There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors in the whisky world, but Bruichladdich is usually a reliable beacon of transparency in this otherwise lacking industry. Which is what makes the annual Black Art release that much more tantalizing—the distillery won’t reveal what the makeup of the casks are used to mature this high-end, ultra-aged single malt.
You might ponder this opaqueness and think to yourself, “Who cares?” Well, a great deal of the flavor of scotch is derived from the barrels it’s aged in, or even the majority of it according to some experts, along with the color. That latter part is especially true when it comes to Bruichladdich, a distillery that does not add any color to its whisky. So given the intense focus on terroir and how it applies to everything from origin of barley to barrel type, why are the oaky origins of Black Art not revealed? According to the distillery, this is to give head distiller Adam Hannett “complete creative freedom.” And, accordingly, the Black Art releases have been rather delicious and creatively satisfying, so however the whisky is being matured is working. “It allows me to take risks and explore the realms of possibility,” said Hannett in a statement. “Whisky making relies on the harmonious marriage between cask and spirit, and Black Art 10 is a celebration of the extraordinary things that can happen when we abandon the detail and simply appreciate and enjoy the flavor.”
And the whisky has been aging for decades, because the Black Art releases have been culled from “pre-Renaissance” whisky stocks, as the distillery likes to term it. That means whisky made before the original distillery shut down in 1994 and reopened again in 2000. The current edition, Black Art 10, is a 29-year-old single malt whisky (1993 vintage) bottled at 45.1 percent ABV and distilled from unpeated malt. That last point is an important one to know, because while Bruichladdich’s core expression, The Classic Laddie, is unpeated the distillery is famous for its intensely peated whiskies—the Port Charlotte range, and the smoky blaze that is the annual Octomore range of whiskies.
Beyond all that info… well, there’s not a whole lot to say about this whisky as far as production details. The official tasting notes describe orange, ginger and lemon meringue pie, followed by apricot and marzipan on the palate. There are also notes of coconut, chocolate, cinnamon and vanilla with a healthy dose of toasted oak. The price of Black Art 10 is $699, which is par for the course with a release this old and limited. Indeed, the distillery says that the pre-Renaissance whisky barrels are a finite resource, which by the laws of physics they must be, although it’s not revealed what that really means. Regardless, this is a single malt whisky that won’t disappoint. The launch has been delayed a bit in the US, but it should start showing up at retailers in the coming weeks.