This is not a post about Jim McEwan. This is about the new Octomore 7.1. But then again you cannot really speak about the Octomore without a mention of Jim. And all the more, this is a significant release, because it is Jim’s final Octomore before his retirement.
For those unfamiliar with Bruichladdich’s Octomore, it is a concise embodiment of what the distillery is all about: traditional yet unconventional, with a hint of brashness. Bruichladdich makes a big deal in stressing that they hire local, produce traditionally (mature whiskies on Islay itself, which actually isn’t a widespread practice these days), and use Scottish-grown barley; they place great importance on terroir; they’re unconventional in pursuing a non-peated spirit as their signature, and along with Bunnahabhain, are atypical Islay distilleries. Bruichladdich’s eye-catching packaging is also an anomaly in an industry that has tended to adopt a more traditional-looking outlook.
The Octomore was one of Jim’s ways of putting to rest less-than-flattering opinions of Bruichladidch being an atypical unpeated whisky from Islay. Designed to be the peatiest whisky money can buy, the sky’s the limit for phenol count (accepted way to measure how peaty a whisky is) where the Octomore is concerned. Whiskies are typically considered peaty when you have a phenol count of 40PPM (phenol parts per million), and previous Octomore releases have hit heights of as high as 258PPM. If you’re worried that it’ll be too overwhelming, fear not, at some point the increased phenol count isn’t quite as apparent, as the law of diminishing returns applies.
Every batch of Octomore is unique, and its vastly different peating levels do contribute in some degree; which is good in the sense that you come to expect something different with each release, and it may well be very different next time: the next Octomore will be in the good hands of Adam Hannett, Jim’s successor. In the meantime, we’ll miss Jim’s memorable knack for storytelling, which extends right down to his captivatingly delicious tasting notes. So, over to you Jim…
Official tasting notes
Character Sweet and gentle belying hidden depths.
Colour Summer sun on Hebridean sand.
Nose Initially the nose is sea spray and caramel, lemon balm and pipe tobacco. Slowly, the peat smoke rises from the glass. Gentle but strong lifting vanilla, mint, toffee, golden syrup and almond. Peach follows with pear syrup and buttercup. A symphony, a delight to experience.
Palate Wow! Smoothness, sweetness and then smoke. A texture like no other, satin soft and devilishly warming. The American oak influence is in perfect tune with the smoke and soft fruits delicately, skillfully coaxed from the still during exceptionally slow distillation. Vanilla, honey, citrus rise up to be met with sea spray and leather, smoked mussels mix with autumn bracken and crème brûlée.
Finish As the sweetness from the oak fades the salt comes to the fore one last time while the gentle peat smoke steady and true grows and outlasts all else.
Mood The feeling is that of long summer nights turning cooler and shorter as autumn approaches. Watch the sun set over the sea and breathe the peat smoke hanging in the air.
The Octomore 7.1 is an intensely rich whisky that attacks your senses in all areas – intense smoke and peat, with the vanilla sweetness and fruit citrus jostling for your attention. The burning passion of youth (five years old) creates an intense explosion of pain and pleasure that no other whisky can provide. As much as you should water it down to best appreciate its subtler qualities, I believe there’s no substitute for having Octomore on its own. It may well be an emasculating whisky: you can’t say you can handle your whisky unless you’ve had one. But on an interesting note, most people I know who love Octomore are female; not that they are in the business of emasculation just for the record…
Octomore 7.1 is a limited edition, and only several hundred bottles have been allocated to Singapore. They can be had at select cocktail and hotel bars, and on the retail front, they are available at 1855 The Bottle Shop.