Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Bruichladdich Laddie

Last Friday night, I had the pleasure of attending the Bruichladdich Whisky Tasting event held at the Hilton hotel along with two other D.T.W.C. members. The event was held by the Bruichladdich distillery to showcase their latest whisky bottlings. It was also used to broaden exposure of the Bruichladdich brand, which is a smaller and less renown distillery located on the Isle of Islay.

What I find interesting about Bruichladdich is not the strength in flavour or character of their whiskies, but rather the strategy of the business and how they have positioned themselves in the market. With the whisky industry currently undergoing strong growth globally, Bruichladdich seem to have differentiated themselves in their approach to the market. Most distilleries have a standard set of bottlings. For example, Glenfiddich have a 12 yr old, a 15 yr old, an 18 yr old, a 21 yr old and a 30 yr old. Changes to this line up are fairly infrequent. This seems to be the case across many of the distillers. Bruichladdich however, operate differently. Each year, new styles are released targeting those trends that appear to be emerging within the market.

Their newest release is a selection of three different whiskies named Water, Rocks, and Peat. Water is the easiest drinking of the three, with less flavour and strength. Peat, as the name suggests contains higher peat levels and obviously a stronger flavour. We were given a glass of Rocks to try on entry, which although pleasant enough to drink, lacked complexity and no lasting aftertaste. The idea however, is that these three whiskies provide enough variation in taste and flavour for any whisky drinker.

With distillers such as Ardbeg, Laphroig and Lagavulin increasing in popularity, Bruichladdich have noted that these are more heavily peated styles. They have concluded that a segment of the market is looking for a stronger, more heavily peated flavour. In response to this, they have released a bottling known as Octomore with peat levels nearly 3 times stronger then your average Ardbeg. We were fortunate enough to be given a sample of this to try, which was a wonderful experience, but made me realise that even I have limits to the levels of peatiness I can handle.

Each year they also release limited edition bottlings, which are aged in different styles of casks. This years bottling is known as Lafite and has been aged in French port wine casks. The flavour was definitely unique for whisky with strong tones of strawberry and honey. With only a limited set available they are popular with collectors. We were even told a story of two guys in China who buy 500 bottles of every limited edition release Bruichladdich make. Cool!

The result of this strategy obviously means a large number of different whiskies are constantly available, each of which caters for a specific taste. Bruichladdich appear to subscribe to the notion: ‘If you looking for a particular style of whisky, we have it!’

A recent trip into Vintage Cellars confirmed all of this. I was astonished to find at least 10 Bruichladdich bottlings. Typically you are likely to find only 2 or 3 for anyone else.

Can I say their whiskies are great - no. Would I recommend them - well the ones I tried anyway, not really. Still, that didn’t stop me from opening my wallet at the end of the evening to buy a couple of bottles (I’m sure in the not too distant future these will be opened at a D.T.W.C. meeting).

Bruichladdich’s strategy is definitely one of differentiation and they appear well placed to take advantage of the current growth in the industry. I look forward to seeing how the company fairs in the not too distant future and how much market share they can take from the major distillers.

El Capitan,