Review: Why Octomore Remains the Most Interesting Scotch
The 13th annual release from Bruichladdich is still heavy on the peat but also deftly showcases the influences of cask finishes and local terroir
What we’re drinking: Octomore 13 range (13.1, 13.2, 13.3)
Where it’s from: Bruichladdich, a distillery revived in 2001 and located on the southernmost end of western Scotland’s Hebridean Archipelago. The distillery focuses heavily on local Islay terroir.
Why we’re drinking this: Now in its thirteenth edition, Octomore has come a long way from simply being the “world’s most heavily peated single malt. That said, these bottles all go well over 100+ PPM (parts per million, a number corresponding to the spirit’s phenol content).
At this point, however, the more interesting aspect of Octomore (and Bruichladdich) is more about the land and the grains. “Since we reopened in 2001, it’s been about exploring the fundamentals of whiskey,” Head Distiller Adam Hannett tells InsideHook. “Let’s talk about the barley, the varieties that grow, the flavors we get, all of which is still not a big part of the whisky industry.”
You can explore all these fundamentals more readily in the 13th edition of Octomore, which features (for now) three releases that are all five years old and each with a PPM that hovers between 129.3 and 137.3. There are a few cask differences and the source of the barley changes, but otherwise, this is a way to really examine how a small change can make a big difference in your whisky.
And that includes using barley locally. “Islay-grown barley gives us a flavor, depth and richness we don’t get from other barleys,” suggests Harnett.
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In the end, you may not actually care about all the details in your dram as long as you get a quality, heavily-peated single malt. “We’re a small distillery on the west coast of Scotland, and we’re not making whisky for the world,” adds Hannett. “We’re not trying to appeal to everyone. We’re trying to do something specific — and we know some people don’t care but some people want that transparency and level of detail.”
It’s our favorite of the peated Scotches, so we look forward to the annual release each year. Let’s see how the 13th edition fared.
How it tastes: Definitely not undrinkable (Hannett was joking).
13.1: Aged in first-fill American Oak whisky casks for five years. 100% Scottish barley, 137.3 PPM, 59.2% ABV. It’s smoky on the nose but not overwhelming. On the palate, you’ll get a lot of fruit (particularly apricot), a little vanilla, coconut and butterscotch, and then more smoke on the finish.
13.2: Aged in first-fill Oloroso sherry butts for five years. 100% Scottish barley, 137.3 PPM, 58.3% ABV. A darker amber in color, this one certainly emphasizes the dark fruits and offers up a drier finish (along with ashy notes). Add a drop or two of water and suddenly a bit of citrus and some sweeter caramel note appear.
13.3: Aged in a combination of first-fill American Oak whisky and second-fill European oak casks. 100% Islay barley, 129.3 PPM, 61.1% ABV. The standout of the three was distilled from the 2015 harvest of Octomore Farm Concerto barley. It also undergoes two cask different cask maturations. The mouthfeel here is creamier and everything feels a bit bolder — the maltiness, the overripe fruit, the dry finish, the minerality. Again, the peat is certainly present, but it’s not the overriding factor.
Fun fact: Hannett helped us understand the variations of Bruichladdich’s limited-edition releases that aren’t Octomore. Black Art, for instance, is the distillery’s only purposely mysterious whisky — we basically know it’s unpeated and goes through a lot of re-caskings. Bruichladdich Islay Barley is also unpeated and gets a new release (or vintage) each year. And Port Charlotte was Bruichladdich’s first peated whisky — each year sees a new vintage and a cask special, but always at 40 PPM.
Where to buy: The Octomore 13 series is available online and at specialty retailers with prices starting at $219.99 (Octomore 13.1), $259.99 (Octomore 13.2) and $299.99 (Octomore 13.3).
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