Bruichladdich Black Art 4.1 Review

Bruichladdich Black Art 4.1IMG_6363

49.2% abv

Score:  84.5/100


Whatever closed door deals-with-the-devil or blasphemous alchemy Jim McEwan is engaged in when concocting these Bruichladdich Black Art releases is slowly becoming a thing of whisky lore.  People love to talk about this kind of stuff.  People other than McEwan himself, that is.

Attend one of his tastings and he’ll happily tell you to naff off when pressed for details on this malt (though in that friendly affable Ileach manner).  Secrecy itself has become the sales pitch.  The hook here that gets the tongues a-waggin’ and the rumours milling is that Jim simply refuses to disclose what exactly the component barrels are that constitute these special ‘Laddie releases.  The truth may never come out, but the hallmarks of a lot of wine-cask tomfoolery are all over the end product.  No surprise, really, considering the Laddie warehouses boast legions of former wine barrels with interesting varietal names stenciled all over them.  This is almost like the secret weapon in the Bruichladdich arsenal.  They have a broader palette to work with than most other whisky makers.  While most distilleries will be maturing spirit within the confines of bourbon, sherry and perhaps port vessels, Bruichladdich can harness the influence of Château d’Yquem, Château Margaux, Cabernet Franc, Brunello, etc.  Almost an unfair advantage, in terms of pure flexibility.

The real question is, though, does it work?  In some cases, yes.  Absolutely.  In other cases…well…

Let me be frank here (cause that’s what we do).  This 23 year old is a bit of a Frankenstein show for me.  It’s not cohesive.  It’s not really pretty even, aside from the snazzy packaging, that is.  There’s some charm, sure, but you have to go deeper than the surface level in order to find it (i.e. this is not bad as a nosing whisky…but not quite so special on the palate). 

But hey…I’m just one guy.  What do I know?  I know many out there who feel differently about this whisky than I.  A lot of folks really love this drink. 

It does seem, however, that most people are either really on board with the Black Art releases, or really not on board. I probably lean more towards the latter group, while recognizing it as not a bad dram, but simply falling outside my preferred flavour camp.  As always…caveat emptor.

Nose:  Quite jammy.  Chocolate doughnuts…with chocolate glaze.  Some wine or sangria-like notes.  A touch of a salty seabreeze.  A vague whiff of suede.  Sour purple ju-jubes and wine gums.  This is a heavy, heavy dram. but I like the nose quite a bit actually. 

Palate:  Great immediate arrival, with a lot of spice and deep threads of sour dark fruits, but quickly bitters into oversaturated wine notes.  Not my thing, I must admit.  Apples and apple skins.  Like chewing on a stick of wine-soaked wood.  An odd spice note.  Touch of leather.  Faint licorice.  Like black wine gums.  Somewhat sour and punchy.

Thoughts:  A nose that shines, but a palate that only dimly illuminates.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

12 thoughts on “Bruichladdich Black Art 4.1 Review

  1. Jeff

    A lot of interesting things said here, although sometimes in a backhanded way that’s needlessly a little apologetic; after all, one never reads “I really love this stuff, and give it a 97, but I’m just one guy so what do I know? A lot of people out there think this is a substandard whisky or that, at the very least, it’s overrated and overpriced”. If one man’s praise doesn’t require justification, one man’s criticism doesn’t require it either.

    “The hallmarks of a lot of wine-cask tomfoolery” is very well put and, as you say, it all comes down to “does it work” and it what sense. Certainly it worked in the past, in pushing a lot of inherited whisky out of the warehouse and into the glasses of the curious and the unsuspecting, to usually indifferent results but large profits while making room for the new make – and creating purchase interest from Rémy Cointreau in the process. Was all the odd casking really about being “the rebel whisky maker” – although, this too, made great copy – or at least partly about the fact that there’s less competition for odd casks and so they’re easier, and cheaper, to procure?

    I don’t really fault Bruichladdich’s experimentation, only their ongoing presentation that they’re somehow “anti industry” and that they don’t really make “dud” whiskies, only “different” whiskies in the name of “being daring”. And what DOES one say about a 23 scoring under 85 – blame it on the wonky casking and say it disproves whisky “alchemy” or, from the industry’s perspective, turn it around and use it as ammo in the ongoing campaign to disprove the importance of age (but only in certain contexts)? Secrecy is a great marketing tool (taken to the Nth by Glenlivet Alpha) but, like NAS, it’s not really anything more than not wanting to commit to content (or, really, committing to the idea that content matters – again, whiskies aren’t good or bad, just “different” and YOU don’t need to know HOW different, even from bottle to bottle). Indeed, it’s “lore”, not fact, that’s often being fostered and promoted these days, but those who know that there’s really no such thing as magic know that it all boils down to smoke, mirrors, misdirection, showmanship and salesmanship.

    Anyway, a really good review, as was the case with the Octomore. I’ll probably give the latest one a pass; the ppm numbers keep climbing, but I think my peat amplifier is already at “11”.

    1. ATW Post author

      Hahaha. You’re right about one thing, Jeff. I’m not here to justify my praise or my criticisms.

      I think you’re reading too much into an offhand comment. I’m simply saying that a lot of people that I know firsthand really like this stuff. In fact, we offered Dram Initiative club members an opportunity to purchase this release, along with several other Laddies, at a discounted rate for a recent Jim McEwan event we hosted here in Calgary. While more expensive than most of the others, this one outsold them all exponentially.

      At the end of the day, I’ve heard WAY more people say they like this whisky than not. Now…which side the folks whose palates I actually TRUST fall on is another matter. 😉

      1. Jeff

        Yeah… I “read too much” into some comments, yet that IS the way a lot of less-than-attractive truth DOES get told on these pages – with a wink and a nod for the initiated without scaring away the neophytes (as per the comment about the numbers who like this whisky, but whose palates may be less than trustworthy). You’re not here to justify your praise or your criticisms (nor should you be), yet it is the criticism which needs to be tempered as “only one guy’s opinion”, as if that was ever in doubt. And what leads sales, as opposed to what’s really superior whisky, speaks for itself in this review.

        And not to pat Portwood on the back because he did the same for me, but I think his comment about the cult of personality is largely borne out; people who love Bruichladdich for any reason (no matter how arguably valid, yet, curiously, never humbly concealed by the business) which falls OUTSIDE of the actual whisky it makes are, as you say, drinking the Kool Aid – and it’s largely Jim McEwan’s hand that’s on the spoon in the pitcher. In a brilliant bit of marketing, Bruichladdich grew as an idea or a dream, forget (to some degree) as a distillery, because people WANTED to believe in it to counterbalance the greed and cynicism they detected as single malt whisky took off in the modern era. A lot of people bought into (and maybe still believe, who knows?) the idea that Bruichladdich stood/stands against “the industry way” of doing things, even after the sell-out to Rémy Cointreau (certainly the propaganda on the website hasn’t changed to convince them otherwise). “A spirit with flawless integrity and provenance”, we’re told, yet one where casking, and even age, is sometimes in doubt. I can’t second guess the soundness of the sale in terms of its business sense, but it certainly has an ethical, and logical, bearing on the degree to which Bruichladdich “stands outside the industry” and hasn’t “been stifled by industrialisation and self-interest” it accuses its competitors of being dominated by. After all, wasn’t the 10 retracted because of the logistical problems posed to retailers and not, as usual, because of any groundswell outcry on the part of consumers? So much for the ethics of doing a small whisky in a small way and “the beancounters be damned”.

  2. portwood

    Once again I find myself in full agreement with Jeff, especially this gem: “A lot of interesting things said here, although sometimes in a backhanded way that’s needlessly a little apologetic…”

    I believe history will show the Reynier/McEwan years (prior to Remy) were more about the cult of personality than whisky making per se. While they did many good things (reviving a dead distillery, and providing work for the community) the whisky they put out was hit and miss at best – even the stuff that was distilled under their watch.

    Many people love Jim McEwan and find it difficult to criticize his work simply because he comes across as such a nice guy. How can anyone not love him? BUT, after listening to his folksy tales a second or third time you realize they are just that … tales. The guy is one of the best salesmen in the business. The whisky making side of his career may prove not be so shiny (after all, wasn’t he at Bowmore during the FWP days?)

    Now that the Laddie “independence card” has been played will the whisky bottled by a faceless mega corporation continue to be as overrated as it was under the little guys?

    At the risk sounding like I’m questioning Curt’s judgment, I wonder if this bottle would have received 84.5 points had it been released by Diageo or Pernod Ricard? I’ve tried the mysterious Black Art (twice during Saint Jim masterclasses) and found it to be meh! whisky. One that demonstrates that age does not necessarily indicate quality.

    1. ATW Post author

      Now YOU sound apologetic, my friend. Why would you NOT question my judgment? I’m an opinion, not an authority. All of this is really nothing more than the art of subjectivity at its finest. I love discussing this stuff, and the first step is having opposing beliefs. Any respectful, informed opinion (contrary or otherwise) is more than welcomed here.

      I think you’re very right and very wrong in what you’ve written above. Some of the whisky produced under the Reynier/McEwan era is hit or miss, to be sure, but I don’t believe the cult of personality is as much a factor as you suggest. For some people it surely will be. I think others were, and are, simply enamoured with a distillery that embraced a more ethically sound and connoisseur-driven approach in their endeavours (NCF, young malts…occasionally with 5 and 7 year age declarations…non colured…locally produced and regionally beneficial, etc). How could the legions not fall in line and swallow the Kool-aid (whisky)?

      Aside from their (more than) occasional lapses into NAS territory, I love this distillery more than nearly all others. The reasons are many.

  3. Robert

    A store in our area suddenly now has several bottles of this for $238 each. Apparently the distributor for Bruichladdich is trying to dump poorer versions of their more expensive whiskies here for too much money, as a few months back they also got several bottles of the Octomore 7.1 for $148. However, they did get the Scottish Barley PC and BL decent prices (about $50-55). What’s up with Bruichladdich lately?

    1. Jeff

      It kind of does make you wonder if Rémy bought a bunch of distribution problems it wasn’t aware of in acquisition, or if it created them by trying to fit Laddie into their existing system/model; the pullback of the 10 shortly after purchase wasn’t really a good sign.

  4. Robert

    Yeah, we first only got “Rocks” which was good for the price. Then the Laddie 10 showed up, which was a great buy. Then for about a year there was nothing, followed recently with this onslaught. I’d consider buying the Scottish Barley Port Charlotte and Bruichladdich again for the price, but no way I throwing $148 and $238 for the other two. For $148 I can get two 2015 Cairdeas and a 6-pack of Bud Light (for my step-son when he visits). For $238 I can buy both Macallan 18 and Peat Monster. Or 8 bottles of Glenmorangie 10. I think these guys are on serious drugs!

    1. David

      With apologies to Jeff,

      The Laddie 10 was ok, but the Laddie classic (not the “classic Laddie”) that came before it was NAS before it was a four letter acronym and it was much better than the 10. I would easily trade my 2 10s for a laddie classic or 2…

  5. peter

    This is a 90+ for me. The nose may be 100! I really like this one and even more 7 months after opening the bottle preserved with gas.

  6. Robert

    By the way, I spent less yesterday for bottles of Laphroaig 15 and Cairdeas, Compass Box Oak Cross and Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel. These are really good whiskies, and I could have still picked up an okay bourbon (Evan Williams BIB) and had a few bucks left over.


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