whisky quality is slipping overall (because of higher demand and/or quicker profit taking, pick your narrative), I’d argue that the quality of whisky marketing is slipping even more quickly, actually insulting the intelligence of its audience. Distilleries DO want to hedge their investment bets these days, talking about as many (largely intangible) virtues of their whisky ASIDE from quality as they can, and it amounts to a lot of smoke and mirrors; distilleries really focus on profits and consumers need to really focus on QPR (at whatever minimum value they accept for Q), letting the market decide, on THAT basis, who the winners and losers are.

          I think Paul Simon brings it full circle:

          “When I was a little boy (when I was just a boy)
          And the Devil would call my name (when I was just a boy)
          I’d say “Now who do, (who-oo)
          Who do you think you’re fooling?” (when I was just a boy).”

          Take care.

          1. Skeptic

            This bacon’s been cured, smoked, sliced, fried, added to a sandwich, consumed, digested, expelled, composted, used as fertilizer, grown into food, fed to pigs, which have been slaughtered, cured, smoked, sliced, fried….

            Does anyone get my drift?

            I get the Marketing criticism. I share the frustration of hype about unobtainable expressions. I think we all get it now.

            But (and I think this needs to be said, and Curt, I apologize in advance for being presumptuous), this website seems to me a vehicle for sharing someone’s passion for a specific hobby…Whisky. It’s clear that Curt likes Amrut, and he likes Bruichladdich. Big surprise, I do too.

            Curt is going to continue to post honest and flattering reviews of good products, and honest reviews of the others.

            I think there is a prerogative that is extended to the creator of a website to include content he likes.

            I appreciate Curt’s nod to “democracy” by allowing comments on the site, but with this privilege comes an obligation to not take over the conversation.

            Jeff, I respect what you have written, but you’ve made your point, and it’s not necessary to bring it up every time Curt posts about a product that happens to have a marketing strategy.

            I visit this site primarily (not exclusively) to find out what Curt has to say. I would suspect that most people who visit this site are more interested in his opinions than mine…

            That said, if you want to start your own blog, I will be happy to follow it.


  3. ATW Post author

    ” It’s clear that Curt likes Amrut, and he likes Bruichladdich. Big surprise, I do too.

    Curt is going to continue to post honest and flattering reviews of good products, and honest reviews of the others.”

    On record…Amrut actually makes what I would consider great whisky. Bruichladdich is getting there, but not as yet. I think my notes and scores reflect this.

    Amrut has the benefit of accelerated maturation, giving us whiskies old beyond their years (not that age alone equates to quality), while Bruichladdich has to work within the confines of a much more frigid and patience-demanding climate. Their ten year olds generally taste that way. Further…anything they release that is older than 11 or 12 years, is built (at least partially) on pre-closure stocks.

    These barrels, from before the days of Jim, Mark, Duncan, Allan and company, were apparently of negligable quality. Jim says he re-racked scores of barrels when they took over the distillery. I’ve also heard otherwise, but hey…who am I to say? Fun to speculate which side is accurate. 😉

  4. Jeff

    I’m not saying that anyone shouldn’t like Amrut, Bruichladdich or any other whisky, only that it makes more sense to like them for the virtues of the actual whisky at hand rather than for elements of their marketing that are smoke and mirrors.

    I’m not suppressing anyone else’s opinion by expressing my own in what I take to be an open forum (although I thank Curt for hosting it), nor was I taking over anyone else’s conversations, just participating in those I was engaged in.

    1. ATW Post author

      It’s all good. Controversy makes for good debate fodder. Which is why I don’t censor comments. I think if you’re gonna have a blog (read: pulpit) and take your opinions public, you better be willing to let others have their say too.


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