If You Love It, Set It Free: Bruichladdich Legacy V

When we brought our newborn son home from the hospital in August, I knew my life would change quite dramatically, but even at that point in time I couldn’t quite imagine how it might unfold. Eight months later, I continue to learn so much about myself and my tendencies. The little guy is a mirror and has taught me to be much more present in my life. It’s absolutely the most amazing experience ever.

One of the things that I’ve come to view with a much more negative eye in the last few months is the hoarding and deep collecting mentality. It’s no doubt because of my inclination in that direction at times. However, having this little guy (and his stay in the NICU) have really given me a deeper appreciation for our mortality and how fragile life can be.

Yeah, I know, what a downer for another whisky post. How does it relate, you ask?

Well, if you follow the whisky blogs, you will have no doubt seen the endless(ly tiring) discussion of collectors, hoarders, speculators and so on. I tried to steer clear of this one because I didn’t really have much to offer on it at the time, and it’s not really my intention to become another voice in the echo chamber with nothing new to say. However, this week brought a new perspective on it it for me as a bunch of things in my life all led me to a shared conclusion.

If you know me in person you likely know that I’ve amassed a fairly decent collection of musical instruments. Over time the cost to store them has gone up and it finally reached a breaking point. I was no longer willing to pay what was being asked to store them. I’ve spent the last few weeks thinning the herd through auctions and have found the forced decision-making to be really refreshing. I’ve tried to plow through my stuff semi-regularly and toss things I haven’t used in a year or more, but my instruments were sacrosanct. Now I’m reducing the collection to the things I use regularly and love, or have plausible near-term need for. Sure, things may break and wear out, but it’s through use and not neglect.

Second, I am reminded of my tasting last summer with Sku who graciously opened a trio of incredible Broras. I didn’t have much to offer – a decent Glencraig. Turns out those three Broras were incredible, and one is high on my list of favorite Scotch whiskies of all time. He could have sat on them indefinitely, waiting for…. who knows what… but he demonstrated that whisky is best enjoyed (ideally with friends, acceptably with random people you’ve met online ;) ), not jealously guarded in sealed bottles hidden from light.

Finally, I was faced headlong with the use vs disuse issue recently when I reopened my Bruichladdich Legacy V whisky. This was the first whisky I’d had that was older than me (an achievement all whisky dorks inevitably feel the need to unlock – go ahead and do it sooner rather than later because it only gets more expensive every year). Fortunately, at the time I opened it, it was absolutely amazing – huge apple notes and floral hints. It really just smelled like an orchard in early fall, with cider presses running full tilt – great grain and fruit notes but never seeming old and tired. Opinions varied widely (Serge liked it; Sku was less taken) but that was beside the point for me – this was one I really, really liked. And I decided this would be the “special occasion” whisky. I would pour it on those most special occasions and savor its endless fruit and goodness and be transported back to my youth in the midwest, making apple butter, apple cider, visiting local orchards and so on.

The problem, as you’ve likely experienced at some point, is that at a certain point, a whisky may go flat. And inevitably there are never enough special occasions to really enjoy and merit pouring of the thing which you found so amazing and special.

Recently I decided I’d waited long enough as there wasn’t anything special to open this whisky which just blew me away. I decided to pour a glass and…. it was a pale imitation of its former self. Oh, it was good. It’s still a B whisky which means I’d rate it good and maybe worth a purchase, but it was previously in the A- to A range for me personally. I’d opened this whisky and in the time since I’d opened it, it had completely lost its magic. What a shame. What a waste. This to me was yet another affirmation of my current state of mind – enjoy the things that are special to you because life moves fast, and it’s better to have great experiences and special memories versus a chronicle of lost potential.

So here’s my advice. That bottle of Pappy sitting on your shelf? That rare Port Ellen? You should open it. You should enjoy it. Life is short. Are you looking for that special occasion? Make some random weekday in April that special occasion where you opened the bottle that you’d been sitting on and enjoyed it. John Hansell agrees. And those open bottles? Just enjoy them. Share them with friends, swap samples, or host a tasting. Or just enjoy it yourself. This deterioration is yet another reminder that nothing is permanent and that life is short. Sku wrote a great blog post on deterioration with age (it does) and Ryan over at Value Whisky  began a series himself (we’ll see if it continues there or at his new blog, Value Bourbon – [looks like he's decided to close up shop totally...])

So in the interest of what was great and what it’s become, I’ll post the tasting notes. I’m sensitive to note that this is the second post I’ve done about the changes in a Bruichladdich in the last few months. Please don’t interpret this as a hidden agenda to say all Bruichladdichs fall apart. I’ve noticed tendencies on this end among other whiskies I’ve owned, but to see a favorite go from “life changing” to to “good” drove me to write this call to open the bottles.

At A Glance

Bruichladdich Legacy V (33y) 40.9% ABV – initial opening
Satisfying deep wood, a character very similar to an old bourbon. Wood paneling. Light fruits – a hint of pineapple. Lightly floral as well, but wood dominates. Some gentle saltiness, red apples, far-off hints of raisins. A bit of gentle waxiness.
Medium bodies. Initially grain-based, warming more than ABV would suggest. Fruits here – very strong apples, light pear. A honeyed quality, with some barley reappearing later and some gentle sherry notes.
Smooth. Apples again. Quick initial disappearance, reemerges momentarily, some gentle wood and light waxiness.
If this is early ’70s Bruichladdich I’m going to go broke securing more bottles.

Bruichladdich Legacy V (33y) 40.9% ABV – a year after opening
Slightly dusty with some old wood, but some significant bourbon influence on the nose. Well-developed vanilla, a bit of caramel. Some brighter fruit notes; pears evident against some white pepper and cinnamon. 
Pears initially on the palate with some white pepper and cinnamon, old wood that’s slightly bitter. A bit of apple, some light barley. 
Old wood, pepper, a bit of cinnamon, pears. Waxy apple notes as well.
This isn’t quite as amazing as I remember it being. It’s a good but undeniably old whisky. It’s gotten quite a bit simpler in the time it’s been open. The clarity of the fruit notes have been subdued and now it’s more of a (good) fruit compote or canned fruit than fresh fruit. 

11 thoughts on “If You Love It, Set It Free: Bruichladdich Legacy V”

  1. Tim, a truly excellent post!  This is the kind of thing I really enjoy reading on whisky blogs.  I’ve spent a lot of time pondering these same things.  I was reaching a lot of the same conclusions you did, but I hadn’t articulated them in my mind until I just read your post. I have a lot to say on this (much of it is probably just agreeing with you), more than I want to write in a comment here, but you’ve inspired me to write my thoughts down so I’ll put them in a post on my blog.  Suffice it to say, I appreciate your way of thinking here, and I think it is a healthy attitude to have.  Thanks for the well thought out post.

    Also appreciate your comment about parenting.  Having a baby/toddler does force you to be more “present” as you put it.  You can definitely see that if your mind is wandering, or if you’re cranky or whatever, that has consequences that are visible in your little one.

    1. I’ll look forward to your post. Truth is, this post has been somewhat delayed; I deliberately wanted to space this out from the earlier hubbub about collectors and whatnot that swept through the blog world. I don’t see anything wrong with owning nice things and maybe even having a store of them (within reason, and I think my current stock is straining that limit – may have to take some into LAWS) isn’t bad. I just personally have no appetite to have anything at this point that I could call a hoard… I’m gradually getting rid of tons of stuff and everything that I part with makes me that much happier. 

      That said, I’m not so naive to think the way for me is the way for all people. But there’s a definite point after which you can’t enjoy the things you’ve purchased – so why waste it? 

      It’s all part of the continuing changes the little guy has brought out in me. Wouldn’t trade it for anything. 

  2. Awesome post, Tim.  Spiritual – and with a deeper and more universal message.  I, too, have experienced oxidized drams and have embraced the importance of living for the day.  Excellent tasting notes depicting the influence of oxidation.  Ryan here has performed detailed and empirical experiments on oxidation too.  I know that you are posting about more than just oxidation, of course.  it’s about embracing life; appreciating things in the now.  I’m with you on those aspects too.  Lovely writing.

    1. Thanks much. I think I take a simpler stance on this stuff these days which is, great liquor is totally fine, just enjoy it. It’s like buying a shirt and never wearing it because it’s “too nice”… 

  3. Well written, interesting subject.

    At 33 years and barely 40% ABV naturally, it is unlikely to benefit from storage, once opened, if kept for any time. Of course, daylight, sunlight and temperature are also going to negatively impact on the spirit, whatever the air level is in the bottle. 

    You are right, I believe, to suggest that partially-consumed, old bottlings (particularly naturally bottled) should be polished off. I don’t know any other normal strength old age spirit that would not deteriorate to a certain degree once opened over time.

    It’s sad you found so few “most special occasions”in which to drink it; my own bottle lasted no more than a few days.

    1. Mark, 

      Thanks much for the comment! I’ve enjoyed reading your thoughts on Twitter. 

      As I’d mentioned, this was one of those ones that I opened and was just full tilt, hold-everything amazing for me. The memories and aromas just blew me away and I fell into the trap of thinking it was too special to enjoy immediately and it needed to be stored. I’d poured some for friends and that got a fair amount of air into the bottle, but I didn’t really consider the oxidation. 

      Coming back to it and experiencing that effect firsthand changed my thinking pretty dramatically. In hindsight, I probably should have been celebrating every night he slept through the night at 3 months. :) 

      That said – it was still quite good but it would have definitely benefited from quicker consumption. 

      I won’t make the same mistake of strictly rationing when it comes time to open the Blacker Still later this year. 

  4. Interesting post, thanks. :-)

    I was wondering… How long had it been open and how full was the bottle? – I’m new(ish) to whisky so still finding my feet on how long I can keep a good whisky going vs how quick I should drink it!

    1. The latter part of your question is interesting and as far as I know, there hasn’t been a real definitive answer to it. (I’ll explain in a moment). 

      This Bruichladdich was probably a bit over third empty – maybe a touch more than you see in the photo of the bottle I took above. As Mark notes below, age plus low ABV might make this one a bit more susceptible to oxidation versus a cask-strength younger whisky (assuming reasonable storage). It had been at that fill level for probably close to a year when I revisited it with serious intentions of finishing it and noticed the change.

      As I linked in the article, several bloggers have tried to get to the bottom of this; Sku’s test seems to be the most long-term at this point and seems fairly accurate, until someone decides to repeat the experiment with multiple full-size bottles. (The Oxidized Whisky Project?) 

      Now, this only tells part of the story. Some whiskies – notably a lot of wheat-based American whiskies (Pappy Van Winkle, W.L. Weller, etc) are regularly said to get better with a little oxidation. I have to say I generally agree; the mellowing in this case works. Another one like this is the 23y 1986 BenRiach bottled for PLOWED which is supposed to open up with time. Finally, I noticed changes in the Macallan 30 I reviewed which had a little more going on with some time.

      So that said… 

      The conventional wisdom is if you’re under half full you should probably make a run at finishing it (or perhaps decant into smaller containers) in a few weeks. Based on my experience here I’d even suggest that if it’s a third empty and old/low strength you might want to think about decanting into smaller bottles and enjoying or a combination thereof. 

      The flip side of that is, if it’s not particularly enjoyable as is, you may want to sit and see if it develops. While I like Laphroaig a lot, for instance, I find that a little oxidation really gives it an incredible creaminess and I love it at that point. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but the real take-away IMO is don’t sequester something to the shelf and treat it as sacred and undrinkable. :) 


  5. Tim, I have to admit, for a big whiskey guy, my “collection” is pretty pedestrian.  I would love to tell folks that I’ve got fleets of previous year Antique Collection and old Pappy, and rare bottles strewn about my “bunker”.  I hate the word bunker by the way – it aligns too closely with the hoarding mentality.  Certainly I have plenty (couple hundred bottles), but I drink them.  And if I open them and can’t/don’t finish them, I share left and right.  

    I like to think about the folks that made it whenever I ponder opening a “special” bottle.  Did they make it for me to drink it or save it?  That’s an easy question for me to answer.  Few are so great that they warrant years and decades of holding.  It’ll never live up to that.  Drink in the moment and it always tastes better.  

    1. Yeah, my collection is largely the difference between my purchasing and drinking speeds. I think there have been a couple bottles I grabbed extras of (one of the Bouryes comes to mind; I’ve got an extra Van Winkle sitting around) but I’ve never been one to have a collection of a bunch of the same stuff. I’m also finding increasingly that I’m pouring more and more of the bottles because half the time I get equally interesting stuff in trade, and the other half it’s just a pay-it-forward to honor the guys who did way disproportionate trades to me back in the day. 

      Here’s to living (and drinking) in the moment!

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