Black Art was always Jim McEwan’s baby. If you’ve ever been privy to one of his Bruichladdich tastings, you’d know he prizes this expression dearly. Said tastings also usually involved a recitation of a story involving Heidi Klum, but we’ll leave that one for Jim’s telling. The crux of the tale, though, is that the Black Art recipe is really not meant for mortal eyes. Everything about its mad design is hush hush, as the alchemy behind its creation was supposedly Jim’s most dearly held secret, meant for him and him alone. Until he took Laddie’s current head distiller, Adam Hannett, under his wing, that is. Now, a few years removed from Jim’s Bruichladdich exeunt, the Black Art magic lives on under Adam’s watchful eye.
So, what is the BA secret? Lemme see how best I can relate this (in typical cheeky fashion, of course)…
Can you imagine spending decades of your life working your way through the degrees of some Dan Brown Templar-esque secret society; pouring countless amounts of tithe money into the organization; sacrificing any precept of self-gratification through secret-slipping…and finally, finally, getting to the root of it all. Finally reaching that apex moment of great revelation only to discover it’s little more than…the Caramilk Secret? That’s kinda what we have here. I know we’re supposed to be wowed by this esoteric bit of alchemical concocting, but honestly…Bruichladdich’s Black Art is really just a cuvee of various wine casks. Yep. That’s the big secret. So be it. But hey…At least the packaging is cool.
And to be fair, in the typical Bruichladdich drive for transparency, we are given both vintage and age statement here. 1990 distillate, 26 years old. Of course, there could be older spirit in here, but it almost certainly wouldn’t be by much.
This is edition 6.1. And unlike the decimal series used for Octomore, the BA releases are limited to the .1’s. Ergo, this is the sixth version of Black Art we’ve seen, and the second version released since Jim McEwan moved on. Jim’s protege, Adam, is a talented dude, no two ways about it. He’s also got a little of the McEwan showman in him. But the spiel means nothing if the juice he’s barking about ain’t got the bite to back it up. And Black Art definitely has bite. While Jim’s creations (the large majority of them, anyway) tended to be all about bombast and boldness, there seems to be a little more nuance to Adam’s approach. In short, he might have a slightly more subtle palate than Jim. Easy, now…I said more subtle; I didn’t speak qualitatively on either distiller. I’m a junkie for Bruichladdich. You guys know that. I love both these cats.
But Black Art? Meh. Not my cup of wine-soaked whisky, if I’m being honest.
Nose: Always so jammy and sweet on the nose. But there is a faint hint of struck match too. Peppered berries. Raspberries in milk chocolate. A bit of artificial florality. Strawberry shortcake. The toasted (maybe crisped) top of a crème brulee. The fruit and spice are in nice harmony. And there is a neat old dusty, dunnage note buried in there too. It’s just the dissonance of too much wine that is like the squeal of an out of tune violin in an otherwise pleasant orchestral arrangement.
Palate: Sweet arrival, then wham! There’s the wine. A lot of fruit happening here. And less tannic than expected; in fact, it stays rather mouthwatering. That would be those bush berry flavours again (mostly raspberry again…what kind of wine casking was this?!) A brief hint of cedar (almost humidor-esque). Some more spice and some herb (cracked pepper and maybe a whiff of fennel). This is the softer side of the Laddie wine work, but it’s still too heavy for me.
Finish: Altogether too much of that weird, sour wine tang. And it takes way too long to fade. A little bit of green grape and oak at the end. Maybe some lychee.
Thoughts: These whiskies are lost on me. I appreciate some of the individual notes (especially those that scream of age!), but the whole is a bit of a cacophony for me.
80/100 (I concede it’s not awful, but it’s just not for me. 80 seems fair)
I always thought the brooding, arcane, black metal imagery would have worked better on Octomore than on this type of whisky. Good review and interesting points about the differences between Jim and Adam’s styles, I think it shows in their outward personalities.
I have never been a big fan of the Black Arts releases, I find it too heavy, where the pleasant dunnage and musky fruit notes from the old casks are suffocated by the excessive tannic spice, dried fruit and berries of the wine casks.
That said I actually found myself smiling while having a dram of this 6.1 (after a couple of terrible new releases…the new Glenrothes 18 among them). It still has wine cask re-racking but somehow there is this pleasant freshness, it lifts the whole thing up, it breathes and is more open then previous editions.
That said it’s not my preferred style and still wouldn’t buy a bottle of this despite my love for Bruichladdich.
Agreed on almost all fronts. I’ll still drink it, but I won’t be buying it.