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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.

11 days ago

7 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?

11 days ago 2Who liked this?

@casualtorture

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

11 days 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.

10 days 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.

10 days ago 3Who 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.

10 days ago 2Who 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.

10 days ago 3Who 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.

10 days ago 3Who liked this?

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@Victor

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