Bruichladdich is a modern distillery using old equipment that tends to do things a bit differently than its contemporaries. It’s located on Islay, an island just off Scotland’s west coast that is known for its big, peaty single malts. The eponymous core whisky from Bruichladdich is actually unpeated, with some expressions in this range really focusing on the concept of terroir by using barley from a single farm, or only from Islay itself. The Port Charlotte range, though, is heavily peated, sort of an homage to what people have come to expect from Islay whisky. But the annual Octomore series, now in its tenth edition, is where the distillery really gets a chance to experiment with terroir, cask type, age, and peat levels.
The new Octomore 10s series may not reach the lofty 300-plus PPM peat level of releases past, but that’s not the point here. As head distiller Adam Hannett put it, Bruichladdich has moved on from releasing “peat monsters” in the Octomore range to toying with the “impossible equation” of making whisky that shouldn’t work based on its age, strength, and still aggressive peat levels.
According to Hannett, the peat level of Octomore is not the end goal. Instead, it’s essentially dictated by nature — if the whisky is distilled on a windy day, it will be less peaty because of the smoke being blown around, while a calm day would produce a more heavily peated whisky. There are four Octomore expressions, and each one generally captures one particular element: .1 is the control, .2 explores different cask maturation, .3 uses barley from a single farm, and .4 is sort of the outlier.
This year’s Octomore lineup is as follows:
- 10.1 was aged for five years in ex-bourbon casks and bottled at 59.8% alcohol by volume with a PPM of 107. Despite that high number, the smoke is not overly aggressive, with sweet vanilla flavors shining through on the palate.
- 10.2 is eight years old and it was matured for four years in American oak, then another four in Sauternes casks. It’s bottled at 56.9% ABV and 96.9 PPM, and this expression is only available at global travel retail. The wine cask influence shines through in dried fruit and cherry notes that pop amidst the smoke.
- 10.3 is a six-year-old whisky distilled from barley grown by Islay farmer James Brown, bottled at a high 61.3% ABV and 114 PPM. There is more spice here than in 10.1, with a bit of menthol and brine and a richer mouthfeel.
Finally, 10.4 is the oddest of the bunch, a three-year-old whisky aged in heavily toasted French virgin oak casks, bottled at 63.5% ABV and 88 PPM. According to Hannett, this one was intended to be a bit of a provocateur and a conversation starter. Indeed it is, with a deep, dark color and a flavor that recalls the American single malt category. The nose has some balsa wood, while the palate pops with raisin, caramel, and a more subtle smokiness. 10.4 won’t be released until January 2020.
Octomore 10.1 – 10.3 are available now for the following SRP: 10.1 ($190), 10.2 ($211 at global travel retail), 10.3 ($250). Octomore 10.4 will be available in January for an SRP of $235.
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