Origin: Isle of Islay (Scotland)
Type: Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Ageing barrels: Ex-Bourbon
Added coloring: No
Owner: Bruichladdich (Rèmy Cointreau)
Average price: € 155.00
Official website: www.bruichladdich.com
We have already spoken on three other occasions about the highly territorial path undertaken by Bruichladdich (you will find links at the bottom with all possible information about the distillery), but we had not yet had the opportunity to review one of the iterations of their most experimental product, the ultra-peated Octomore.
Octomore is released year after year in batches that vary considerably in terms of production, starting of course with the work on barley and smoking that lies at the heart of the distillery’s work. Each vintage is also released with a theme, in this case Dialogos, which underlines the distillery’s desire to bring together terroir, barley, peat and wood.
So what are we talking about with this first batch in its ninth year of release? We are talking about something very special: 100% Scotch barley of the Concerto variety, 156 ppm of smoke, 5 years of ageing in ex-Bourbon casks whose percentage of origin is known (51% Jim Beam, 26% Jack Daniel’s, 15% Clermont, and 8% Old Grand-Dad), and an impressive 59.1% of alcohol cask strength for 42,000 bottles.
What do these numbers translate into? Well, let me remind you that the already peated Ardbeg and Port Charlotte have around 40 ppm, 46-50% alcohol, and ten years of ageing, while here we are at almost four times as much phenol and half as many years in cask.
On paper it would therefore appear to be a truly extreme whisky. On paper. Now let’s see what it’s like in practice.
It has a clear straw-yellow hue to the eye.
After adequate aeration, I slowly begin to approach the nose out of reverential fear of the aforementioned numbers, but I’m pleasantly surprised: the scents are indeed characterised, but not extreme or intolerable. The alcoholic blanket is considerable, but doesn’t disturb at all, not even with a slight tingling in the nose. And, like the Port Charlotte reviewed a little ago, the peatiness is impossibly delicate: in this case it’s more reminiscent of an elegant smoked tea than a smoky piece of peat. After a short while it lets through intense malt and biscuit notes, a symptom of youth, but which are well configured into a tasty scones sensation. Further down, the peat returns with an intriguing, even if a little dizzying, oily note of dog rose, followed by damp earth and the return of the peat and alcohol that finally force the nose away from the edge of the glass. In short, a very particular and difficult nose, with alternating easy, honeyed scents and hardness that is far from the traditional idea of Islay peat.
Well, since we have survived the nose, let’s proceed without delay with the tasting: I strongly recommend using the five-drop method to avoid getting the wrong idea about this Octomore.
Given the almost sixty degrees, it’s obviously intense on the palate, but if approached in the right way it’s possible not to saturate the taste buds with alcohol alone and manage to savour its complexity. Even from this point of view, it’s not an easy whisky, but neither it is extreme: it just requires attention. In fact, the sip starts with an enveloping oiliness that immediately covers the entire palate and then begins to distribute intense whiffs of vanilla peat that repeat the excellent combination of malty and smoky tones of the nose. The sip is long, the alcohol saturates the throat and it’s necessary to take sips at intervals, perhaps alternating them with a little water, in order to enjoy them to the full. In fact, that earthy, rose-like note returns, perhaps even with a zest of ginger and orange peel, but there is nothing immediate or predominant about it. The finish, however, is youthful: there is some anisette, some wax, some toast, but the spirited character dominates and denotes a lack of ageing.
Those expecting a peat bomb to the nth power will perhaps be disappointed: it’s actually a very elegant whisky and very little in line with the macho idea that may come from a superficial reading of the production numbers. At the same time, it’s also a young whisky: the scents are there, and not bad at all, but they are not perfectly integrated into the texture of the distillate, and they alternate in waves that leave one as surprised as they are disconcerted.
Interesting, particular, frank, but not perfect, and of course you have to consider the price (and the fact that this batch is not so limited given the 42,000 bottles). However, if you want to test your tasting skills, the Octomore is a must, and this is a good starting point while waiting for the arrival of the 10-year anniversary ones, including the 10.3 which will be the first whisky in the world made from a harvest year of a particular cru of Islay barley.
Other bottlings in the blog:
Bruichladdich 10yo (1980’s)
Cadenhead’s Bruichladdich 22yo
Chorlton Whisky Lochindaal 12yo
Octomore 10yo 3rd Edition
Port Charlotte 10yo Heavily Peated
Port Charlotte Islay Barley 2011
Port Charlotte MC: 01 2009
Port Charlotte Scottish Barley
Valinch & Mallet Bruichladdich 15yo Madeira Cask
Valinch & Mallet Bruichladdich 19yo
The Malt Review