Thursday, 23 January 2014

Octomore Vertical

The worlds most heavily peated whisky, the iron fist in the velvet glove, uber-experimental!  Bruichladdich’s words to describe their peat monster.  The paradox is that peat stats don’t translate directly into oral agony and that these whiskies are in many ways, actually very light and fresh. 

Bruichladdich organise their core range into a matrix, which you can see here – with peat levels on the x-axis and “something else” (either barley type, cask or .. something else) on the y-axis.  The Octomore is the “super heavily peated” column, and the current bottlings are the 6.1 in the “Scottish Barley” row, with 6.2 as the “wine finished” (this time eaux de vie) variety.  Octomore is produced once a year (this is the 6 in the Octomore 6.1) and usually matured for 5 years.  It’s produced just before the silent season, when the stills are flushed and repaired, and rightly seen as a contaminant to the cleaner whiskies produced at the front of the distilling year. 

I’ve scrounged a few samples to compare the spirit over the last three years.

Octomore 4.1, 167ppm, 62.5% A+


Thanks to Jon Webb for the sample.

Nose – Fresh, light, peated fruit (pear and cherry) with plastically sweet smoked raisins in the background.  A field hospital built round a roaring bonfire.  Reminiscent of the nose on the (very delicious) Big Peat Xmas 2013.  There’s a dampening wet paper edge though.  Quite light and supple, quite sweet and sexy.

Body – Spicy, smooth, sweet charred cedar, toasted grains, burnt toast.  Great balance, loads of sweetness.

Finish – Very long, massively numbing - particularly on the lips and gums.  Doesn’t falter but eventually stops delivering sweetness.   Washes down to Szechuan peppercorns and finally pure peat.  This tastes like it probably isn’t very good for you!

What's not good about it: The finish is a bit blunt – not really one-dimensional as it has so much going on, but its just so crushing that its hard to find elegance. 

What’s good about it:  But otherwise its very good; deep balance, obviously loads of structure, light fresh nose, doesn’t falter throughout.

Octomore 5.1, 169ppm, 59.5% A+


Thanks to Johnnie Stumbler for the sample.

Nose – Bright but forceful, slightly sour melon backed by more obvious waxed fruit.  Then there is some bold peat and nicely bright phenols.  It takes a little work at first to get through the sourness to the good stuff.  For a whisky of this calibre, the balance is a bit off.

Body – A complete surprise – rich, dark, oily, smooth compared to the 4.1, and a real blockbuster backed with a big bundle of paper ash.  Massive belt of phenols – this is what the whisky is billed as and what I was expecting it to deliver.

Finish – Long, savoury, deep and rich.  Darkly toasted cereals and deep fruit.  Finally, numbing again although not as much as the 4.  Pineapple burps.

What's not good about it: Nose is too bright, too sour – a fault of the big peats also – which makes it less luxuriant and less masculine.   

What’s good about it:  Fabulous, blockbuster body – from the arrival through to the ashen remains.

Octomore 6.1, 167ppm, 57% A⊕


Thanks to Adrian Barnett for the sample.

Nose – More bright and sour, this time with a bit of town hall on top of the orchard, and apples rather than pears.  Feels a lot more familiar and modern than the 5 for some reason, but otherwise very similar.  Smells like a 1970s first aid kit.

Body – Deep, rich fruit, loads of sweetness, beautifully balanced with delicious, massive peat, although much less numbing than before. The nose now makes sense and the body brings the whole expression together. 

Finish – Frazzles, long peat and wood, finally descends into wood bitterness.  But not yet unbalanced due to the numbing peat fire. 

What's not good about it: Sour note again although reduced and is slightly more rotten than sour. 

What’s good about it:  But all brought together by that arrival and mid-palate.  Beautifully integrated – loads of sweetness, flawless peat enormity, bags of structure. What a massive whisky!

To compare these three, I thought I’d make my own matrix.  This is the whiskies in direct comparison – the comments only make sense compared to their peers!

Whisky Nose Body Finish
4.1 Fruit, perfume, the lightest Sweet, cloying, floral, delicious Long, numbing, cough medicine
5.1 Rich, bright, sherried Dark, oily, rich, smoother Long, sweet, rich, spicy, burning
6.1 Richer, barley, muskier.  Perhaps the best nose of the three Structured, slightly austere cereal, strong barley note.  Cough medicine again.  Long, very balanced, addictive – the best finish

Hard to call a winner on the body (particularly as I can no longer feel my mouth or lips), probably the 6.1 and the 6 is definitely the overall winner for me.  All are very good though with a common thread of massive peat and structured, deep sweetness.  But look what happens when you stick the 4 in Chateau d’Yquem casks:

Octomore 4.2 “Comus”, 167ppm, 61% A⊕+


This is Octomore 4.1 finished in Sauternes casks. 

Nose – Parallel beams of bright, grapy, ultra sweet and deeply oaked Sauternes, and deeply peated, equally sweet, ashen Octomore 04.  While the producers state “it shouldn’t work”, it seems a dead cert to me with peat and sweet working so well, and Octomore being, really, a very sweet whisky.  It’s required to balance the peat.  Combined, its a deeply musky, very sexy, very well balanced nose.  Incredibly luxurious, bright, deep and oily, while being reminiscent of a large, oak log fire.  The two sweetnesses (the natural Octomore sweetness and the Sauternes) are orthogonal, are appreciated separately and in balance, and hence don’t add up to “too much”; its not cloying, it works.

Body – Again, the two dimensions of sweetness add up perfectly.  Like an excellent thai meal washed down with chilled Sauternes – stunning sweet, sour, and burnt flavours, loads of blockbuster oak and fruit.  Crucially; total poise throughout without any off notes, loss of balance or dignity.  Stunning.

Finish – Very long, deeply sensual, ripe, warming, numbing, and richly grapey.  Perfectly nobly rotted grapes in last night’s oak ashes.  Dangerously drinkable.

What's not good about it:  Auction only, and getting more expensive. Nothing else. 

What’s good about it:  Everything else.  I’d swap my car for a case of this.

In February I’ll be posting a series on independent or other special, experimental or otherwise interesting and barely available whiskies from this incredible Islay distillery.

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