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Adventures in Batch Variation Madness

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@Nock
Nock started a discussion

It seems that most people expect for their whisk(e)y to stay the same from bottle to bottle. Whether it is their favorite blend, bourbon, rye, or standard single malt staple like Macallan or Lagavulin. It would be nice if that were the case . . . but it isn’t. My friendship with @Victor began many years ago in the discussion of his review of Ardbeg Uigeadail called a Tale of Two Uigeadails: connosr.com/ardbeg-uigeadail-whisky-review…

At the heart of this is the understanding that every single batch of whisky produced will always be different whether it is Ardbeg 10yo, Jack Daniels, or Johnnie Walker Black label. The goal of the master blender is to maintain consistency from batch to batch. And to the untrained eye this appears to occur. But I contend that the only true way to judge this is to actually have opened bottles of the same whisky (different batches) side by side. I assert that you will always find difference: some large and some small. Some for the better, others for the worse.

The saddest trend I see in whisky reviewing is for someone to review a particular bottle of whisky like Ardbeg Uigeadail, Highland Park 12yo, or Redbreast 12yo and give it a score as if it were definitive for their experience of that whisky. Batch variation occurs. If you like something or hate something chances are it will change in the next bottle.

If you are into exploring batches like I am then please share your experience of batch variation here.

2 months ago

13 replies

@Nock
Nock replied

Tonight I am diving into the deep end of batch variation analysis. Sure, it’s just Bruichladdich The Classic Laddy Scottish Barley at 50%. This is the current standard release of the Bruichladdich line. You can probably easily go pick it up. It is slightly more expensive than Ardbeg 10yo or Laphroaig 10yo. It doesn’t have an age statement on the bottle. So why bother?

Well I love what Bruichladdich is doing right now. The transparency of each batch is astounding. I have three batches that I am comparing tonight. Here is what they have told me about all three batches. I know it is a lot of information. Feel free to skip down:

Classic Laddie batch 17/078 bottled April 3rd 2017 : 76 casks, 4 vintages, 2 barley types; 4 cask types

13 casks, vintage 2006, barley type scottish mainland; usa bourbon barrel 1st fill

5 casks 2007 scottish mainland; spain ribera del duero red hogshead 1st fill

8 casks 2007 scottish mainland; usa bourbon barrel 1st fill

5 casks 2008 scottish mainland; french oak red wine hogshead 2nd fill

12 casks 2008 scottish mainland; usa bourbon barrel 3rd fill

10 casks 2009 scottish mainland organic; french oak red wine hogshead 2nd fill

23 casks 2009 scottish mainland; usa bourbon barrel 1st fill

Classic Laddie batch 17/347 bottled Dec. 5th 2017 : 83 casks, 4 vintages, 2 barley types; 8 cask types

2 casks 2006 scottish mainland; spain sherry butt (10 yrs) usa bourbon barrel (1 yr)

4 casks 2008 scottish mainland organic; usa bourbon barrel (7 yrs) spain sherry butt (3 yrs)

12 casks 2008 scottish mainland; usa bourbon barrel 1st fill

4 casks 2009 scottish mainland organic; france rhone red hogshead 4th fill

3 casks 2009 scottish mainland organic; france rivesaltes sweet red & white hogshead 3rd fill

23 casks 2009 scottish mainland; usa bourbon barrel 1st fill

1 casks 2010 scottish mainland organic; france rhone red hogshead 1st fill

4 casks 2010 scottish mainland organic; france jurancon white hogshead 1st fill

05 casks 2010 scottish mainland organic; france bordeaux pauillac red hogshead 1st fill

5 casks 2010 scottish mainland; usa bourbon barrel 1st fill

Classic Laddie batch 19/021 bottled Jan. 30th 2019 : 76 casks, 4 vintages, 3 barley types; 6 cask types

2 casks 2008 scottish mainland organic; usa bourbon barrel 2nd fill

2 casks 2008 scottish mainland; france bordeaux pauillac red hogshead 1st fill

3 casks 2009 scottish mainland organic; usa bourbon barrel 1st fill (4 yrs), france Bordeaux pauillac red hogshead 1st fill (6 yrs)

2 casks 2009 scottish mainland organic; usa bourbon barrel 2nd fill

3 casks 2009 scottish mainland; usa bourbon barrel 1st fill

3 casks 2009 scottish mainland; usa bourbon barrel 2nd fill

20 casks 2010 scottish mainland organic; usa bourbon barrel 1st fill

5 casks 2010 islay barley; spain ribeira del duero hogshead 1st fill

20 casks 2011 scottish mainland organic; usa bourbon barrel 1st fill

01 casks 2011 scottish mainland organic; france rivesaltes sweet hogshead 1st fill

05 casks 2011 scottish mainland organic; france bordeaux pessac leognan red hogshead 1st fill

10 casks 2011 scottish mainland; usa bourbon barrel 1st fill

The 19/021 has been open the longest. Followed by the 17/347. The 17/078 was just opened two nights ago.

In addition to these three batches (17/078, 17/347, 19/021) I also did three mixtures

A 50/50 mixture of 17/078, 17/347

A 50/50 mixture of 17/347, 19/021

And a 33/33/33 mixture of all three.

Which would my nose and palate delight in the most? All six variations were poured into glasses and marked by my wife (15mL pours each). So this is a semi blind tasting. Let the absurd descent into batch minutia madness begin.

Before I post my results. Take a guess: What would you guess will fare better? The individual batches, or the mixtures?

2 months ago 3Who liked this?

@casualtorture

19/021 definately sounds the most interesting to me. I'll be interested to know what you think!

2 months ago 1Who liked this?

@BlueNote
BlueNote replied

@Nock Where did you get this information? Is it online, or did you have to enquire directly with the company? I wish every distillery did this, preferably right on the bottle.

2 months ago 1Who liked this?

@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

@BlueNote Bruichladdich has a code on every bottle. If you enter it on their website it provides the information.

It's a way around the SWA's rules around putting more than one age on the label of a bottle.

2 months ago 4Who liked this?

@Nock
Nock replied

@BlueNote go to the Bruichladdich website. Click on the Bruichladdich line of bottles and then the Classic Laddy bottle. bruichladdich.com/laddie-shop/…

Then enter your bottle code. You can use your own bottle, or you can use one of the codes I have provided 17/347 or 17/078 or 19/021. Then it gives you all this wonderful information.

Sadly, this is a feature ONLY for the Classic Laddy. I hope they soon are able to provide the same information for the Port Charlotte 10yo. Most of their other release they give you information about the casks used. Just maybe not to the extent of this Classic Laddy recipe.

2 months ago 3Who liked this?

@Nock
Nock replied

To be clear I really didn’t have much of a reference point in the way of guessing for these batches and mixes. The one I was the most familiar with was the 19/021. It was the only one I guessed correctly. I did kill that bottle in about a month. Everything else is more or less new to me. Most all my guesses were wrong. But over all I can say that I am shocked by the results. Again, there is no substitute like a blind (or semi blind) tasting.

Now, please hear me: These are not my definitive scores for these whiskies. They are but humble impressions from 15mL pours in one 3 hour period. I like to have 3 to 4 tastings of a given bottle over the course of a year before I feel comfortable giving it a score.

One problem I have in scoring in a blind flight of 6 whiskies is that I always try to settle on the score of the lowest whisky first. Unfortunately, that does tend to skew the other whiskies (either high or low depending on the lowest scoring whisky). In this case, I think everything was skewed higher than what I might later score these whiskies. I will of course try another “unpeated” blind tasting with other sparing partners. That is the only way, in my opinion, to really hone-in-on a score for a whisky.

Anyway, here are my scores and impressions for this tasting:

Classic Laddie 50% MIX #3 17/078 +19/021+17/347 - This was my least favorite. It was blended specifically for this tasting. It actually came across very thin on the nose. The thinnest by far. The palate and finish were both OK: sweet barley, sour farm notes, some lemon and citrus. But, I would also say it had the least complexity of all 6. So lowest score (or tied for lowest) in every category. In hind sight it seems that adding more only served to stifle flavors. = 83

Classic Laddie 50% MIX #1 19/021+17/347 - I actually blended this MIX #1 a month ago and left it in a 125mL sample bottle. When I first did this mixture it beat out both of the individual bottles and my open bottle of Islay Barley 2009. I had high hopes for it. Who knows why I liked it so much back in early September? Last night this was sweeter and thicker on the nose than MIX #3. It had sour farm, citrus, and sweet barley sugars. Over all a middle of the road dram. A standard “B” for me. Not one to tur away, nor one to stand out. = 85

Classic Laddie 50% 17/078 (2017/04/03) - This is a fresh bottle that I just opened on Thursday night. So it might hopefully improve with some air. My impression tonight is that it was thicker than MIX#1 (and #3). It wasn’t as sweet on the palate as MIX #3 but there was so much more going on in the midrange. Much better than either MIX #3 or MIX #1. This is a bottle to be pleased with. It felt like it was in a neck-and-neck race with the next two. Obviously, it lost, but it is a really good malt dominant whisky with earth, farm, barley, brown sugar, and some leather. I really hope this bottle improves with air time. = 88

Classic Laddie 50% MIX #2 17/078+17/347 - This original came in the third glass in my blind flight after the lowest scoring two (MIX #3 and MIX #1). Each glass was a thicker more dense experience. My first notes on this glass were, “This is the one to beat.” It was amazingly thick in the midrange with wonderful farm notes (animals, bars, grass, hay, feed). It was sweet, thick, rich, wonderfully complex and a fantastic balance from nose to finish. I really liked this glass. It was the most farmy of the night – a style I really enjoy. I am tempted to score it higher. = 89

Classic Laddie 50% 17/347 (2017/12/05) - This was the single most shocking nose of the night. It nosed like a much higher ABV whisky. If I hadn’t know better I would have sworn that this was 55% ABV or so. There was a lot of intense citrus high soprano tones. Every thing was high and soaring. My only complaint was the lack of a low end. Several others had nice low end bass tones. This was all in your face soaring soprano. At first I put it really low in my preference order. But the more I compared them side by side the more this one climbed the ranks. Lots of citrus zest, barley sugar, and malt. It is one I came to appreciate. Glad I have several more bottles of this. = 90

Classic Laddie 50% 19/021 (2019/01/30) - This was the clear winner by a long shot. Why? The nose was the most unique of them all. This was a clear example of finding “peat” in the unpeated Bruichladdich. It could most certainly be called a very “earthy” quality. I wrote down earth with whispers of peat. There was some farm, but not as much as others. It was mostly this wonderful malt and barley with rich earth, sweetness, light peat, leather, oak, and a touch of farm. I called it “Islay in a glass” in my notes. This was my first bottle of the Classic Laddie. It was opened the longest. But I knew I liked it better than 17/347 when I first opened that bottle. That first night I was tasting them side by side my wife said that they were about the same on the nose . . . but she said that clearly this was far superior on the finish. This was the only one I guessed correctly blind. I agree that all around this is a far superior whisky to everything else tonight. I am sad that I only have one more bottle of this fantastic batch. I was tempted to score it a 94 which seem insane to me. But it is so far above the others in my book. = 93?

My take away from this experience.

1.) Batch variation is very real.

2.) I clearly like batch 19/021 bottled on Jan. 30th 2019 the best. It is probably still in stores. If you are interested in Bruichladdich I don’t think this will disappoint you. That said, I doubt anyone will score it a 94. But I could see a lot of people scoring it in the high 80’s and calling it a great example of the Classic Laddy. It is a very good example of what this distillery can achieve. I have probably scored it a bit high tonight. But I think it will end up in the low 90's for me.

3.) I am shocked by how much I disliked the different batch mixes.

4.) The importance of giving a bottle time to be open and breath. A few weeks ago I would have told you that batch 17/347 (2017/12/05) really wasn’t that good. I am shocked at how well it did. That said, it is VERY different from the other two batches. I now need to put both open bottles of 2017 at the back of my cabinet and wait a few months. I hope that 17/078 (2017/04/03) improves even beyond 17/347. We will see.

2 months ago 4Who liked this?

@BlueNote
BlueNote replied

@Nock Very helpful. I'll be heading to the liquor store tomorrow in search of 19/021. Thanks for your considerable efforts here.

2 months ago 3Who liked this?

@Nock
Nock replied

This time in batch variation nonsense I am going to look at Elijah Craig Barrel Proof or ECBP

For those of you unfamiliar here is a brief overview:

This release has always carried a 12 year age statement – first on the back label, and now on the side label. It has been regularly released three times a year from Heaven Hill beginning in 2013. The 21st release in the series hit shelves around September and October of this year. Originally there was no way to track the batches except by proof. Starting in early 2017 they began indicating the batch numbers on the front label: A117, B517, C917. The letter stands for the release. The first number stands for the month of release and the last two numbers indicate the year: B= 2nd release of the year; 5 = May; 17 = 2017.

I have managed to get my greedy hands on at least one bottle from each batch except for #3 (66.6%), and #16 (65.3% A118). My own personal experience has been that all the early batches were extremely good. Thanks to @Victor I did get a sample of Batch #3 (66.6%). I have only disliked two batches: #4 (66.2%) and #7 (64%). I was extremely impressed with Batches #8, #9, #10, and #11. I have one unopened bottle of #12 that I have been saving. Starting with Batch #13 (A117) they changed bottle designs and began the current batch designations.

So, how are things going now? I just decided to do a large ECBP blind tasting of all the recent release A117, B517, C917, (missing A118), B518, C918, A119, B519, and C919.

Here are my thoughts and grades:

1st thought – they all scored extremely closely on the nose. There is a single characteristic that seems to run through them all: baked brown sugar, crumble cake, and a kind of hot cast iron stove. So just know those three notes are in almost every single batch.

ECBP 12yo 67.6% (19th) A119 – This one was a surprise by how low it scored. It nosed really well. There might have been some distant cherries in the background, but really good nose. The problem came on the palate: super dry, bitter and thin. The finish was worse: bitter oak, burnt embers, thin, dry, and perfumey. There is currently 3 fingers in my bottle and it has been that way for at least 5 months. I scored it 87 when I first opened the bottle in February. Then it was a 94 in May, and again a 94 in August. My guess is that it oxidized too much in the bottle since August. So that could be the issue. I do have two more bottles in reserve so I will have to give this one another shot before I totally write it off. The score would have been much lower if the nose hadn’t been so good. = 82

ECBP 12yo 62.1% (14th) B517– This originally was the lowest scoring nose of the night. I liked it, but it didn’t have the characteristic ECBP nose noted above. Rather, this had distinct notes of leather and formaldehyde. I have picked up those notes in batch #9 I believe. I actually liked it. But the nose was a bit thinner than the rest without the thick rich sweetness in the midrange. The palate was bitter wood and seemed over oaked. No sweetness to speak of. The finish was better than the palate, but not as good as the nose. Again some bitter oak, but then balanced slightly with some brown sugar sweetness. Certainly better than A119, but near the bottom of enjoyment. = 84

It is entirely possible that both of these two low scoring batches were over oxidized and so became bitter with an abundance of wood tannin. In my experience this happens to bourbons that get too much air. The rest of the batches seemed to avoid this bitter wood taint.

ECBP 12yo 61.1% (20th) B519 – Now we jump up to the good ones. This scored really well on the nose. There was a cluster of these that all seemed to be about the same with only extremely miniscule difference. The only thing I might add about this one is that there was a hint of lemon peel that almost none of the others had. The palate was a bit thinner than the others – which seems obvious now given that it was the lowest proof of the night. The finish had more spices than sweetness. It was over all a good bourbon. Well balanced. There just wasn’t much that stood out and impressed you, or grabbed your attention. I believe Its Bourn Night’s Chad and Sara called it the best batch of the year. = 90

ECBP 12yo 66.7% (17th) B518 – This was the first whisky in my line up. What was most different about it to me is that in addition to the standard notes I also got some notes of cinnamon and red hots. I really liked the palate with tons of spice and a medium sweetness. The finish was also super spicy. It hit really hard, but then totally backed off . . . only to return in waves like the tide coming in. Overall another well balanced batch that moved toward the balanced but spicy side. = 91

ECBP 12yo 65.5% (15th) C917 – I ended up calling it a tie between this and B518. Where that was first in the line-up the was the last glass. A really great medium sweet palate with a very luxurious mouth feel. The finish was much bigger than B518 and seemed to last longer. Both are excellent and I am splitting hairs. = 91

ECBP 12yo 68.4% (21st) C919 – This is the newest release. I have only had my bottle open for about two weeks. So it is clearly the freshest of the night. Still, it was impossible to tell. Same standard notes as the others (brown sugar, crumble cake, cast-iron). But then a sweet maple syrup note. This was super thick on the nose. It was extremely rich and complex. Originally I had it as my second favorite nose of the night on my first pass. On the second pass it dropped to 2nd place. The palate is the only place where it fell slightly short of the next two. It was a bit thinner with notes of fruits and something slightly sour. The finish was excellent again with huge thick brown sugar sweetness, fire, spice, and some non-descript fruits. Very long. An excellent bourbon. = 92

ECBP 12yo 65.7% (18th) C918 – To me this batch has seemed to divide people. When it first came many people were saying it was better than B518 which was winning awards. Others thought it was too hot. For me this came third in the blind line up. I remember getting to this glass and thinking I was in serious trouble. #1 (B518) and #2 (B519) were both nosing extremely well . . . and then this one! All excellent. The more time I spent with this the more it seemed to change and evolve on the nose. On the nose scoreing it was right in the middle of the pack. Where it took off was on the palate: huge, complex, thick, rich, sweet without being too sweet and spicy without being too spicy. But the finish . . . wow . . . massive explosion of flavors: big blast of spice, brown sugar, allspice, nutmeg, cast iron and that crumble cake. And it just lasted forever. It was a fantastic batch from nose to finish. = 93

ECBP 12yo 63.5% (13th) A117 – This batch was the 5th whiskies nosed and tasted. The nose quickly leapt out to an early lead. It had incredible depth and sweetness. There was a ton of maple syrup in addition to the standard notes. It was out to an early lead, and on my first pass I put it in first place ahead of C919. But on the second pass I declared this my 2nd favorite nose of the night behind C919. It was only by a hair. The differences were so small on the nose. But on the palate . . . thickest most velvety and viscous mouth feel of the night. The finish was a huge blast of brown sugar, crumble, cast-iron and fruit. It was overwhelmingly thick, rich and powerful. I loved it. I am glad I tasted this one blind. If you had asked me which batch I expected to score the lowest . . . I would have said A117. I have scored it 6 times with an average score of 88. This is the highest score I have ever given it. And I guarantee that the next time I taste it the score will likely be much lower. What can you do? This night in this order this particular batch came out on top. That is the beauty of tasting blind. 94

My take away from this experience:

1.) In general these are all solid releases. The individual taster might have a slight preference for one batch over another, but in general you can’t go wrong with any of them.

2.) I think that too much air (over six months below the half-way mark) can cause them to turn bitter and overly wood dominant.

ECBP is my favorite standard (and hard to find) bourbon release. More and more I find my bourbon style preference drifting from Buffalo Trace and toward Heaven Hill. I almost didn’t buy batch #1 when I first saw it on the shelf. I called @Victor who convinced me to give it a go. I am so glad I did. With the exception of the newest release I have tasted most of these batches multiple times. I would put most them with an average around a 91 or 92.

Here is a picture of the line-up. Not sure if you can see, but I have two closed bottles of each batch. I also have a few single bottles of a few of the earlier batches. (#2, #6, #11 and #12).

My dream is to someday host a tasting where several like-minded individuals can sit with me around a table and we can open about 12 of these batches and try them all blind together – and then declare a winner. Obviously, it will be a difficult job: 12 bottles of high proof bourbon blind in one sitting. The only differences will be slight nuances and personal preference. Sounds like a silly exercise. Any takers?

18 days ago 4Who liked this?

@Victor
Victor replied

@Nock excellent comprehensive information about ECBP. I hope that others take advantage of how much succinctly presented useful background knowledge you have presented here. Thank you very much for doing this.

You know I'll sample a dozen of these with you. Just not after we've already sampled 20 other whiskies first, please!!!

18 days ago 2Who liked this?

@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

@Nock yes yes yes.

18 days ago 1Who liked this?

@OdysseusUnbound

Wow !! How did I miss this thread? Great idea! And fwiw, The Classic Laddie is about $25-$30 cheaper than Ardbeg Ten here in Ontario, and the Laddie is about the same price as Laphroaig 10, depending on the day one checks the KGBO website. I'm convinced they have a thousand monkeys sitting at a thousand typewriters (keyboards?) setting the prices sometimes.

I've owned about 4 bottles of Classic Laddie over the past 2 years or so and while I've never done a side by side, they're often very different whiskies. The biggest variants I've found is in the prominence of "brine" or saltiness in the dram and the level of "earthy, farmy" note you mention.

18 days ago 1Who liked this?

@BlueNote
BlueNote replied

@OdysseusUnbound I guess they are not doing an unpeated OB 10 year old anymore except for those very occasional 10 year old Limited Editions. So the NAS (6 or 7 year old?) Classic Laddie is now the entry point for Bruichladdich. A bit disappointing.

17 days ago 1Who liked this?

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@OdysseusUnbound@Victor

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