The last time I wrote about the world’s most heavily peated whisky, the Octomore series by Bruichladdich distillery, I finished with a footnote hoping I didn’t have to wait “until October for more Octomore”.
Well, it turns out I did have to wait almost another year before I got another tasting of the Octomore (which isn’t so bad, considering Bruichladdich releases one series every year). Recently, Malaysian peat-heads got a special treat – two separate vertical tastings of the Octomore series, each with its own special characteristics.
In case you’re not familiar with the term “vertical tasting”, it refers to a tasting where guests get to sample several different expressions or ages of the same brand of whisky. A horizontal tasting refers to a tasting of different brands that may be similar in age, style, or flavour profile.
The Octomore tasting we had last year was a vertical tasting of the Octomore 8 series (8.1, 8.2, 8.3, 8.4). In time around, there were two separate tastings, featuring vertical flights of the Octomore .1 (6.1, 7.1, 8.1 and 9.1) and the Octomore .3 expressions (7.3, 8.3, 9.3 and the 10 3rd edition).
Created by former master distiller Jim McEwan to prove that a whisky can be heavily peated and still taste good, eight series of Octomore have been released to date, and these include 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.
Anyway, on with the tastings!
Held at Brussels Gallerie in Nexus at Bangsar South, Kuala Lumpur, the first tasting featured all the “.1” bottlings from the Octomore 6, 7, 8 and 9 series.
In each Octomore series, the .1 bottlings are the flagship expressions and the most easily available. The .2 bottlings are travel retail exclusives, the .3 are exclusively made with Islay barley, and the .4 expressions are usually the more experimental ones in the series.
The 6 and 7 series of Octomore were McEwan’s last before he retired in 2015 after 50 years in the whisky industry, and through the tasting of the .1 expressions, we could taste the transition of the Octomore from his original vision to that of the current Master Distiller, Adam Hannett.
The 6.1 is a 5 year old whisky that contains an impressive 167 PPM (phenol parts per million, a measure of how much peat there is in a whisky). Bruichlad-dich’s own “heavily peated” Port Charlotte expression only has 40ppm, by the way.
Surprisingly though, the peat on the 6.1 is not that overpowering at all. In fact, the whisky has a pleasant grassiness and slight light fruitiness, with a mellow peatiness lingering in the background.
The smoke in the 7.1, part of McEwan’s last Octomore series, is much more apparent, and hits you in the face from the get go. It’s much punchier up front, before mellowing out in to more apparent fruity notes, ranging from pears to citrus, and a bit of maltiness to end with. That’s no surprise, since the five-year-old whisky contains an incredible 208ppm.
From the 7.1, we moved on to Hannett’s first Octomore, 8.1, which is essentially the 6.1 aged for a further three years to produce an 8 year old whisky that is creamier, more viscous, and with less intensity than the 6.1. The 9.1 is another surprise – an elegant 158ppm whisky with light green fruit notes up front and decidedly less peaty than the rest.
The next day, we headed to Cielo at Vida Bukit Ceylon, KL, for an even rarer vertical tasting – the much-sought after Octomore .3 expressions from series 7, 8 and 9, as well as the brand new Octomore 10 Year Old.
Their clear bottles standing out among the usual sleek black Octomore bottles, the .3 Octomores are the only ones that use 100% Islay-produced barley harvested from Octomore Farm, hence the nickname ‘The Octomore Of Octomore’.
Instead of following the sequence of numbers, we started the night with the 133ppm 9.3, which for me had a grassy, slightly minty note at first, a quite pleasant initial entry before the smoke hits you not in one go, but as a toasty, warm feeling that spreads across your palate.
We then moved on to the 7.3, a 5YO, 169ppm dram that was distilled in 2010 from grain harvested from a single field called Lorgba in 2009. The peat is much more apparent with this dram, but there is still a certain mellow cereal-ly note that clearly sets it apart from the, say, 7.1.
The third whisky we had that night was not a .3 whisky. It’s not even a .1, .2, or .4 Octomore.
Released this year, the Octomore Ten Year Old (3rd Edition) is actually part of the 9 series. It is a tribute to Octomores past – with spirit that was released years earlier in the 6.2 and 7.4 bottlings, but aged a further five years to make it a 10 year old whisky.
The 3rd edition of the 10YO contains whisky from casks which previously held bourbon, cognac, port or nothing at all (virgin oak).
The result is a beautifully balanced Octomore that has rich chocolatey, malty notes with hints of tobacco, dark cacao, dark fruits, and a peatiness that creeps in from the background to coat your mouth with a velvety smoky goodness.
This, for me, was the highlight of the night, and it was a good move to have it before the final whisky in the flight, the 8.3.
The 8.3 is legendary. Why? Because it holds the record for being the most highly peated Octomore ever (the previous record-holder was the Octomore 06.3, which had 258ppm), containing a mind-boggling 309.1ppm.
In my previous Octomore piece, I called this a monster of a whisky, and that description still stands. It packs a peat punch that hits you in the front, middle and back of your palate (as you’d expect from such a high ppm), but it’s more of an elegant, deep, smouldering kind of peatiness.
It doesn’t overpower the chocolatey, dark fruits and vanilla notes of the whisky, but rather, hovers and looms over your palate like a shroud, coating your palate with its long, lingering presence.
It’s a good thing we finished with this too, because there was no way back for our palates once this liquid smoke touched our tongues. Of all the Octomores, this was the perfect one to leave us wanting more.