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Bruichladdich Black Art

Review: Bruichladdich Black Art   95.5/100
1989 Single Malt Scotch Whisky (19 Years Old)
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted May 4, 2010

Bruichladdich (Pronunciation = Brook Laddie) distillery was built in 1881 on Hebridean Isle, in what is now known as the Islay region of Scotland. It was one of many distilleries, which despite its long history and tradition of whisky making, was closed in 1994 due to industry consolidation. The distillery no longer produced whisky, but the existing stocks left inside continued to age. The good news is that on 19th December, 2000, the distillery was purchased by a small band of investors. It was  renovated, reopened, and on May 21, 2001 the distillery once again began to distill whisky.

This small band of investors has proceeded to turn the Scottish whisky world upside down. They love to blend and bottle their whisky in small artisan production runs using a multitude of unique finishing casks. Borrowing ideas from their own past experiences, they are bringing to market a variety of one of a kind whiskies, the like of which the Scottish Whisky World has never seen before.

The Bruichladdich 1989 Black Art is just such a bottling. Master Blender, Jim McEwan, used 1989 Vintage whisky stocks and a secret combination of wine finishing casks to create this unusual Vintage Single Malt Whisky. Although I have tried to find out which types of wine casks were used to finish this whisky, my research was to no avail. Apparently, Mr McEwan didn’t allow anybody to see. All we know is what is written on the bottle, which is where I will start this review….

In the Bottle 5/5

I wish I had more skill in picture-taking as this photograph of the Bruichladdich Black Art does not do justice to the work of art that this whisky presentation embodies. We have a sleek black canister and bottle each decorated with a six-sided star (Hexagram) bearing symbols (they look like glyphs)  meant to represent the reconciliation of fire and water, which is whisky. I showed the bottle to a group of  friends at a recent tasting and the reaction was unanimous. This was the most stunning whisky bottle any of them had ever seen!

In the Glass 9.5/10

A surprise greeted my senses when I poured my first dram of Black Art. First the colour, with its reddish hue in the glass, and the darker brown tints of colour. This looks more like an aged port wine than a whisky. Then the legs which shaped themselves into tiny rivulets that refused to crawl down the side of the glass. Instead they just hung there suspended at the top of the oily film as if they were children’s legs dangling from a pier. And finally the nose, it is almost like a rich aged port wine, cherries and grapes exploding out of the glass followed by dried fruits and firm oak.  Yet in spite of that description, this nose has the  unmistakable aroma of a rich whisky.

In the Mouth 57.5/60

A whisky with 51.1 per cent alcohol by volume packs quite a punch! And that punch is full of concentrated flavours. These flavours practically leap into the mouth out of the whisky. Wine filled cherries and grapes take the lead pushed forward by a firm smoke, filled with raisins,  prunes and dried apricots. I taste baked apples with spices of cinnamon and sweetened with brown sugar. Within this array of flavour the whisky carries a mild seawater brine with traces of iodine.

I find the complexity staggering. I taste all the goodness of fine sherry;  I taste the richness of an aged port wine; yet what I taste most is whisky! I taste a great Whisky!

In the Throat 14/15

The finish is wonderful. It carries perhaps a touch more brine  and smoke than the entry. The brine in particular seems to burrow into the back of the palate in a most delightful way.  Cherries and grapes leave lasting impressions, as well as a nice soft sweetness in the throat. It takes a drop of water or two to bring the burn down to a manageable level, but to punish what amounts to a cask strength whisky for having a nice solid punch in the throat is unfathomable.

The Afterburn  9.5/10

I am so glad that I tasted Black Art when I did. First, because I was able to run back to the liquor store and grab the last two bottles before they were sold out. And also, because I was able to put my thoughts down on my blog before the review could be tainted by any other information except for what I taste.  I have seen no tasting notes for the whisky, and I have not had a single person tell me what to expect. This review is about as pure as a review can be. As for the whisky, it is about as good as a whisky can be.

Jim McEwan may well have perfected the Black Art!

You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.


Suggested Cocktail

Somehow it seems fitting to go against the grains of convention, and to suggest a cocktail for this particular whisky.  Just because I scored this whisky 95.5 out of 100 doesn’t mean I can’t find other ways to enjoy and relish its goodness. After all, the guys at Bruichladdich have made their reputations going against convention, so I am sure they will understand.

That is not to say that you should not sip Bruichladdich Black Art Single Malt Whisky straight. You should! You should also sip it with a dash of water to settle the burn, but occasionally, you should also indulge yourself in the rites of exploration and experimentation in keeping with the heritage of the Bruichladdich Distillery.

My suggested cocktail is a variation on my old friend, The Godfather! The recipe for the Godfather is simple: two parts whisky, one part Amaretto (simple yet elegant). My tweaks to the recipe are very minor. I changed the Whisky to Amaretto ratio to 4:1 and I added a simple garnish. The only proviso I make in my construction of the cocktail is that I implore any who follow my suggestion to use an Amaretto of top quality as befits the Black Art whisky.

I also gave the cocktail a new name, The Warlock.

The Warlock
(a cocktail variation of the Godfather for Bruichladdich Black Art Whisky)

2 oz Bruichladdich Black Art Whisky
1/2 oz  Amaretto
Thin Slice of Lemon

Build on Ice in Small Rock Glass
Garnish With a Thin Slice of Lemon

(I have been known to add an ice-cube or two on a hot day.)

And Remember, my aim is to help you drink better, not to help you drink more!


As always you may interpret the scores I provide as follows.

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74   Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79   You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84   We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89   Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94   Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+        I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be more familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)


5 Responses to “Bruichladdich Black Art”

  1. Mike said

    I just bought a bottle of Bruichladdich Peat and the little pamphlet that comes in the tin has a quote from you, Chip.

    • Cool, I did not know that I was being quoted. What did I say that they felt was worthy of repeating?

      • Max said

        It was your “In the Mouth” quote from above. I read it in the booklet and found this review! I bought 7 bottles (mixed) from the distillery after a tour on Islay in July. Had a great afternoon working my way through a few tastings. A few bottles of Black Art available online I see – may have to indulge. Thanks for a great review.

  2. trampus said

    I see you’ve done the brand, just wondering if you’ll be doing their Rum Cask anytime. Seems like it’d be right up your alley.!1166

    • The problem with the Bruichladdich Rum Cask Bottlings is that they do not seem to be consistent from region to region. I have tasted two different 18 Year Rum Cask finishes and one 16 year Bottling. The variance between all of the bottles was large. (I see the link you gave me was for a 17 year which is probably completely different again.) As a result any review I could offer could be quite misleading.

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