Review: Octomore Single Malt Scotch Whisky / by Jason Hambrey

Octomore 9pt1 1.jpg
Typically 5-7 yrs
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Bruichladdich (Bruichladdich, Scotland)

This whisky generally represents the most heavily peated whisky in the world, in terms of parts per million of phenol (the peat flavor components) in the barley before the whisky is distilled. The peating levels vary - often around 170 ppm but one release 6.3 was peated to 258! For comparison, Port Charlotte is peated to 40 PPM and Caol Ila and Lagavulin are peated to about 30-45 ppm. That is a lot of peat!

It needs to be noted, however, that the peat level is measured when the barley is smoked - not after it is distilled. Thus, depending on how you distill, you can bring out more of the smoky or earthy character of the peat - or not much at all. So it isn't really a proper measure of how peaty a whisky is, but rather an indication of its potential. Above a certain level, as with bitterness units in beer, I imagine our palates can't distinguish any difference. The whisky is expensive, but only 5 years old - it is a delicate balance with peat because the smokiness of a whisky will decrease with years in the cask - so it can be a balance of peatiness and maturity.

Review (2016)

  • Batch: 6.1 (57% ABV)

  • Bottling Code: P/132371 26 MAR 14

  • Bottling Date: 2014

This batch was peated to 167 ppm and matured in an ex-bourbon cask.

The nose is full of smoke – not only from the peat but also seemingly from the barrel char, slightly. Incredibly earthy, too – with sharp peat, salt, brine, apricot, honey, bourbon barrel char (sure enough, it’s an ex-bourbon cask!), and porridge. The palate is thick and spicy, with lots of brown sugar and caramel alongside peppery peat, caramel, smoke, and chilli flakes. And rich chocolate mousse. It’s pretty soft for 57%! The finish has incredible marine, mineral, and peat character. Dark chocolate, clove, cinnamon (like mayan hot chocolate), white pepper, rockpools, and of course smoke, moss, and damp earth. This really is a clear cut representation of peat – really quite brilliant stuff.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low at $230.

Review (2016)

  • Batch: 7.1 (59.5% ABV, 208 PPM)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

This octomore is big, smoky, earthy, and strongly youthful. The peat is sharp and rich, with interesting notes also of dried brown rice and bubblegum. Yet, the rich peat is incredibly balanced with the sweet toffee, brown sugar, and hazlenut skins. The finish is rich, earthy, smoky, and salty. Awesome stuff.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low at $225.

Review (2016)

  • Batch: 7.3 Islay Barley (60% ABV)

  • Bottling Code: L/150264 15/218 10 05 15 12155114

  • Bottling Date: 2015

The barley in this release was sourced from James Brown’s Octomore farm. Distilled in 2010 from grain harvested at Lorgba field, peated to 169 ppm, and matured on Islay in American bourbon barrels and Spanish wine casks of Ribuera del Duero.

I do quite like most things Bruichladdich does. Here, extreme peat…extremely marine, and not as smoky as one might expect – though very peaty and farmy. Friends of mine have described this in terms of various animals – cows, sheep, etc. – lots of complexity and it’s not a grimy spirit by any means. I’d love to visit Islay as this is likely a whisky where terroir would come in – the surroundings, how it is matured, the landscape. Brilliant whisky.

Well, I suppose on to more proper tasting notes – lots of spice, lots of minerality, toasted sesame, and vegetal notes not unlike some clean mezcals. Long, and complex, drying as well. Iodine, milky tea, smoke, toffee, apricot, seaweed, salt stone, preserved lemons, smoke, vanilla, and light creaminess, with time. Ginger and melon on the palate, and melds so well with the earthy barley, peat, menthol, and smoke – finishes with lots of maritime character, spice, mixed dried fruit, the lightest touch touch of oxidized wine, and smoke. Brilliant, from start to very long finish.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). It’s a hair breadth away from “exceptional”, though.

Value: Low. Pricy stuff.

Review (2018)

  • Batch: 8.1 Masterclass (59.5% ABV, 167 PPM, first fill ex-bourbon barrels)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Sooty, and intensely earthy – moreso than smoky. Rich, and deep, too – it is very much like a faceplant into peat. Spicy, too – cacao, cinnamon, and nutmeg. There is a light bracing of vanilla and oak, too – with yellow apples and pears gradually making a slight presence on the nose, too. My reference on this tasting is Octomore 7.3 – that one is much smokier, yet just as earthy – and more oily.

The palate is richly earthy, as one might expect, and very peaty. The orchard fruit and a sweet creaminess slightly offset the deep earth of the peat, and we have rich dark chocolate coming in too. Interestingly, Chinese 5-spice (with pronounced anise) and orange peel too.

The finish is so rich in peat, it tastes like I actually just chewed and spit out the funkiest peat you can imagine. Some light cinnamon and oak, but it is very much about the peat.

It’s quite complex in terms of the incredibly rich earthiness, so much so that I don’t have the vocab to fully describe it. It’s balanced, but not that broad in a way that some of the better Octomores are - not nearly as gorgeous as the magnificent 7.3, which composes a symphony compared to this one solo. Still, very good.

Also, goes very well with hoppy beers, if you were ever wondering…

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low (almost average) at $135. And yes, $135 was a steal….

Review (2021)

  • Batch: 9.1 Dialogos (59.1% ABV, 156 PPM, ex-bourbon barrels)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

42,000 bottles of this stuff were made. The casks were from a variety of bourbons: 51% Jim Beam, 26% Jack Daniels,15% Jim Beam (Clermont), Old-Gran Dad 8%.

The nose is rich, salty, sharp, and earthy. There is a really nice raw grain character to it and the minerality is awesome. It’s very savoury – I get olives, oysters, seaweed, pickled lemons, thyme, anchovies – but vanilla dances in and out throughout, showing its versatility.

The palate is smoky, smoky, smoky, with a bit less earth than the other Octomores I’ve had. Indeed, it is a bit cleaner. Toasted hazlenuts, sea spray, black wrinkly olives, dried apple, wet earth, and rich cacao. The finish is, as one would expect, farmy, smoky, earthy, and lightly sweet.

A very nice Islay, and terrific for the price I found it at (~$130) – but it doesn’t have some of the depth and richness of other bottlings I’ve tried. But it still does the trick, as usual…

Highly Recommended (50% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Relatively, for an octomore, pretty good at $130. But, it’s a lot of money against the whisky market in general, and it’d be on the lower end of average there.