It’s 10.30 on a Sunday morning and we’re sat in a warehouse alongside 430 other enthusiasts with six cask-strength Bruichladdich whiskies sat in front of us. Welcome to the 2014 Jim McEwan Masterclass.

As far removed from a typical whisky tasting as I’ve experienced, we had stories from Jim, music from Robin Laing and Norma Munro and tributes to Duncan McGillivray the General Manager of Bruichaddich who is due to retire next month.

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Jim McEwan and Duncan McGillivray

We started on a high point with a 30 year old from a first fill bourbon cask. With a natural strength of 49.3%, this was whisky of the highest quality – beautiful honey flavours, creamy, zesty and a long smooth finish; a great opener.

The second was even more special. A ‘Black Art’ whisky created by Jim specifically for the masterclass, this one had no tasting notes apart from that the strength was 51.4(ish). It was sweet and smooth and my guess is a wine cask, perhaps a burgundy.

We were on European Oak for the third dram, a 28-year old sherry monster from a Pedro Ximenez. This was a proper meaty whisky, with the thick sulphury tastes you’d normally associate with Mortlach or Aultmore.

A 2001 Port Charlotte was up next and this was fantastic. Rich, smoky and full flavoured, it has the ‘baconiness’ I normally associate with Bowmore.

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Masterclass sample selection

Number five was the big one – the latest envelope-pushing Octomore which was being released for the Feis. Titled 1695 Discovery, this was the first quadruple distilled whisky produced in about 320 years and is a bit of a monster.

A seven year old whisky bottled at 69.5%, this should have been undrinkable but was actually unbelivably smooth and very pleasant to drink neat. I’ve had the Octomore 6.1 before and the nose is relatively light before the smoke kicks in hard when tasting; this was the opposite.

The nose contains a lot of smoke, but the taste is much smoother and more depth than you’d expect from a whisky of this age. A great festival bottling, I’ve now written up the full review here.

I’d love to be able to write-up some notes about the sixth whisky, but since we pretty much downed it as part of a Highland Cheer to finish the masterclass then it didn’t actually spend much in my mouth (speaking to Jim afterwards it was described as ‘a wee cheapie for knocking back’).

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Opening the open day

We were then ushered out of the warehouse and formed a flag-waving procession down the hill as we followed a pipe band into the distillery courtyard to formally open the day.

The sun came out, bands were playing and the drinks were flowing until the day was brought to a close several hours later.

This was our first Bruichladdich day and it was excellent; we’ll definitely be back.

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