Ten Years of Octomore: A milestone for maturity? Or has the experiment only just got going?
The Laddie Team have been quietly toiling away for a decade now as they work to perfect the production of Octomore, their madcap beast of phenolic thunder.
Experimental as ever, there are many alterations here regarding age, cask, barley, bottling strength, and peating levels.
Having said that, the format of the four bottlings remains in keeping with releases:
- The 10.1 is a straight-up ex-bourbon cask bottle made with Scottish barley.
- The 10.2, as in previous years, is matured in European oak (this year a first-fill Sauternes).
- The 10.3 is made with 100% Islay grown barley.
- And, of course, the 10.4 is matured 100% in virgin oak, although this year it’s European Limousin instead of American Oak.
I’m keen to see how this year’s adjustments and experiments have turned out. How will the 10.x series stand up to its formidable predecessors? What new tweaks has Adam Hannett pulled from his bag of tricks?
At the request of the distillery, having sent the very generous 200ml sample bottles wrapped in mysterious black paper, I tasted each bottle blind, scribbled some notes, and took a pop at which bottling I thought was in the glass. Afterwards, I unveiled the bottles and consolidated my notes.
Thanks a lot to the Laddie Team for sending these out! 🙌
The Octomore 10.1
Let’s start at the beginning!
This year’s .1 release is in keeping with previous years in most aspects – the age, ABV, and cask type are very typical of previous years. The most noticeable difference is the PPM down to 107 from last year’s 156 (and earlier bottlings being more typically between 160 and 180PPM).
The literature describes this year’s Octomores as having a “softer smoke”. As a dram that’s always differentiated itself on phenol levels, it’s interesting to see the distillery explore this – especially as 107PPM is still nearly 3 times peatier than your average peaty whisky.
Nose: Pear skin, fruit syrup and dry wood smoke. Washed cheese. Unvarnished furniture.
Palate: White grapes: floral, sweet, and luscious. Pear juice. Rising chilli-flake heat with wood resin and soft smoke.
Finish: Sweet and long with a mild peppery smoke.
I was so convinced on tasting this that it was the 10.2. There’s a lovely soft floral character beneath the smoke which I associated with the sweet Sauternes wine it was matured in.
Really impressed with this one! For me the .1 bottling is usually quite savoury and austere but this is packed with delicious fruity notes. As the most affordable of the range, I reckon this will be a great crowd pleaser for Octomore fans old and new with that extra fruity dimension complementing the smoke very well.
You can pick up the Octomore 10.1 in the Bruichladdich Shop for £125.
The Octomore 10.2
A Sauternes cask, you say? That rings a bell.
Many years ago, the Octomore 4.2 bottling “Comus” was aged in Chateau d’Yquem casks and was described as “a velvet glove, wrapped around an iron fist”.
This bottling is 3 years older than Comus, with a lower ABV/PPM. All-in-all, I’m expecting a much tamer animal.
Nose: Quite coastal and fresh. Ozone, washing up gloves, burnt sugar, damp barley, rock salt.
Palate: Hard boiled sweets, grapefruit, vanilla sugar. Creamy with ashy peat. Builds heat. Luscious mouthfeel, silky.
Finish: Mid length. Peppery and tingly with oak, cloves, and wood smoke.
Very clean, yet powerful with a coastal/citrus profile. I was convinced this was the 10.1 when I tasted blind. It’s not as floral/fruity as I expected but I’m happy to have my expectations challenged!
The sweet edges here are very much more in the boiled-sweet category, and the mouthfeel is just beautiful. A cliché it may be, but this is the refined and subtle Octomore of the group.
You can pick up the Octomore 10.2 in travel retail. Heinemann have an exclusive on this for a few months.
The Octomore 10.3
The Islay Barley for this year’s bottle comes, once again, from the man known on the island as “The Godfather of Soil”, Farmer James Brown. I’ll never get tired of that!
As well as a lower PPM, this year’s .3 bottling has no traces of wine cask, sticking to 100% Bourbon maturation.
Nose: Mineral rich, coastal, and vaguely rubbery. Damp hay.
Palate: Sweet vanilla and smoked honey. Very cereal rich and farm-yard-y with milk chocolate and cinnamon.
Finish: Quite short, with black pepper and more honeyed cereal.
By process of elimination, this should be the 10.3 Islay Barley. It’s a bit heavier flavourwise than the others, so I think it’s a good bet (and it was!).
I’ve loved previous Islay Barley releases (the 6.3 being one of my favourite whiskies of all time). This is more in keeping with what I’d expect from the 10.1 in terms of savoury peaty character.
It’s a good dram, but fell a little flat for me compared with the others. I prefer a touch more sweetness and fruit in an Octomore.
You can pick up the Octomore 10.3 in the Bruichladdich Shop for £175.
The Octomore 10.4
I have to say, I clocked this one straight away on the colour alone – it looks like a well aged sherry cask!
The .4 bottle has always been virgin oak, but typically American oak with its sweet, sunny character. European oak is a lot drier and harsher. An intriguing prospect, and I think a first for Octomore!
Nose: Resin. Damp clay. Smoky red wine and redcurrants. Lovely cask funk, very nutty (chestnuts, I think). There’s also a distinctive coastal tang of salty minerals.
Palate: Quite jammy. More red wine. Dry rolling tobacco. Dry smoke. Cacao and black pepper.
Finish: Long with tobacco ash and tart cranberries. Really lip-smacking.
I like this a lot! It has pronounced wine characteristics and very dry mouthfeel.
Tasting this rather blew my mind, since the whisky has never actually seen any wine! It must be all the tannins from that virgin European oak – amazing to think how much flavour in red wine actually comes from the wood itself.
I think it was the right call to bottle this at three years old. Any more time in such active oak would’ve made the whisky too woody.
I think the three year age statement is going to put a lot of people off, particularly combined with the likely £150+ price tag but they’d be missing out big time – this is the standout dram for me.
To sip it is very redolent of drinking a dry red while smoking a cigar. It’s totally bonkers and I absolutely love it.
You’ll be able to pick up the Octomore 10.4 January 2020 in the Bruichladdich Shop.