“But seriously, Octomore, is that even a real whisky?”
That was basically my first reaction when I heard about Octomore. It is a limited whisky produced from one of my favourite distilleries, Bruichladdich. You see, I am not the kind of guy who does things by halves, especially when it comes to food and flavours. If a recipe says to add one chilli, I’ll make sure my bases are covered and add three. Four tablespoons of lemon juice? Better make it a cup. And please don’t get my wife started on my use of pepper. I go through a packet of the stuff in a fortnight.
So when I heard my favourite distillery has made a whisky with more of my favourite flavour in it (peat) than ever, I couldn’t believe my luck.
Let’s take a step back. What is peat? No, it is not our fearless Gentleman-in-charge here at the Cabinet, Pete Stevens. It is actually organic material that has died and fallen in a bog. If, like me, you have an inner chemistry nerd, you can read more about it here.
In the whisky world, peat is taken from the earth and used as a fuel source to dry malted barley. You will know when peat has been used because the whisky will have a smoky flavour. In this process, the smoke from the peat, which has a higher ‘phenol’ content than other fuel sources, is absorbed by the barley itself. When the barley is fermented and then distilled, the phenols from the peat carry through to your glass.
In a nutshell; peat equals smoky flavour. The more peat, the more smoke. Octomore is peatiest, smokiest whisky out there, which is why I love it.
The colour of the dram is a very light, pale yellow colour. This is not surprising, as the whisky itself is only 5 years young, making it the youngest whisky I have ever tasted (excluding White-Dog Rye of course). I give it a swirl around my glass, curious to see what the legs have to offer. Wait, does this thing even have any legs? It takes a full 3 seconds for the fine trails of liquid to form and start to move down the side of the glass. My mouth is now watering at the thought of this dram having a thick treacle-like feel to it. I love my whiskies super peaty and super thick.
On the nose, mountains and mountains of smoke. Thick, plum-like, sweet smoke. Underneath all of this is some oily iodine, which is to be expected from the phenols, but I also pick up a strong wet-barley scent. This final scent is almost addictive in its’ complexity. The fact that I can detect more than just smoke in the peatiest whisky is a testament to the skills and craftsmanship of the Bruichladdich team.
Now I am stuck. I mean, literally, seriously stuck. Let’s see if I can explain how I feel to towards how this whisky tastes. Have you ever had a moment where you are listening to some music, and you hear a song that changes your life? You don’t know what it is about the music, but it leaves you in complete shock, stuck there, with the volume dial pushed to breaking point. Playing the song over and over again, you are thinking ‘yes, yes, yes, this is it! This is my song, the song of my life! How have I not heard this before? How will I ever listen to another song again?’ Everything about the tune resonates with you.
So I am sitting here, sipping on this dram, and wondering how I will ever drink another whisky again. Taking a small taste, it feels like I’ve gulped in a mouth full of smoke. It is thick and coating every millimetre of my palate. Different flavours rapidly emerge, including vanilla, nuts and an apple-pear combination. When I say emerge, I don’t mean bubble up gently. I mean sweep across my tongue like a tidal wave. They are bold, strong, robust and authoritative, reminiscent, I think, of the makers of the dram. But the odd thing is, there is no punch. No wham.
I was expecting to be hit in the face, but instead, I am picked up and swept along by the tidal wave of flavours, carried on a journey through the rugged land of the Hebrides.
The finish is long, very long. The longest I’ve encountered as a matter of fact. There is sticky sweetness that lingers in the mouth, and it is almost as if the smoke I can taste is coming from a campfire in my stomach; warm and comforting.
What do you say in closing about a whisky that has just basically upstaged every other whisky for you? The pale straw colour, the campfire scent in my glass, the liquid roller-coaster of flavours, with a finish so warm it could contribute to global warming. It seems that, like me, the team behind Octomore were not interested in doing things by halves either. It is truly a whisky after my own heart.
To sum up:
Nose: smoke everywhere. Barley, smoke, iodine, smoke, wet hay, smoke and then at the end, a small sweet kick, with some smoke.
Taste: I’ll say it differently. Tres smoke. A small hint of vanilla-like sweetness from the American oak, with a nutty emergence at the end.
Mouth feel: thick, thick, thick.
Finish: So warm, with smoke everywhere still. I feel like I will be warm on the inside for days.
Sound track: The dulcet tones of Matt Corby
~ Written by Lex Getley