At this year’s Islay Whisky Festival, I finally did something I thought I’d never do – I broke my Octomore virginity. Regular readers of this blog will know I’ll take a sweet, fruity Speyside malt over a peat monster any day. But with drams of Octomore available at Bruichladdich’s festival open day for just £5 a pop, I finally decided to embrace the peat.
Why the trepidation? Well Octomore comes with a fearsome reputation. It started out as a late night “what if?” idea – what if someone distilled the most heavily-peated barley humanly possible, in the tall, narrow-necked stills of Bruichladdich? And when they say heavily-peated, they mean it. Even the smokiest whiskies tend to only sit around the 50 PPM (parts per million) range. Octomore though sits in the hundreds, with Octomore 07.2 weighing in at 208 PPM.
The name, despite sounding quite modern, actually comes from a farm which hits high above Port Charlotte, which also housed a distillery. The whisky itself is an attempt to recreate the spirit that would have been produced on Islay in the 19th century, which would have been heavily-peated due to a lack of control over the malting process.
Octomore is a young whisky, with this release only having celebrated five birthdays. It also comprised of spirit matured in both classic American oak and casks which once held Syrah created in the great vineyards of the Northern Rhone Valley, giving it a very pale colour. The nose is very fruity, with notes of apple, pear and lemon. But where’s the massive smoke hit? This is something which continues on the palate. Yes, the smoke is there, but rather than the massive hit you would expect, the higher level of peat instead adds a depth of flavour which is unlike anything I’ve experienced. Mixed with the sweet, fresh, fruity flavours experienced on the nose and this really is a stunning dram. Be sure to add a couple of drops of water as well, to really intensify the flavour.
On a final note, as with most of Bruichladdich’s output, the design of the bottle is absolutely stunning. Sleek, slender and matt black, it feels like a product of Silicon Valley than the west coast of Scotland, allowing Bruichladdich to maintain its reputation as a “progressive Hebridean distiller”.