Bruichladdich 21 Year Old Cuvée 640 Eroica
Bruichladdich Cuvée 640 was the first of three whiskies released under the distillery’s Cuvée series, which are finished in a range of specialty casks. This edition 640 is entitled Eroica, and was aged primarily in American oak before being finished in Limousin oak brandy casks (i.e., French oak cognac casks).
The Cuvee series seems to be a little fanciful, given the unusual titles. Eroica (‘Heroic’ in english) is presumably a reference to Beethoven’s 3rd symphony (a great piece of music, by the way). This symphony was apparently intended as a tribute to Napolean – so I’m guessing this is the tenuous connection to the use of cognac casks here.
Bruichladdich has also provided subtitles to each release – in this case, ‘Oh mensch! Gieb acht! Was spricht die tiefe mitternacht?’, which is the opening line from a song in Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra (which Google Translate renders as: ‘Oh man! Take care! What is the deep midnight?’). FYI, this influential philosophical novel addressed among other things the concept of ‘eternal return’ (i.e., that all existence is recurring). I suppose this could be a veiled reference to re-using specialty casks for finishing whisky – but if so, I find it an ironic one, given this series is a limited release. 😉
Although an Islay producer, many of Bruichladdich’s offerings are based on unpeated malt – including these Cuvee editions. Bottled at 46% ABV, this release was originally available for ~$140 CAD, from what I understand. My sample was provided by the Redditor xile_, as a mystery sample swap.
Here is how it compares to similar offerings, and Bruichladdich’s unpeated range:
Bruichladdich 21yo Cuvée 382 La Berenice: 8.57 ± 0.61 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
Bruichladdich 21yo Cuvée 407 PX: 8.98 ± 0.20 on 3 reviews ($$$$$+)
Bruichladdich 21yo Cuvée 640 Eroica: 8.72 ± 0.40 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Bruichladdich Classic Laddie Scottish Barley: 8.39 ± 0.44 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Bruichladdich Laddie Classic (Edition 01): 8.42 ± 0.56 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Bruichladdich Laddie Ten: 8.82 ± 0.30 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Bruichladdich Laddie Ten (Second Edition): 8.89 ± 0.27 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Bruichladdich Laddie Sixteen: 8.75 ± 0.22 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Bruichladdich Laddie Twenty Two: 8.85 ± 0.25 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Bruichladdich Rocks: 8.36 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Bruichladdich Sherry Classic: 8.25 ± 0.86 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Aberlour 16yo Double Cask Matured: 8.71 ± 0.18 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Napoleon Cognac Finish: 8.70 ± 0.73 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Glenlivet 15yo French Oak: 8.38 ± 0.25 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Macallan 15yo Fine Oak: 8.38 ± 0.52 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan 17yo Fine Oak: 8.80 ± 0.55 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan 18yo Fine Oak: 8.82 ± 0.31 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan 21yo Fine Oak: 8.52 ± 0.40 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Macallan 25yo Fine Oak: 8.64 ± 0.24 on 3 reviews ($$$$$+)
Macallan Edition No. 1: 8.81 ± 0.47 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan Edition No. 2: 8.81 ± 0.24 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Millstone 8yo French Oak: 7.95 ± 0.67 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Sullivans Cove Double Cask: 8.28 ± 0.52 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Sullivans Cove French Oak: 8.67 ± 0.28 on 8 reviews ($$$$$+)
The Cuvee series expressions are well ranked, as you might expect from their age and price.
Here is what I find in the glass:
Colour: Golden amber, with a slight brownish tinge (suggesting the cask finishing).
Nose: Honey and vanilla sweetness, with apple, pear and peach fruit notes (peach marmalade/cobbler). Definitely has that unpeated Islay “funk” – it is hard to describe, but is distinctive. Grassy, and something that could be hay (wet hay, specifically). Chocolate, coffee and a touch of mint. Some faint anise. A bit of nose hair singe, more than I would expect for 46% ABV. Although there is no smoke, you can’t shake the impression that it is hiding in the background somewhere. A good nose for me.
Palate: Sweet apple initially (apple juice), then lots of honey, marshmallow, and vanilla. Same orchard fruits as the nose, plus apricot now. Spicy, with cinnamon and a good hit of pepper giving it some zing. Malty and grassy. Chocolate and coffee notes really pick up at the end. Slightly oily and chewy – good mouthfeel. A slight antiseptic note slips over the tongue at the end – and that Islay funk again (but still no smoke).
Finish: Medium finish. Sweeter notes slowly fade, as some oaky bitterness creeps in over time. Pepper lasts the longest. Something a bit earthy/nutty comes up at the end (and that funk again).
With water, no new fruits appear, but it sweetens up in the mouth with pancake syrup and brown sugar. It also brings up the chocolate and cinnamon spice further.
To be honest, I would have expected more fruit from the cognac here. Instead, it is really the French oak wood character that comes through. As Serge of Whisky Fun also noted, “very little Cognac but maybe a few spicy notes that hint at French oak … so less fruits and more grass.” Definitely has a lot of spicy peppery zing to it.
This is an interesting pairing of the Bruichladdich core with French oak casks. I’ve been meaning to start trying more Bruichladdies, and this has just reinforced that idea. It could use a little more fruit character throughout, so I think the Meta-Critic average score is reasonable for this one (and if anything, is a bit high).
It gets very mixed reviews from the guys at Quebec Whisky, with Patrick and Martin as fans, but Andre and RV less impressed. Serge at Whisky Fun also gives it a middle-of-the-road review. Among the most favourable reviews on Reddit are from t8ke, unclimbability and xile_ – but my own quality assessment is closer to cjotto9.