Black Art is an ongoing series of limited-edition releases from Bruichladdich—that much we know. Beyond that, and the ages of the whiskies, we don’t know a whole lot. And that’s how its master distillers (Jim McEwan, who was succeeded by Adam Hannett) want it. Nothing is revealed of how these whiskies were matured or in what kind of casks they were finished. What matters, they say, is how they taste. And this eighth edition of Black Art tastes delicious.
Classification single malt scotch
Company Remy Cointreau
Released 2020; limited to 12,000 bottles
Proof 90.2 (45.1% ABV)
Aged 26 years
For whisky fans who may find more experimental Bruichladdich expressions like Bere Barley or Octomore a little too weird, Black Art is a single malt in the classic style.
Black Art is proof that Islay distilleries can do more than make peaty smoke bombs. This is an unpeated gem that will appeal to fans of Highland and Speyside malts.
Black Art plays up the mystery of its cask aging, but it doesn’t taste too off-the-beaten-path, which may disappoint some followers who are expecting the unexpected.
The price is quite high for a whisky of this age and quality, even in an era of skyrocketing prices for aged single malts.
Color: Medium copper—many scotches contain caramel coloring to darken their hue, but Bruichladdich is not among them. The color here comes straight from the cask.
Nose: It’s rich and fruity on first whiff. Is it a wine-cask finish? But then a maritime salinity comes in which must be from sherry cask aging, right? The distillery isn’t saying.
Palate: A rich, rounded fruitiness reminiscent of port casks evolves into a dry, nutty salinity with candied-orange overtones. Vanilla and caramel indicate time in ex-bourbon casks, but there’s definitely a pronounced sherry presence here. Exactly how much, of course, is known only to Bruichladdich’s master distiller, and he’s not telling.
Finish: It’s very long, dry and somewhat oaky, but surprisingly gentle considering it’s spent more than a quarter-century in wood.
Black Art 1994 straddles two eras of Bruichladdich. It was distilled and laid down the year the distillery ceased production, not to resume until 2001, when Jim McEwan made it the iconoclastic and groundbreaking distillery it remains today. While Black Art plays up the mystery of its cask-aging, it doesn’t taste that mysterious. It’s certainly more restrained than the brand’s out-there offerings like Octomore and Port Charlotte. But all the same, it’s a beautifully executed whisky.
For a cask-strength expression, Edition 8.1 has a relatively low proof and is quite soft on the palate, as well. But it’s still quite flavorful, with ex-bourbon, sherry and possibly port or wine casks evident in the flavor profile. A whisky of this age and rarity (to say nothing of its price) is not meant for mixing, although it would likely make a lovely cocktail. Water and ice are also not necessary or recommended. It’s excellent as-is.
Black Art 8.1 is not what you might expect from an Islay whisky—it’s unpeated—or specifically a Bruichladdich, as it’s relatively restrained. But taken on its own terms, it delivers and then some.
The year 1994 was the end of the line for the old Bruichladdich. The distillery was mothballed that year due to a lack of demand for single malts that seems almost inconceivable today. Bruichladdich wouldn’t reopen until 2001, when Jim McEwan & Co. modernized the brand and started making the “Laddie” beloved by today’s scotch enthusiasts.
The Bottom Line
For a brand known for delivering way-out whiskies, Black Art 8.1 is quite reserved and gentle—and expensive. As some of the last whisky distilled before the distillery was closed for several years and then sold, it’s historically significant. It’s also an excellent aged single malt, helping to justify the cost.