Bruichladdich Octomore 07.1
We are coming to the end of Peat Month, and we wanted to finish strong. So far we have tried to explore the wide variety of peated whisky, trying bottles that ranged both in the amount of peat smoke used and the type of peat used to produce the smoke. At this point, our peat range has stretched from around 10ppm all the way up into the high 40ppm range. This spectrum encompasses the vast majority of peated whisky we’ve encountered. However, there is one distillery that has decided to push the peat smoke envelope to the extreme.
Longtime followers of the blog may remember our Bruichladdich double review. One of the focal points we tried to stress was that Bruichladdich seems to pursue simultaneous goals—a focus on terroir and provenance along with a yearning for experimentation. No series of bottlings exemplifies these goals more than the Octomore series. With Octomore, Bruichladdich has tried to figure how just how much peat smoke can they cram into a whisky. What was an experiment has turned into one pillar of the distillery’s core product range. Every year, Bruichladdich releases a few different Octomore variations, each with a slightly different focus.
We mentioned how the majority of peated whisky falls into a range of 10-50ppm. A single malt at 10ppm might give off very little indication of peat smoke. The peat effect of a whisky bottled at 45ppm is likely to be noticed from across the room when poured. With Octomore, Bruichladdich simply destroys this scale and frequently bottles expressions in the realm of 130-200+ppm and at cask strength.
There is an interesting caveat to such high levels of peat smoke. As we’ve written about this month, peat sourced from different locations can have dramatically different impact on a whisky. Islay peat is extremely potent and maritime. We have tried a few versions of Octomore now, and for a while we could not determine why the peat effect in them was always different than what we expected—something more in line with a Laphroaig or an Ardbeg. We recently learned that Bruichladdich prefers to use peat from the mainland of Scotland to kiln their malt. Consistent with the company’s focus on terrior, choosing specific peat sources have created peated whisky that is vastly different from the other distilleries on Islay.
Bruichladdich Octomore 07.1
From what we can tell, the 0X.1 Octomore varieties indicate a whisky distilled with Scottish barley (as opposed to the local, Islay barley in the 0X.3 varieties), and aged in American oak casks. Octomore is also typically on the younger side, and 07.1 has been aged 5 years. As far as the peat content, this bottle reaches an incredible 208ppm. That’s effectively four times the peat content of your average Port Charlotte or Laphroaig 10.
On the Eyes: Octomore 07.1 pours a pure golden color. Perhaps in spite of the younger age, the texture of 07.1 is very rich.
On the Nose: Immediately after pouring, we were greeted by a wave of spirit heavy aromas-fresh paint and acetone. Quickly afterwards, however, the dram opened up to this incredibly pleasant holiday mix of a bonfire with cloves and cinnamon. A few drops of water brought the baking spices forward, create the scent of pumpkin pie in the oven.
To the Taste: Up front 07.1 tastes lively, sweet and spirit heavy. The bulk of the palate is dominated by the arrival of the peat smoke. Notes of vanilla and much more cloves and spices mix with a wave of ever so salty smokiness. With a little water the flavor transforms considerably, brining vanilla to center stage and 07.1 becomes a very easy drinking whisky.
And the Finish: The finish is one long, lingering wisp of campfire embers mixed with vanilla notes. Water did not alter the finish significantly. The smokiness is mellow and sweet and gives the dram a delicious conclusion.
Octomore 07.1 surprised us, given all of the expectations we had built up around the idea of a super peated, Islay whisky. The smokiness is off the charts but we would not consider the effect as aggressive or suffocating. We might chalk up the initial surge of aromas to the ABV (59.5%), as opposed to the peat. With a bit of water 07.1 becomes a balanced, easily drinkable whisky and we suspect the choice of peat source plays a huge role. Had Bruichladdich used Islay peat, 07.1 might have tasted like seawater on fire. Each time we try it we are reminded how versatile peat smoke can be.