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I can think of a dozen reasons why Bruichladdich (pronounced brook-LADDIE) is the most exciting distillery in Scotland. For starters, it’s one of only two independent distilleries left in the country (and the only one on Islay, where it’s helping to revitalize the local economy). Secondly, it’s shaking up the Scotch industry, creating a huge portfolio of lightly peated, floral Scotches that challenge the idea of regional styles and traditional distillation techniques. Thirdly, it’s reinventing the idea of barrel-aging: Head distiller Jim McEwan (who spent 40 years at Bowmore before helping Bruichladdich CEO Mark Reynier relaunch the shuttered brand in 2001) has created a system he calls “Additional Cask Evolution” (ACE), wherein he finishes his Scotches in select barrels from the world’s top wineries, including Chateau d’Yquem, Chateau Haut-Brion, Gaja, Ridge and Guigal. These barrels add a completely different body and flavor profile than traditional bourbon and port casks do, making Bruichladdich’s bottlings unlike anything the Scotch world has tasted before.
And now Bruichladdich is applying its ACE program to, of all things, rum. I recently had my first taste of its Renegade Rum at Manhattan’s Elletaria restaurant, and the stuff is as aberrant as its whiskey. Reynier had the idea to produce the rum a few years back, when he noticed certain disheartening parallels between the rum and whiskey industries: Both are dominated by a few enormous companies with deep marketing pockets and a penchant for blending and consistency. Reynier picked out a few select barrels from the Caribbean’s oldest, family-owned distilleries (some now defunct) and shipped the rum back to Scotland, where McEwan ACE’d them in ex-d’Yquem and Latour barrels, among other things. I tasted all four of the mind-blowing, limited-edition rums in Renegade’s current rotation: an earthy 15-year-old Jamaican rum finished in ex-Latour barrels; a clean, fruity 10-year-old port-finished Panama Rum; and two rums from Guyana, one a robust 12-year-old ACE’d in d’Yquem oak and the other a lighter, fruitier 16-year-old enriched by Madeira casks.
The rums run from $80 to $110, which is pretty reasonable, given their cult status. Look for them online at K&L Wines, Morrell and Garnet.