The Times February 27, 2006
Try the 92 per cent weapons-grade whisky that will take your breath away. Literally
By David Lister, Scotland Correspondent
A 17TH-CENTURY firewater, more than two spoonfuls of which was said to be enough to kill a grown man, is to be revived by a whisky distillery in Scotland.
A single drop of the ancient drink of “usquebaugh-baul” was described by the travel writer Martin Martin in 1695 as powerful enough to affect “all members of the body”. He added: “Two spoonfuls of this last liquor is a sufficient dose; if any man should exceed this, it would presently stop his breath, and endanger his life.”
Twelve barrels of the world’s most alcoholic whisky, or enough to wipe out a medium-size army, will be produced when the Bruichladdich distillery revives the ancient tradition of quadruple-distilling today. With an alcohol content of 92 per cent, the drink may not be the most delicate single malt ever produced but it is by far and away the world’s strongest. Malt whisky usually has an alcohol content of between 40 per cent and 63.5 per cent.
With the first spirit run expected at lunchtime today, the distillery urged whisky lovers to tune in live on its webcams — “that is, if the distillery doesn’t blow up in the process”.
The US Secret Service admitted in 2003 that it had been monitoring the distillery because the difference between distilling a fine whisky and making chemical weapons was “just a small tweak”.
The finished product will not be ready for at least ten years, and even then drinkers will be advised to add perhaps a drop or two of water to their glass . . . and to avoid pouring the dregs over the barbecue.
Although it is impossible to say how much the whisky will sell for, the demand for limited edition malts is such that it is likely to command an exorbitant price. Demand from American and Asian whisky enthusiasts has pushed prices for rare single malts to record levels over the past few years.
Last August a bottle of Irish whiskey dating from the 1890s — believed to be the last surviving bottle from the Nun’s Island Distillery in Co Galway — was put up for sale for a record £100,000. Bottles of Dalmore 62-year-old malt, from the tiny distillery near Inverness, in the Scottish Highlands, have fetched more than £30,000.
Mark Reynier, Bruichladdich’s managing director, said: “We are doing this because we have this ancient recipe and therefore we can. It is unlikely that we will ever produce any more quadruple distilled malt again, so we expect it to become much sought after.”
Jim McEwan, Bruichladdich’s master distiller, said that the quadruple-distilled whisky would be very similar to the spirit sampled by Martin on Islay in 1695, which he later described in A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland, published in 1703. Most whisky is distilled just twice.
He said: “It will be very floral, but most importantly it will take your breath away.”
Bruichladdich has a reputation among Scotland’s distilleries for being one of the more eccentric and outspoken. After the American drinks maker Jim Beam halted production in 1994, the distillery was bought for £6.5 million in 2000 by a group led by Mr Reynier. It is seeking to establish itself as one of a small number of privately run distilleries.
WATER OF LIFE
*Briuchladdich is one of eight distilleries on Islay
*The term “whisky” derives from the Gaelic “uisge beatha”, or “usquebaugh”, meaning “water of life”
*The earliest reference to a distillery in the Acts of the Scottish Parliament is in 1690, with mention of the Ferintosh distillery owned by Duncan Forbes of Culloden
*In 1995, for the first time in 100 years, the tax on Scotch fell, from £5.77 to £5.54 a bottle (70cl)