Anxiety is not something you normally associate with a whisky tasting, but on this night, fear hung in the air like the waffling bouquet of a plastic Chucky doll on a campfire.
Prior to the tasting smoke alarms in the Whisky Hall were temporarily disconnected. The Fire Department & City Bylaw Services were notified of possible air quality violations. Police in the area were advised to raise their stun gun setting to maximum. Animal Services set skunk traps and Emergency Medical Services set up in the Whisky Hall’s parking lot equipped with defibrillators and oxygen packs.
Members attending the tasting were asked to bring a change of clothes so as not to offend non-peat drinking partners upon their arrival home or in the off chance a member might lose control of their bodily functions.
Before entering, all club members were required to read and sign a disclaimer as to the possible side effects of extreme peat exposure such as:
- Inability to breathe
- Loss of coordination
- Cardiac arrhythmia
- Spontaneous combustion
- Appearance of God
- Tourette’s syndrome
- Excessive sweating or soiling
- Abnormal sensations
- Permanent loss of brain function
Was this really a tasting or more of an experiment? All I know is Health Canada was very interested to learn the effects of extreme peat exposure on a control group such as our members.
Like the Berserker of old, membership was encouraged to dawn a special limited edition “Octogeddon Hammer & Barley Tattoo” to demonstrate their bravery. Apologies to any I may have told that the tattoos were easy to remove … that may have been an outright lie.
Is Jim McEwan the father of this Octomore? I think so, after all he is quoted as saying, “The spirit is the child and the cask is the mother”. What he didn’t say, but we all know is, “Who’s your Daddy?” and by that I mean we believe Jim spawned all these Octomore casks at Bruichladdich and maybe a few unknowns on Jura as well. You have to admit Willie Cochrane bears a striking resemblance to a certain young Cooper.
Our club President for life, Curt Robinson, was our spirit guide for the evening. Curt’s first words were, “Dram Members! Prepare for glory … swill hearty! For tonight we drink in Edmonton!”*
*Edmonton or Hell, both have the same meaning here in Calgary
During the tasting Curt reminded us that it’s been more than thirteen years since Jim McEwan, the mad genius of Bruichladdich, laid down into casks a terrifying peated formula. Jim, who was taught from birth to thank the Irish for teaching Scotland distillation. Taught that distilling on Islay in service to the whisky world was the greatest glory one could achieve in life. Jim has moved on now (about a ½ block from the distillery), into retirement, but on his last trip to Calgary I overheard him say… “Remember Bruichladdich.” As simple a sentence as a Jim can give. “Remember why we distilled.” For he did not wish tribute, nor monuments, nor monotonous poems of distilling like that windbag Robby Burns. His wish was simple, “Remember us”, he said. That was his hope, should any whisky enthusiasts come across Islay, in all the countless centuries yet to be. May all our voices whisper to you from the ageless stones, “Go tell the Ileach, passerby, that here by Islay committee rules, we distill.”
The tasting started with apprehension, but like lemmings jumping off a cliff, once the brave Irish members drank their whiskey, the others followed in kind. And so the tasting was under way, ultimately the Dram members did what they were trained to do, what they were bred to do, what they were born to do! The Dram members taught never to leave an empty glass, never to fall down. Taught that imbibing at a tasting, in service to the Dram Initiative was the greatest glory one could achieve that day.
Our whiskies of the night were as follows:
1) Octomore 1.1 Released 2008 131 PPM / 63.5 % ABV 5 Years old, this whisky was born October 16, 2002, then laid to rest inside Bourbon casks from Buffalo Trace and presented to the known world April 2008 at a heart stopping 63.5 % ABV with an unheard of 131 PPM, limited to 6,000 limited bottles and put into glass as black as coal. At the time of distillation, this whisky had the highest level of peat ever to be found. My personal favorite of the night with all the sweet vanilla oozing out from the casks. The question was asked, “Can one drink this much peated whisky and expect to remain unchanged” and the answer came back, “I’m not sure, but let’s find out together”, and so we started into the second malt of the night.
2) Octomore 2.1 Released 2009 140 PPM / 62.5 % ABV 5 Years old and limited to 15,000 bottles. I think the prevailing attitude at Bruichladdich Distillery was if no body died from 1.1 let’s keeping kicking up the PPM.
3) Octomore 2.2 Orpheus Released 2009 140 PPM / 61 % ABV 5 Years old and limited to 15,000 bottles, finished in Chateau Petrus wine casks. Named after a character in the Matrix, best known for the line ……… “Diageo created a world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.” This malt seemed to be the favorite among the unwashed masses in attendance.
…At this point we took a small break then it was back to peat and repeat…
4) Octomore 3.1 Released 2010 152 PPM / 59 % ABV 5 Years old and limited to 18,000 bottles. The PPM in this malt just went from Islay cruising speed to battle speed.
5) Octomore 4.1 Released 2011 167 PPM / 62.5% ABV 5 Years old and limited to 15,000 bottles. The PPM in this malt just went from Islay battle speed to attack speed. I believe some members might have hit a second puberty with this malt.
6) Octomore 4.2 Comus Released 2012 167 PPM / 61% ABV 5 Years old and limited to 18,000 bottles. Finished in Sauternes cask. This malt was named for Comus, the son of Bacchus (the Roman god of wine and partying), along with a John Milton’s poem (about the tension between sensual pleasure and physical abandon, extravagance and moderation, chastity and virtue). Well, all I can say is living on an isolated sheep filled Island, surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with long cold winter storms and having access to large quantities of high alcohol spirits might be cause for some distillery workers to test boundaries.
…After another small break then we started repeating ourselves…
7) Octomore 5.1 Released 2012 169 PPM / 59.5% ABV 5 Years old and limited to 18,000 bottles. Rumor has it that when Lance Armstrong heard that Bruichladdich was on a tour de force, he was immediately interested in the performance enhancing qualities of this malt. When asked if this was true, he denied it.
8) Octomore 6.1 Released 2013 167 PPM / 57% ABV 5 Years old and limited to 18,000 bottles. The PPM was dropped by 2 PPM, based on the rumor that the heavy peat was causing people to stick their fingers inside their glass and then talk like Jim McEwan.
9) Octomore 6.3 Released 2014 258 PPM / 64 % ABV Islay Barley, 5 Years old and limited to 18,000 bottles. Said to be from the kiln of hell itself. The PPM in this malt just went from Islay attack speed to ramming speed. Rumor has it that rather than using yeast, Jim McEwan ate raw peat and sweated into the wash back to start fermentation. I do remember nosing this malt … then the next thing I remember was being hit with 1,000 volts arcing across both nipples from the defibrillator, a smile from an Emergency Medical Responder whom I temporarily mistook as God, and some Dram member saying welcome back and telling me I should finish my dram.
…Bonus Peat Round…
10) Octomore 7.1 Released 2015 208 PPM / 59.5% ABV 5 Years old. Bonus malt, not on the tasting mats, but a last minute addition from our friends at Glazer’s Canada. Octomore, pronounced Ochdamh-mor, which I now think is Gaelic for “by the sweat and or the sweat, of McEwan”.
For complete tasting notes please visit Allthingswhisky web site and look under ‘Octomore’.
After we finished drinking our last malt Curt told the group of phenol fanatics “No empty glasses, no driving; that is Dram law. And by Dram law we will sit and drink. A new age of Whisky has begun, an age of peat, and all will know that 45 Dram Members gave their dignity to drink ten life altering malts!”
To the Dram members I say, “I’ve never been more proud of a group of whisky drinkers than I am of you. To the committee and cleanup crew, thank you for what you do”.
To our spirit guide for the night, Curt Robinson thank you for guiding us through this marsh of peated whiskies. I truly believe the members were surprised that you were able to speak right to the end.
A special thanks to Tony Perri, Director of Operations, Alberta, Glazer’s of Canada, for your generous contributions. I hope the next day didn’t prove too difficult, and based on your ability to drink, we have promoted you to a Dram prospect member.
– Words: Maltmonster
– Images: Pat Carroll & Curt