Last time round, I explored the notion of an unpeated Islay whisky with Bunnahabhain. This week, we go the other extreme with arguably the most heavily peated Islay whisky range ever produced – Bruichladdich’s Octomore.
While most Islay distilleries like Arbeg, Laphroaig and Lagavulin pride themselves on producing heavily peated whiskies, when it comes to actual peat levels in the whisky, the Octomore series has them beat.
Created by former Bruichladdich master distiller Jim McEwan to prove that a whisky can be heavily peated and still taste good, the Octomore series includes some of the most heavily-peated whiskies in the world. It is named after the Octomore Farm on Islay, which is the source of the spring water Bruichladdich uses in its whisky production.
Just how heavily peated is Octomore? Well, consider this: Bruichladdich’s own Port Charlotte expression is described as “Heavily Peated” at 40ppm (phenol parts per million, a measure of how much peat there is in a whisky). Now, compare that to the Octomore 08.1, which boasts a super smoky 167ppm!
Eight series of Octomore have been released to date, and Bruichladdich Asia-Pacific Brand Ambassador Chloe Wood was in town recently to conduct a special tasting of all four of the current Octomore 08 series side by side for members of whisky community Dram Full Malaysia.
The flagship of the Octomore 8 series and the most easily available among the four. Distilled from 100% Scottish barley, the whisky was matured for eight years in first-fill American oak casks that come from American distilleries Buffalo Trace, Clermont Springs, Four Roses, Heaven Hill and Jack Daniels.
Containing 59.3% ABV, the whisky acts as sort of a gateway to the rest of the range. The nose is actually quite mild, considering the high peat level, with a subtle, slight smokiness in the air and a little vanilla sweetness as well.
On the palate, the relative youngness of the whisky stands out a little, with a strong grassy sweetness upon entry, which gives way to more mellow melon, citrus and marzipan flavours. If you’ve never had an Octomore before, this should help ease you into the range.
Only available in travel retail, this eight-year-old whisky spent its first six years in three different second-fill wine casks – French Mourvedre red wine, Austrian sweet wines; and French Sauternes dessert wines from Bordeaux. After six years, the whisky is transferred into fresh Italian Amarone casks for another two years before bottling.
Also containing 167ppm with 58.4% ABV, the red wine influences impart a sweeter nose to this whisky compared to the 08.1. In fact, the gentle peat aromas are almost drowned out by the sweetness, though you still get a whiff of it every now and then.
On the palate that sweetness is even more apparent, with fruity berry jam, floral, candy notes, and a finish that combines a hint of tannins with that familiar bitter Octomore smokiness.
Of the four, this arguably departed the most from the typical Octomore profile, though that peaty finish dispels any illusion that this was anything other than a super heavily peated whisky.
Octomore 08.3 Islay Barley
Its bright bottle standing out among the other Octomores’ sleek black bottles, the 08.3 is the only one that uses 100% Islay-produced barley harvested from Octomore Farm. It also stands out among all the other Octomore releases to date – with a whopping 309.1ppm, it is the most highly peated Octomore ever (the previous record-holder was the Octomore 06.3, which had 258ppm).
Don’t let its five years of age fool you though, this is one monster of a whisky, and I’m not just referring to its impressive 61.2% ABV.
Unlike the previous 08.1 and 08.2, the smoke on this whisky is immediately apparent. But it’s not a powerful, intense kind of smoke, more like an elegant, deep, smouldering smoke that gently wafts around your nose, before settling at the back of your senses, enveloping your taste buds in a warm, sensual, velvety shroud. 56% matured in first-fill Bourbon casks, with the remaining 44% aged in ex-Paulliac, Ventoux, Rhone and Burgundy casks, there is a wonderful dash of sweetness on the entry, which expands into vanilla, nuttiness and dark chocolates. And all the while, that shroud of peat just lingers at the back of your palate, adding another layer of bitter smokiness to it all.
Made using 100% Scottish barley as always, this 170ppm eight-year-old embodies the experimental nature of the Octomore range. This expression is matured in virgin oak barrels (which have never been “seasoned” with any spirit before), which can be tricky, as the raw wood might impart flavours that are too intense or too woody to suit the spirit.
Thus, head distiller Adam Hannett had to maintain a delicate balance in the 08.4 – only 20% of the expression was fully matured for eight years in virgin oak, while the remaining 80% was aged in first-fill ex-Bourbon American oak casks before being transferred into the European virgin oak that had previously held Octomore 07.4.
The result is an Octomore that is quite different from the previous three. In fact, I personally felt that this was the expression where you could really taste the new-make spirit that goes into the Octomore. The younger qualities of the whisky stands out a lot more here than in the other three, with a sharp but sweet grassiness and a much more prominent and intense peat nose.
For inquiries on Octomore and which expression is available in Malaysia, visit Single And Available Whisky Shop.