Islay Barley 2009
Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Bruichladdich, one of the lesser known distilleries on the Isle of Islay, Scotland, differentiates itself by shredding conventions & focusing on the craft of distilling though multiple brands, experimental series, & a commitment to quality. The Islay Barley line is a showcase of the terroir of Islay with each vintage offering a unique character unlike any other expression, & therefore, unlike any other Whisky.
Distillate: 100% Malted Scottish Barley
Distillation Method: Pot Still
Age: 6 Years
Aging Method: American Oak
Adjunct: Unpeated, Non Chill Filtered, No Coloring
Bruichladdich’s Islay Barley series is an exploration into terroir; for example, the previous vintage, 2007, is said to have a more aggressive maritime character, as the farm used was right on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. For the 2009 release, four small farms in the middle of Islay were used, offering a warm & rich character. Bruichladdich is one of the few whisky producers focusing so much on terroir – they have organic farm releases, lines featuring different styles of barley, & different brands where the same principles are applied to peated whiskies & dry gin, the later of which contains 22 botanicals foraged on Islay in addition to 9 more classic botanicals found in other English styles.
The complexity in Bruichladdich’s classic range betrays the lack of peat, which speaks to the skill & care taken in its distillation. Let’s explore that complexity…
Islay Barley’s natural color is a pale but rich amber straw, free of a trace of wine finishes or heavy cask influence. Yet again, we see that this whisky is an unadulterated showcase of the terroir of Islay. On the aroma, the greatest note is the young malted barley, presenting with leather, earth, & brine, supported by under-ripe crisp apples, white grapes, & especially, orange zest. Bottling at 100 Proof provides a healthy punch of flavors to unravel.
On the palate, it opens with rich floral honey, but the barley notes quickly take over with a malty briney note that makes it almost musty, in the best way. There’s a note of aged barleywine: high ABV malty beer with just a bit of oak.
Perhaps the most striking thing about the taste is that, compared to a sweeter more delicate Speyside Scotch whisky, it tastes peated; there are notes of leather, vegetation, smoke, & brine. It’s intriguing, then, to know that it is an unpeated release – the more challenging notes must simply be the raw young barley.
The high proof contributes to a wonderful finish – a truly elegant punch of warmth & flavor gives way to lingering oils that dance in your mouth for a long time after swallowing to provide notes of fruity cereal & leather.
Adding a drop of water brings out a bittersweet punch of wood. Fans of bourbon might appreciate it but I’d rather it without.
The story of this whisky is as visible outside the bottle as it is on the taste found inside: the names of the farmers from whom the barley is sourced are more prominent than the description of the very product. Each sip of Islay Barley carries the story of a journey of passion that is often marketed but rarely realized. It’s a vibrant, fresh, raw spirit with an understated elegance that shows the competence of Bruichladdich, & I’m happy to be the final part of that jouney.