Bruichladdich Octomore 10 Series

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?

Blind Tasting

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! ūüôĆ


The Octomore 10.1

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Bottled: 2019, Distilled: 2013
Age: 5 years old
PPM: 107
Bottles: 42,000
ABV: 59.8%
Cask: First-fill Bourbon
More Info: WhiskyBase

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.

Overall: 8/10

You can pick up the Octomore 10.1 in the Bruichladdich Shop for £125.


The Octomore 10.2

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Bottled: 2019, Distilled: 2010
Age: 8 years old
PPM: 96.9
Bottles: 24,000
ABV: 56.9%
Cask: First-fill Bourbon, First-fill Sauternes
More Info: WhiskyBase

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.

Overall: 8/10

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

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Bottled: 2019, Distilled: 2013
Age: 6 years old
PPM: 114
Bottles: 24,000
ABV: 61.3%
Cask: Bourbon Cask
More Info: WhiskyBase

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.

Overall: 7/10

You can pick up the Octomore 10.3 in the Bruichladdich Shop for £175.


The Octomore 10.4

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Bottled: 2019, Distilled: 2016
Age: 3 years old
PPM: 88
Bottles: 12,000
ABV: 63.5%
Cask: European Limousin Virgin Oak
More Info: WhiskyBase

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.

Overall: 9/10

You’ll be able to pick up the Octomore 10.4 January 2020 in the Bruichladdich Shop.

Steel Bonnets

Bottled by: Lakes Distillery
Bottled: 2018
ABV: 46.6%
More Info: WhiskyBase

Here’s a first! A blend of Scottish and English malt whiskies!

The Lakes Distillery have released this bottling in honour of the “Steel Bonnets”, the much-feared border reivers who raided settlements around the Scottish borders between the 13th and 17th centuries.

They did not see themselves as English or Scottish and developed a certain independence of spirit whose people were loyal to kin, not kingdom.

Check out the short film:

Sounds intriguing! Let’s get it in the glass…

Nose: Golden syrup, sourdough, roasted sweetcorn. Slightly coastal with sea shells and salt.

Palate: Salty toffee, vanilla cream, and barley sugar. Some bakings spices mingling with a soft note of wood smoke.

Finish: Cloves and oaky pepper.

A well-rounded blend that balances sweetness with smoky spices. This is very pleasant stuff to be enjoyed in the safety of your keep beyond the reach of any passing marauders.

There’s a load more information and bottles available for ¬£65 here on the Lakes Distillery site.

Kilchoman Port Cask 2018

Distillery: Kilchoman
Bottled: 2018, Distilled: 2014
ABV: 50%
Cask: Port
More Info: WhiskyBase

Oh my! A port-cask matured Kilchoman.

I was very lucky to try the 1st edition of this at a tasting a few years back. It was jammy, earthy and all-round delicious. Let’s try the sequel!

Nose: Redcurrants, Easter egg chocolate, dirty puddles, leaf litter, engine grease, bonfire smoke, and nicotine.

Palate: Tobacco and maple syrup. A smoky serving of spices: cinnamon, clove, white pepper. An acidic red-wine edge to it Рlike a peppery Shiraz.

Finish: Chewy, earthy peat that lasts and lasts.

I’m a big fan of this style of whisky – it’s raw and punchy and full of the aromas of the outdoors.

Available now for around £70-£80.

TBWC Aultmore Batch 1

Distillery: Aultmore
Bottled: 2012
Age: NAS
ABV: 53.4%
Bottled by: That Boutique-y Whisky Company
More Info: WhiskyBase

Aha, it’s an indy Aultmore! And what a label, too – how often do you see a shark fighting a raptor on a container ship while an oil rig burns in the background??

Nose: Malty beer, chocolate oranges, green apples, and vanilla sponge cake.

Palate:¬†Rich fruitcake, plums, a heap of cinnamon, cloves and dark chocolate. It’s very viscous and sweet on the tongue – like a spicy syrup.

Finish: Warming and long with ginger spice and soft oak.

It’s a tad young, but it’s wonderfully drinkable. Rich, warming and with a very pleasant and long finish.

You can still pick these (from various batches) on auction sites. Historically, Aultmore tends to end up in Diageo blends, though there are now official bottlings available too. They tend to have them available to taste in duty free, so do keep an eye out!

The Kinship Port Ellen 34 Year Old

Distillery: Port Ellen
Age: 34 years old
ABV: 61.7%
Bottler: Hunter Laing
Cask: Sherry Cask
More Info: WhiskyBase

In the wake of this year’s Feis Ile (The Islay Festival of Malt and Music), Hunter Laing have released a set of six extremely rare whiskies to celebrate Islay whisky – The Kinship range.

Hand-picked by legendary distiller Jim McEwan (formerly of Bruichladdich and Bowmore), these whiskies represent the best and rarest examples of Islay spirit. They also mark the creation of Laing’s brand new distillery “Ardnahoe” which is situated on the shores of the Sound of Islay, close to Caol Ila and Bunnahabhain.

I’m a massive Bruichladdich fan so I’m delighted that Jim McEwan will be production manager when the distillery goes into operation early in 2018.

Anyway, on with the Kinship whisky! The oldest and rarest in the range is this: a sherried Port Ellen that was distilled shortly before the distillery’s closure in 1983.

Let’s get it in the glass!

Nose: Thick candle wax, menthol, dried rosemary. New leather and citrus peel. Quite maritime in a minerally way Рthink chalky clifftops on a windy day. With water becomes more citrusy and a little soapy, like washing up liquid (but in a good way). Over time it gets sweeter and richer with vanilla cake sponge.

Palate: Lemon throat sweets, brown sugar, clove oil, sour cherries and gentle wood smoke.

Finish: Tingly, ashy and long. Creamy oak and a touch of vanilla.

Jim McEwan described this as “a tidal wave in a glass”. The nose is indeed a powerhouse and it transports me directly to being outdoors on the Scottish coast – much like Lagavulin 12 or a cask-strength Caol Ila.

The palate, though smoky, is a lot gentler – even at the full 61.7% strength – and you get to enjoy a deeply pleasant and life-affirming finish that lasts and lasts.

Frankly, I was a little concerned that this had spent 34 years in sherry. For my palate, that can really spoil a good whisky. Luckily, my fears are unfounded – this must’ve been a good quality refill cask and at the incredibly high ABV it’s had a remarkably slow and careful maturation over those years allowing the spirit to dominate the flavour, not the cask.

All in all, this is a really elegant and well-rounded whisky – classy, complex, and delivering all that coastal/citrus goodness you’d hope to get from a Port Ellen.

Many thanks to Nickolls and Perks for sending me this sample! Now bear with me while I weep at how badly I can’t afford whisky like this…

Currently, these Kinship bottles are available from the Ardnahoe Distillery Shop on Islay. The Port Ellen is £1,800 per bottle.

TBWC Irish Single Malt #1

Bottler: That Boutique-y Whisky Company
Age: 24 years old
ABV: 46.8%
More Info: WhiskyBase

A mystery Eurovision entry from those folks at TBWC. If you’re not familiar with “My Lovely Horse”, allow the YouTube video to enlighten you…

Oh, you’ll have a dram, won’t you? Go on. Go on, go on, go on, go on, go on…

Nose: Pineapple Turkish delight in dusty icing sugar. Bruised apples, salty toffee, whipped cream. Absolutely delicious.

Palate:¬†Mango syrup, peach melba, Werther’s Original toffees with a gentle gingerbread¬†tingle.

Finish: Apple skin, with a touch of Barley grist and vanilla.

Feck.

This is a stunning whiskey. Soft, delicate, fruity and sublime on the nose and tongue. Reminds me of the Midleton Very Rare I tried last year…

I could sip this happily all Summer, if¬†all 264 bottles hadn’t already sold out.

Samples are still available via Master of Malt for £13.67 a piece.

Kilchoman 10th Anniversary Release

Distillery: Kilchoman
Bottled: 2015, Distilled: 2005
ABV: 58.2%
Bottles: 3000
Cask: Bourbon & Sherry
More Info: WhiskyBase

The bottling of the first ten-year-old whisky is a big milestone in the life of any distillery.

A tiny, farm-run endeavour, Kilchoman have been punching well above their weight since they entered the whisky market with consistently excellent whisky from a very young age. I’m a big fan of their 100% Islay bottlings (which are only about 5 years old when bottled).

Nose:¬†Jamaican Ginger cake but without the heavy molasses – more like golden syrup and brown sugar. A chalky, sooty, old stove quality around the edges of the sweetness. There’s a fragrant starchiness, too, like pilau rice. With water it gets waxy and slightly soapy.

Palate: Very thick and buttery, with sweet vanilla, lemon sherbet, and then a freight-train of peat and barrel spice: chilli peppers, tingly clove, black pepper. Water calms the spices and reveals cardamom, heather honey, boiled sweets, and some light floral camomile notes.

Finish: Cashew nuts, more cloves, and a lip-smacking ashy quality akin to the dying embers of a cigar.

This is definitely more rounded and well-integrated than its younger siblings.

The character of the spirit shines through and dominates both the nose and the palate, forcing the influence from the cask to take a back seat. Those floral, peaty flavours¬†works incredibly well together and I hope this means we’ll see a 10-year-old at 46% become part of the core line-up.

Big thumbs up from me!

There’s samples of the Kilchoman 10th Anniversary available on Master of Malt, but not full bottles, alas.