Oct 082016
 

Octomore 2005 10 y.o. Cask Sampleimg_2883

?% abv

Score:  88.5/100

 

Another review that means nothing to anyone, but maybe 5 or 6 people.  But, hey…it’s my online journal of notes, so it’s ok to be self-indulgent from time to time, right?

This wee jotting is kind of like the third part of a trilogy.  On my past three trips over to lslay I’ve been fortunate enough to drink some scorchingly enormous Octomore straight from the barrel in the warehouse.  Each time I’ve written about it.  Much like last time, a mate of mine, and Bruichladdich distillery manager, Allan Logan was kind enough to send me away with a wee take-away sample of this 2005 barrel from the Port Charlotte warehouses.  Serves as a neat looking glass into what the rawest of raw Octomore looks like.  And being a fan of the bottled expressions, I can unequivocally state that the sipping experience is nothing compared to the unfiltered bombast of the oily spirit straight from the cask.  Each barrel differs, of course, but the uncompromising oiliness and strength make it singular.  And drinking it in an old dunnage warehouse doesn’t hurt at all either.

And this one?  Well…it’s Octomore through and through.  I loved it, as you can imagine.  It’s a softer dram than most are used to, but that’s much to do with the additional five years of mellowing.  Octomore is typically a five year old dram.  If I’m being honest, I think I prefer the youthful nature of the standard releases, but not one of the bottled expressions will ever beat these warehouse drams in terms of pure experiential enjoyment.

Thanks again, Allan.

Nose:  Sharp citric bite immediately announces Octomore.  Yet somehow it’s also creamy.  Dark smoke.  White fudge.  Chewy candy (think jujubes, not gummies).  Lemon cake.  Rubber.  Phenols are huge here.  A touch of vanilla.  Key lime.  Rich, dark cigar leaf.

Palate:  Wow.  This is a big drink.  Bigger than big.  The nose is somehow subtle, but the palate…not so much.  Rubbery.  Big acrid phenolic notes (beautiful!).  As cheesy as this sounds…it tastes like fire-cooked seafood by the ocean.  A brief bit of bitter coffee and oversteeped tea.  Sweetness at the back end.  Almost fruity.

Thoughts:  Octomore doesn’t come in any size but XXL, and this is certainly that, even with a decade of mellowing.  Exactly as we’d expect.  And want.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:12 am
Nov 192015
 

Octomore 7.1006

59.5% abv

Score:  85/100

 

One of the latest Octomore releases, and Jim McEwan’s swan song, from what I understand.  This one just hit our shores a couple weeks back.  I tried it in a range of eight other Octomore releases at that point, and have since tried it paired with another two (the recently reviewed 4.1 and 5.1).

By now you all know the Octomore story.  One of the only 5 year old age stated malts out there…cask strength…uncolored…non chill-filtered…the world’s most heavily-peated spirit.  An iconic whisky, if ever there was one, with early releases (and a couple of the one-offs) reaching ridiculous sums on the secondary market.  This is a drinking whisky though.  Meant to be a cornerstone in any drinking man or woman’s sense-library.  Trust me…there is a pre- and post-Octomore understanding of whisky.  You’ll understand what I mean once you’ve tried it.  This is a whisky that becomes a yardstick for everything after.

7.1 is a wee hop backwards in terms of smoky strength from last year’s behemoth 6.3 edition, which weighed in at 238 phenolic ppm (parts per million).  This one is a mere(!!) 208 ppm.  If those numbers seem like gross novelty, rest assured that the whisky is actually really good.  This one shines a little less brightly than others in the range, but it’s still a good malt and will knock the knickers off the neophytes, if you’re so inclined to show the noobs what real phenols are.  Just don’t expect polish here.  This one is a little more rough and tumble.

Nose:  Cola and chocolate.  Peat and smoke.  Pie crust.  Vanilla coke.  Somewhat creamy, but notes of tar and rubber sharpen it up a bit.  As do the hints of lemon.  Gets beautifully soft with a bit of time in the glass.  As soft as an Octomore can be, that is.  Pepper and cinnamon hearts.

Palate:  Sharp and green on the palate.  A little bittering actually.  It’s kinda like tart uncooked greens through the development.  A slight burnt note.  Burnt pastry, I think.  Coffee and cola.  Lemon rind.  A lot of smoke and ashiness.  Kinda herbal…maybe tea-ish.

Thoughts:  A little less depth than some of the other Octomore releases, but still a rather special malt.  Great soft nose, but the palate doesn’t live up to it.  Tastes young (and, of course, it is).

 

 – Reviewed by:  Curt

 – Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:37 am
Nov 172015
 

Octomore 5.1029

59.5% abv

Score:  88.5/100

 

Let’s do another Octomore today.  A few days back we looked at the 4.1.  I was going to post this one right after that one, but then…well…Paris happened.  Posting anything at a time like that seemed insensitive, to say the least.  But today…a few days removed…let’s have a drink to celebrate life and the pursuit of better things to come.  Another Octomore.  Today, the 5.1.

With this release Bruichladdich have ratcheted up the phenolic ppm a couple ticks (to 169 this time), but the abv has come down a couple of notches.  Can we call that a wash?  A point up or down on either side isn’t gonna make much difference, I’d argue.  These are big, big drams.

5.1 boasts the same credentials we discussed in the previous post.  Young, age-stated and offered up in all its natural beauty, blemishes intact.  We (being myself, and some of the most consistent and vocal contributors here on ATW) are big fans of this approach.  Quite frankly, it’s a whisky lovers dream.

You could argue that the differences from one Octomore to the next are but ‘variations on a theme’, and for the most part you’d be right.  What might surprise, however, is just how bold those variations can be.  Of course all whisky is essentially putty in the hands of the cask so there will always be variance, but peat this massive tends to mask a lot of the subtleties we usually suss out rather easily in unpeated (or lightly peated) malts.  What I’m trying to say is that personally I would sort of expect to see a smaller range of differences between Octomores than we do, simply due to the peaty smokescreen.  The reality is, however, that the Octomore expressions I’ve tried (nearly all of them) swing wildly from sweet and creamy to bone dry and ashy.  I love that.  The quality is high, but there is an exciting array of profiles within the expression.  It keeps Octomore fresh and on the radar.

Nose:  Rather sharp and aggressive at first.  A nice farmy, old school Octomore.  Dry and ashy.  We’re closer to Port Charlotte territory with this one.  Lemon.  Some lovely creaminess too.  Kinda earthy and boggy…beautifully so.  Smoky, of course.  The barley shows through somehow.  Impressive.

Palate:  Dark chocolate.  Licorice.  Smoke and medicinal notes.  Very dry and ashy.  Sen-sens.  Lime zest.  Something that reminds of polished wood.  The smoke grows bigger and bigger and explodes in char and wood notes.  More licorice at the back end.  Bold, not to understate matters.

Thoughts:  Nice ‘balance’ of smoke and sweet.  A lopsided balance, of course, but held at a point of teetering without actually going over.  I like this one.  A LOT.

 

 – Reviewed by:  Curt

 – Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:08 am
Nov 122015
 

Octomore 4.1016

62.5% abv

Score:  87/100

 

Let’s discuss good young whisky for a bit, shall we?  As the whole NAS argument rages on, one of the periphery issues has been drawn kicking and screaming into the spotlight as well: can really young whisky actually be good enough to sell at the elevated prices that support the brands’ push for profit (the very essence of the NAS debate)?  If the answer is yes it effectively negates any argument in support of the validity of hiding information from the consumer.

This discussion, in turn, leads down the rabbit hole of ‘is older better?’, but we’re not going that far in 500 words or so, lest we turn this into another firestorm of an essay.  Let’s just say here that generally speaking, more mature whisky is better than young whisky.  Octomore is one of the exceptions that proves the rule, so to speak.  This brand has always been (excepting the one-off 10 year old) a 5 year old malt – clearly stated on the label – and is indeed a killer dram.  There’s no denying that the juice is good and it’s borne out by a broad sweep of positive reviews in all sectors of the whisky world.

Wait…so a five year old whisky – clearly labeled – can still retail for high prices and satisfy both consumer and producer?!  Weird.  Exactly what we’ve been saying for a long time now.

Octomore 4.1 is knee-buckling 62.5% abv bog beast of a dram.  It is as sharp and jagged as obsidian to the newcomer, but as warming and comfortably atmospheric as a beachside bonfire to those of us like to bask in the fires of hell.  Phenolic heights in the malted barley of this one soared to a stratospheric 167 ppm (prior to distillation, of course), but you’d be hard-pressed to say this was any smokier than an Ardbeg or Laphroaig.

And for those suffering from a wee bit of intimidation…interestingly enough it is possible to find softer, safer versions of Octomore (ignore the abv and phenol counts, and simply rely on the creaminess you’ll discover by the senses), but I do concede a soft spot for the more rough and tumble expressions such as this one.  Beastly and not of this earth.

Finally…though Bruichladdich plays on both sides of the NAS field, let’s give them kudos here for being ballsy enough to shove a five year old malt into the forefront of the whisky scene.  Love it.  Team turquoise…if you’re reading this please take note:  You’ve always been the ones to buck the trend.  Please do so again.  Stick with age statements.  We like your whisky young and will buy it.

Nose:  Smoke.  Candy sweetness, like green Jolly Ranchers and green Ju-Jubes.  Citrus (lemon and key lime).  A BBQ note brings a slightly tangy edge to it.  Earthy and dry.  I get a slight ‘weedy’ note (and yes…that IS what I mean).

Palate:  Whoa.  Smoky.  Rubber.  Burnt rubber.  The smell of barley smoking abovbe the kiln (if you’ve experienced it, you’ll know).  Sweet, with some salt licorice notes.  Grilled scallops and lemon.  Lemongrass.  There’s a bit of chocolate with fruit candy too.  Quite a workover for the palate.  Leaves a slight barley note and a touch of seafood.

Thoughts:  A sweet example of Octomore.  Not the best of the bunch, but great nevertheless.

 

 – Reviewed by:  Curt

 – Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:51 am
Sep 252015
 

Octomore 6.3 Islay Barley068

64% abv

Score:  89.5/100

 

It’s always a treat to spar with this heavyweight.  I somehow always come out standing at the end, but perhaps a little worse for wear, punch drunk (or just plain drunk) and somewhat wobbly on my feet.

This is the beast we’ve all been talking about since word leaked a long while back about a malt boasting a peating spec of 258 ppm.  258?  Really?!  Yep.  Sounds monstrous, I know, but the reality is a little different than that, in spite of all our preconceptions.  It is true, however, that this Octomore 6.3 is unquestionably the most scorching show of measurable phenolic heat to which we’ve yet been subjected.  I think the previous highest peating level was 169 ppm.

It’s been mentioned by others, though – and I’d have to agree – that there seems to be a threshold beyond which the olfactory and palatal sensors cease to detect any more noticeable increase in phenols.  Put simply…this tastes no peatier or smokier than some malts on the market with phenolic specs in the range of 40-50 ppm (think Ardbeg or Laphroaig).  Where we get the true test of might (the ‘put hair on your chest’ test, if you will, boys AND girls) is pairing this heft of peat with a paint-stripping 64% abv.  This is an absolute uppercut of a whisky, all told.  And incredibly awesome for it.  Much more than a novelty, I should add.  While I can’t imagine striking a balance was the aim with this one, I can say that it’s sometimes fun to simply revel in the effects of this sort of punch drunk lopsidedness.

Nose:  Smoke and peat.  Burnt rubber.  Cola syrup with A familiar Bruichladdich rich buttery note.  Very farmy and rich in dark soil.  Flinty and mineral-y.  Tart lime and citrus zest.  Slightly bittering, but in a good way.  Maybe burnt caramel.  No need to go further.  This is big, but incredibly also very sharp and seemingly delicate.  Neat balance struck here.

Palate:  So oily and mouthcoating.  Simply incomparable  Octomore is undoubtedly the most singular malt in the world.  Sharp cola notes meet farmy, earthy peat.  Smoke builds and rolls out in wave over wave of black billows.  Burnt rubber.

Thoughts:  What I wouldn’t give to drink this along the shores of Loch Indaal.  Despite 258 ppm this is not an abomination of a drink.  My score is in concession of the fact that I am an unapologetic Islayphile.

 

 – Reviewed by:  Curt

 – Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 2:30 pm
May 282015
 

Octomore 4.2 Comus076

61.0% abv

Score:  88.5/100

 

Let’s do a five year old Bruichladdich today.  In honour of the ongoing Feis Ile (Islay Festival) and all.

By now I’m sure most whisky cognoscenti are familiar with Octomore, Bruichladdich’s heavily peated variant.  The term ‘heavily peated’ is actually selling Octomore short, believe it or not.  This brand is unquestionably the most heavily peated single malt in the world.  The 6.3 edition from last year came in at a whopping 258 parts per million of phenols.  When you stop to consider that Ardbeg’s typical peating level is somewhere around 50-55 ppm, that is a staggering number indeed.

I think we’ve touched on this before, but let me briefly do so again for anyone who may just be tuning in:  It would be a mistake to assume that this phenol count is directly proportionate to the smokiness of the dram.  It’s not.  I can guarantee you that there are Laphroaig and Ardbeg releases out there that will seem to pack more of a peaty punch than some of the Octomore expressions.  In fact, even Bruichladdich’s moderately peated range under the Port Charlotte moniker often seem bigger than Octomore, despite their peating levels only weighing in at about 40 ppm.

Alright…elementary ‘soft science’ aside, make no mistake about it, this is not a whisky for the faint of heart.  Comus weighs in at 167 ppm and has been bottled at 61% abv.  It is bigger than big.

Team Laddie is still obviously having fun with their cask exploration, as what we have here in the 4.2 edition is the razor sharp Octomore distillate matured in bourbon barrels, before being ACE’d (read: finished) in Sauternes casks.  The result is a sweeter and more elegant presentation than the straight bourbon-matured releases (those that end in “.1”).  In short, it’s a balance of soft and sharp.  Like getting hit in the face with a pillow…filled with peat bricks and swung by Barry Bonds.

Nose:  Sweet smoke and chocolate.  Tar, licorice, lime and cola.  Earthy and farmy peat behind an elegant creamy haze.  Some soft overripe pear, berry and vanilla ice cream.  A touch of rubber.  A splash of salt water.  Sauternes is obviously a wonderful softening influence, as I’m getting similar notes here as on the Glenmorangie Nectar D’or.  Obviously very different drams otherwise.

Palate:  A moment of sublime sweet smokiness, then…WHAM!  Monstrous.  More smoke now.  Some hot rubber too.  Tart and tangy-er than the nose would belie.  That would be the wine at work, I’d venture.  Bittersweet chocolate, tannic fruit skins, espresso.  Anise.  Burnt pineapple.  And somehow…still rather gentle.  Strange and oxymoronic.

Thoughts:  Another example of how malleable this Octomore stuff is.  Great whisky that you’ll be tasting for hours after the glass is empty.  No bad thing, that.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:04 pm
Nov 132014
 

Octomore 6.1IMG_6336

57% abv

Score:  87.5/100

 

Bruichladdich’s Octomore is now unquestionably the undisputed heavyweight of peated whisky.  The phenolic levels in nearly each successive release keep creeping ever upwards, redefining the weight classes and changing the face of the sport (whisky drinking) forever.  For a while there Ardbeg Supernova seemed to be an able sparring partner, but these Octomore releases just keep swinging haymakers.  At this point it’s simply no contest.

This particular version of Octomore is the ‘6.1 Scottish Barley’.  It sports a 167 ppm warning on the bottle.  Just hitting the markets as I write this piece is the ‘6.3 Islay Barley’ edition.  That release boasts a scorching 258 ppm on the label.  Those of you familiar with these escalating peat wars will most likely be well aware that there is a vast difference between the phenols in the malted barley prior to distillation, and those that actually end up in the finished product.  In all cases, however, I believe the 258 ppm refers to the peating level prior to distillation.  This is most likely the reason why, even though the numbers for each Octomore get more and more ludicrous, the actual peat- and smokiness never seem to get out of hand.  The end product is still crystalline and pure.  And damn good, I might add. 

Forgive the bias lapse in the previous sentence.  I am an unapologetic peat head.  But you already knew that.

There really is no dud in the Octomore range as yet.  This particular batch is probably one of the weaker ones I’ve encountered, if I’m to be completely honest, but even so it comes in head and shoulders above most other young malts.  Let’s face it…most drams hitting the shelves at a similar age would be outright flops.  Peated whisky is a different story.  And Octomore is yet an even different story.

If you’re a daring soul, and someone who appreciates bold flavours and doesn’t mind dropping between $100-150CA on a 5 year old whisky, give it a go.

Nose:  Crisp smoky bacon.  Earthy.  Saline and heavy in all things related to fire (smoke, ash, char and …well…more smoke, honestly).  Sweet BBQ.  A squeeze of lemon.  Rubber (like a new pair of Wellies).  Anise or fennel.  Cola syrup.  Mint Leaf chewy candies.  At the tail end of a good, long inhalation, you’ll get some butter and cereal notes.

Palate:  Rubber and tart apple.  More peat now, and still smoke, of course.  Lemon rind.  Slightly burnt olive oil.  Ocean-doused campfire ashes (not that I’ve ever had a mouthful).  Walnut, as it fades (almost Chardonnay-ish, somehow).

Thoughts:  The palate is a notch or three below what the nose had me hoping for, but still a rather exceptional five year old.  Let’s not forget that…this is only five years on.  Not my favorite Octomore, but a worthwhile dram nevertheless.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 3:45 pm
Jun 302014
 

Octomore 3.1007

59% abv

Score:  90/100

 

Man…I almost feel like I need to shout over the incredible volume of this malt.  This is a loud, loud whisky.  And that, of course, is a good part of its charm and appeal.

Bruichladdich Octomore.  There is no other single malt in Scotland that is nearly as successful at five years old.  Peat monsters work quite well in their youth, as we’ve discussed, and this is no exception.  Version 3.1 (sounding much more like a web release, than a batch number) is a beautifully clean drink.  Phenolic and bordering on one dimensional, yes, but sometimes just sticking with what you know…and doing it better than anyone else…is more than enough.

Quick recap:  Bruichladdich is the current undisputed heavyweight champ in the ever escalating peat wars.  This particular edition of Octomore boasts a pre-distillation phenol count of 152 parts per million, though more contemporary batches have ratcheted that up a notch further to 167 ppm.  What actually ends up in the glass is a story for another day (and perhaps written by someone with a bit better grasp of chemistry than I), but rest assured any edition of Octomore is a beastly dram.

Octomore is so much more than just an exemplification of a novel concept though.  It has defined a contemporary style for flavour junkies and extremists.  It has towered above others through persona alone, but has always been able to fall back on the reality that this is damn good distillate in its own right.  A clean spirit cut married to great oaken barrels.  End of story.  Having said all of that, and acknowledged Bruichladdich’s status atop the pile, I’m sincerely hoping that rumours of an impending Ardbeg Supernova 2014 make the competition interesting again.  Fingers crossed. 

Nose:  Smoke.  And more smoke.  Damp, dark and vegetal.  Buttery.  Moist dark soil.  Immensely farmy.  Very strong dark chocolate.  Cola.  Smoke.  Lemon.  Tarry Asphalt and rubber.  Wet, sooty ash…and rock.  Sweeter than you’d imagine, but not really fruity.

Palate:  Lapsang Souchong tea.  Earthy, damp smoke.  And, paradoxically, big black billows of dry smoke as well.  Some anise.  Lemon.  Butterscotch.  a lot of peaty influence, to be expected.  Like mouth-breathing when you take a chilly morning walk in Bowmore (anyone who has been there will know that smoky tang in the village air).

Thoughts:  Very much an Octomore.  Exactly what I had hoped for when I picked this one up.  Begs the question now…why am I ever without a bottle of this stuff open?  One of the best young malts on the market, and far from just a novelty.  But, hey…I’m just a peathead.  To quote ‘Sid and Nancy’:  “Never trust a junkie.”

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:00 am
Feb 272013
 

Octomore 2008 Cask Sample

?% abv

Score:  88/100

 

Here’s one just for fun.  Not bottled…not available…not really meaningful to many others.  However, this is my vanity project and I simply want to do it, so…

Twice now in the autumn month of September I’ve sipped Octomore from the cask in the warehouses of Bruichladdich.  The first time it was a clean, fiery and pristine dram.  Not to mention being an absolute thrill, as a fan of Octomore, to be able to taste straight from the cask.

The second was like a coal-burning train careening wildly down my throat, throwing off black billows of smoke and hellfire.

Yep.  In other words…both glorious.

This latter dram is the one I’m writing about now.  I believe this was an over-charred hoggy, but as to what may or may not have been inside the cask before its innards were lambasted by the might of Octomore…who knows?  What I can tell you is that this is a nearly unparalleled whisky.  I can’t think of anything even remotely similar.

Many thanks to Allan Logan at Bruichladdich for the opportunity to taste this (and many other casks), as well as his generosity in providing a healthy sample to bring home and write-up in relative peace.  Cheers, Allan.  Here’s to ya!

Nose:  Peat gets almost buried with other such broad stroke scents.  Char and campfire.  Borderline absurd notes of burnt rubber.  And normal rubber, for that matter.  Bitter dark chocolate (think high 90s, in terms of cacao content).  Caramel and burning grain.  Dark European breads and caramelized brown sugar.  Vinegar.  Farmy notes (like cowshit).

Palate:  Again…burnt rubber.  Someone said like ‘biting a pine tree’.  Personally I think it’s more like licking a bicycle tire.  Smoke.  Grilled lemon.

This one needs to open for a loooooooong, looooooooooooooooooooong time.

I will have to follow up the folk at Bruichladdich to see what happens to this cask.  (Pictured above).

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:07 pm
Feb 182013
 

Octomore 2.2 Orpheus099

61% abv

Score:  89.5/100

 

What happens when you put the world’s peatiest whisky into casks formerly used to mature one of the world’s most lauded wines from the Bourdeaux region of France?  Well…the best of both worlds really.  Betty and Veronica.

Think I still prefer my Octomore less adulterated (i.e. not wine-finished), but that is nothing more than the rambling confessions from the diary of a peathead.  Fact of the matter is…the wine influence works phenomenally well here.

You can expect all the feist and scrappiness of a five year old cask strength peat monster (140ppm!), but with a sheer subtle cloak of elegance draped over the lot.  Don’t epect the sharper edges to be dulled by the sweetening influence however.  This one still has all the beautiful clefts and peaks of its brethren.  Enormous…deep…and srprisingly sophisticated.

Nose:  Sweet, heat, peat.  Smoke.  Wine gums and grape-like wine notes.  Popcorn (kettle corn).  Caramel and creamy butterscotch.  Farmy notes.  Brine, tar and iodine.  Grows enormously with a little bit of diffusion time in the glass.

Palate:  Sharp and lean.  Fire and clouds of smoke.  Nearly a hickory note.  Licorice.  A scent somewhat akin to a hair salon in there somewhere.  The zing of lemon.  Plum and apple on the finish.

88.5 right out of the bottle.  89.5 after it opens for a while.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:42 am