Islanders carried children on their shoulders to witness the historic moment. They lined the Islay shore to watch the reopening of Bruichladdich, Scotland's most westerly distillery. There were tears of joy, a ceilidh, and fireworks at midnight. That was less than six months ago, so how can there already be three "new" whiskies from Bruichladdich?
The new owners, headed by Mark Reynier, of the London wine-shop group La Reserve, bought the distillery with plenty of maturing stock. Like many distilleries, Bruichladdich has a miscellany of former bourbon barrels and sherry butts, some containing their first fill of Scotch whisky, others their second or third. In any distillery, the selection of casks to make a bottling is critical. On the new team at Bruichladdich, this task is in the hands of veteran Islay whisky-maker Jim McEwan.
In his first "vatting", McEwan has juggled casks to shake off the notion that Bruichladdich is almost too mild to be an Islay whisky. The whisky has long combined light, firm maltiness with suggestions of passion fruit, seaweed and salt. McEwan's new 10-year-old Bruichladdich (at around £25.99) is fruitier, fresher, and positively zesty, its flavours unmasked by the use of second-fill casks. Oloroso sherry wood imparts some sweet creaminess and peppery power to the 15-year-old (£31.50). The 20-year-old, with two decades of sea-salt in its nose, is given vivacity and balance by first-fill bourbon casks (£57.50).
¿ Why they laughed when I tasted the new Highballs, I'm not sure. All three are mildly alcoholic £3.49 mixers from Marks & Spencer, whose sweet-toothed Lambrini-girl customers clearly lap these up. Described as "an exotic blend of white rum and fruit juices", the Pineapple Rum and Lime Highball is rather seductive, a sort of cream soda with a tropical, made-to-make- your-mouth-water fruitiness backed up by a sharp pineappley tang which makes the whole thing palatable. Peach Schnapps and Redcurrant was all very peachy and much sweeter, and I didn't go a bundle either on the Pink Grapefruit, Vodka and Mandarin, although I could see, through a glass darkly, its sherbety attractions.