For something that was effectively a defiant rebuttal, the fiery Octomore has certainly mellowed, if only just. Our co-editor Justin Choo looks at the Octomore 10 Series.
In a manner of speaking, the Octomore range is amongst some of Bruichladdich distillery’s most adventurous whiskies. As we’ve intimated previously, the Octomore was Jim McEwan’s rebuttal to those who derided Bruichladdich’s non-peated expression as un-Islay-like.
It is very interesting to note though that there inherently is no difference in the distillation as far as Octomore, Bruichladdich and Port Charlotte are concerned. The main difference comes from the peating levels of the barley, barley varietals where applicable, as well as the cask maturation process. It’s Bruichladdich’s way of showcasing the many faces of its base spirit.
The series has gone through many changes and the only consistent rule seems to be: there are rules but we’ll make them up as we go along and change them whenever we like. While Bruichladdich and Port Charlotte leave their experiments as one-offs, it’s just another day in the office for the Octomores. However, no longer are Bruichladdich intent on turning the peat dial past 11 and this batch of Octomores are perhaps the most gentle monsters they have released. And if their almost-regular blind tasting sessions are anything to go by, you can more or less throw any prior knowledge out the window.
Indeed, fans will know by now that their beloved Ochdamh-mòr has so many faces. Once a straightforward peat monster, its sole purpose of subverting expectations has turned it into an entirely different beast. With the Octomore 10 Series, we basically have U2 going through its Achtung Baby–Zooropa phase.
10.1 (107ppm, 59.8% ABV, 42,000 bottles)
The 10.1 is a five-year-old that uses 100% Scottish-grown Concerto barley that was smoked to the tune of 107ppm (not bpm, just to be clear). The ‘basic’ Octomore spends its life in first-fill ex-bourbon casks, which came from Jim Bean, Jack Daniels, Heaven Hill and Buffalo Trace. This is of course, the core Octomore expression and one that you’ll need to try to establish the baseline for year’s range. Unassuming by Octomore standards, the signature charring and smoke are still prominent but they share the spotlight with the vanilla-driven spirit with its hints of candied apple.
10.2 (96.9ppm, 56.9% ABV, 24,000 bottles)
The .2 is traditionally the travel retail version of the range and this one uses 100% Scottish-grown Optic and Oxbridge barley. The barley is peated to 96.9ppm and unlike the core 10.1, spends half its life in two different casks. For the first four years, it is matured in first-fill ex-bourbon casks before being transferred to sauternes casks (that had been filled three times previously) where it will reside for another four years. This is the fruit bomb version in the series, driven by the sauternes which gives you a distinct peach and passion fruit direction to go along with its signature sweetness. That balance of sweetness and acidity continues till it fades to a slight spiciness.
10.3 (114ppm, 61.3% ABV, 24,000 bottles)
The 10.3 Islay Barley, as the name suggests, gets its malt from Islay itself – from local farmer James Brown’s 2012 harvest. This bottle also marks the first time that the .3 in the range breaks from the 5-year maturation; 10.3 spends six years in ex-bourbon casks and alongside the casks that held 10.1 – so this is an interesting side by side. Literally. And indeed it doesn’t disappoint: for whatever reason, this is a 10.1 that is far more intense on all fronts, with a distinct earthy character at its core.
10.4 (88ppm, 63.5% ABV, 12,000 bottles)
The 10.4 in the Octomore 10 Series is the one that is packed with the most surprises – not only is it the youngest ever Octomore at three years, it has been also been aged in fresh Limousin oak that was highly toasted to diminish the effects of tannins. There’s quite a price to pay for this – each 225l cask costs £700 and they made only 28 of them. As a result, this run only numbers 12,000. This one will mess with your head, so that’s pretty much worth the price of admission. This time around, you have chocolate and coconut notes as well as hints of a wine cask influence, and an elegance you do not associate with a three-year-old whisky.