Octomore is a hefty peating experiment. At the time of launch, it had the highest level of peat ever to be found in whisky: 131 parts per million of phenols. Only 6000 bottles were released, and you had to know your shopkeeper very well to get a bottle. I know shops that didn’t even sell their bottles but thought they’d better keep them.
The original price was around € 100. If you want one now, prepare to pay at least twice as much on eBay. That’s a really nice profit for a 5 years old whisky, less than 6 months after its launch.
The Octomore has a magnificent packaging. The bottle is black with a matte finish and shiny black print. Very minimal and an instant classic.
Bruichladdich Octomore 01.1 5y 2001
(63,5%, OB 2008)
Nose: barbecue with olive oil. Some marine notes (seaweed), lemon and heather. Of course, these flavours are dominated by the ashes, the peat smoke and the alcohol. Although, I have to say, the peat is not that huge as I thought it would be. Really tarry though. With water, you get more garage associations: motor oil and diesel. Cigars. Grassy notes. Mouth: very powerful impact, creamy with a strong peatiness. It’s not often that whisky burns my throat, but this one managed to do it. There is a wave of white chocolate and roasted nuts which I found quite impressive and unexpected at the same time. Very unusual. A bit of salt as well. Tar again. With water, walnuts and lemon. Slightly peppered. Finish: barbecue with salty liquorice. Long aftertaste, rich and “condensed” peat.
I’m afraid this Octomore experiment was a starting point and the end at the same time, because it’s on the edge of becoming too peaty. There’s no room for further evolution unless they’re going to soften it and allow more flavours – I’m sure a lot of people will find it unpleasant already. Overall I appreciate the experiment and the end result.
Port Charlotte is a distillery in the town with the same name. Built in 1829 and also known as Lochindaal, it was closed in 1929. It served as a youth hostel but the warehouses remained intact and were used by Bruichladdich.
Since May 2001, Bruichladdich distills new spirit under the name Port Charlotte while at the same time building a completely new distillery, 2 km. away from the Bruichladdich distillery.
In 2006, the first public release of Port Charlotte was named PC5 (five years old – bourbon / sherry finish). After that, we’ve had PC6 (madeira finish) and currently PC7 (American oak finish). PC8 is coming up in October this year.
Feel free to compare with the Bruichladdich 3D3 which contains some Port Charlotte together with regular Bruichladdich and heavily peated Octomore.
Port Charlotte 2001 ‘PC6’
(61,6%, OB 2007)
Nose: less fresh than the 3D3. More smoke, less lemon. The PC6 has a more buttery smell, with notes of mashed potato. Also slightly rubbery and fishy. A lot of peat of course. Charcoal. Wet wool. Some sweeter, fruity notes (apricot and pear), although hard to discover. Anise and burnt vanilla. When you go back to the 3D3, it’s clear that both are playing in the same league, but the 3D3 is a lot fresher, with more apple and lemon notes. The PC6 is a bit flatter, warmer and deeper. Mouth: hot attack, on pepper and smoke. Very peaty. Again some rubber. Some pear and mint if you dig a little deeper. Less sweet than the 3D3, more intense and smokey (even when brought down to the same alcohol level). Finish: rather creamy with light notes of fruit. A small pinch of salt.
A challenging spirit, like going “off-road” in a peatland. Still approachable despite the high alcohol volume, but again, only if you’re really into smokey, peaty flavours. Sold out, but the PC7 is still available.
This Bruichladdich 3D3 is the third bottling in a series of peat experiments in which heavily peated Port Charlotte was blended with Bruichladdich whisky of lower peating levels. 3D3 stands for 3 vintages, 3 warehouses and 3 peating levels. It was composed by Jim McEwan as a tribute to Norrie Campbell, the last traditional peat cutter on Islay.
3D3 contains regular Bruichladdich (unpeated), Port Charlotte (40ppm) but also the first Octomore ever (80ppm), distilled in 2002 and only 3 years old at that time. The spirit was matured in a combination of bourbon, sherry and madeira casks.
Bruichladdich 3D3 ‘Norrie Campbell’ (46%, OB 2006)
Nose: like hanging over a chimney: big, powerful peat as you could expect. Burnt vanilla. Freshened up with some lovely notes of green apple juice and citrus. A bit grainy with hints of dry straw. Really dense and dark peat. Mouth: ashes, coal, peat smoke and sweet toffee. Big. Sweeter than on the nose, and although quite smokey, rather gentle at the same time. Interestingly, there are hardly any medicinal notes so it’s “clean” peat in a different way than Laphroaig or Ardbeg. Getting quite peppery. Finish: pepper again, toffee and of course lots of peat smoke.
It’s multi-layered, but also quite rough. The peat doesn’t allow much other flavours to shine through. There’s some mighty young Octomore together with fruity notes of the other Bruichladdich spirit and sweet sherry and madeira notes. For peat lovers and chain smokers only. Around € 45.
A new series that I would like to introduce on this blog: “Ten days of…”. It will consist of 3 or 4 posts with tasting notes from a single distillery and / or with a common theme and spread over 10 days. I’ll start with a couple of peated Bruichladdich releases.
First, a word or two about peat. Peat is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation matter (swamp forrest), a few thousands of years in age. It can be cut in the form of bricks, dried and used as a fossil fuel. Prior to distilling whisky, the barley is malted and dried. Traditionally on Islay, they used the heat from peat fires for this. Interestingly, peat smoke chemically ‘sticks’ to barley grains, which is the reason why the exotic aroma of peat smoke can still be experienced in the distilled spirit.
Peat in Scotch whisky is measured in parts per millions (ppm). Only a few percent of the production is peated, but on Islay that percentage is a lot higher. An “unpeated” Scotch may clock in at 5 to 10 ppm. A typical Lagavulin, Ardbeg or Laphroaig will contain between 30 and 50 ppm of peat phenols which makes a huge difference in the taste. Recently, there has been a small race in obtaining the highest level of peat. Bruichladdich introduced the Octomore which contains a stunning 131 ppm. Soon after that, the Ardbeg Supernova was announced, which weighs in at around 100 ppm. This race is quite useless, but it’s a fact that peated whisky is gaining popularity and even distilleries outside of Islay are experimenting and releasing peated versions of their spirit (e.g. BenRiach, Caperdonich, Longrow…).
Although Bruichladdich is on Islay, they don’t have a tradition of using much peat in the production of their whisky. The new owners started some peated experiments in 2001, such as the 3D series (now replaced by Bruichladdich Peat) and the Port Charlotte bottlings.
Let’s have a look at some of those peated experiments from Bruichladdich in the next couple of days, starting tomorrow with the Bruichladdich 3D3.
The Laphroaig 15y is considered to be one of the most controversial bottlings in the current range of Laphroaig, and it will be replaced in a couple of weeks. The 15 year old introduced a new style of rounder, more mellow Laphroaig, but recent batches returned to a bolder style, closer to the standard 10y which itself got smoother if you compare it to batches from the 1990’s.
The Laphroaig 18y will be bottled at a higher strength of 48% alcohol (the same as the Laphroaig Quarter Cask). I’m sure this is a good thing, as it indicates Laphroaig is moving towards a more powerful, intense profile.
The price will remain more or less the same (pretty uncommon considering the 3 additional years and today’s pricing strategies).
Here’s the official tasting notes:
Nose: sweet toffee, faintly spicy, traces of delicate phenols and fruit. Overall smoothness. With water: seaweed and salt but not enough to overpower the vanilla and honey sweetness. A trace of new mown hay and peat at the finish.
Body: Exceptionally balanced and warming with intense depth. Warming smoke, smooth floral scents, oaky nuttiness. Sweetness on the taste. With water: peaty warmth with a sweet chocolate smoothness. This is balanced by rich toffee and a hint of heather and peat smoke.
Finish: Full bodied, long with a luxurious oily smoothness.
Some extra information and tasting notes by Tim at TWE blog.
This whiskey is produced at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort (USA), home of numerous other great whiskies such as Buffalo Trace, George T Stagg, Eagle Rare, Blanton’s, Sazerac… William Larue Weller is a wheated bourbon (made from corn + wheat instead of corn + rye or barley) and is part of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection.
William Larue Weller (62,65%, OB 2008, 3rd release)
Nose: BIG nose, resinous and spicy (cinnamon, vanilla). Dried figs and raisins. Pine trees. Notes of nuts, cigar box, tobacco and something of paint / nail polish remover. Really powerful and full. Mouth: dark, toasted notes, still hints of paint (don’t get me wrong, these are not necessarily off-notes, they are quite pleasant). Caramel, vanilla, lots of charred oak. Maple syrup, peppermint. Quite smokey. Finish: warm but maybe a bit short. Hints of chocolate, vanilla pudding and dark fruit.
Bourbon on steroids. Perfect after a strong chocolate mousse. Around € 120.
St. Magdalene can be a little difficult to find. The Lowlands distillery was closed in 1983, a year in which lots of good distilleries (e.g. Port Ellen) were halted because of a decreasing interest in whisky. Too bad some of the most interesting distilleries were on that list…
Douglas Laing released a number of St. Magdalene casks from December 1982 in their Old Malt Cask range (at least 7 in the last 2-3 years). Most of them were good, so let’s hope they still have some casks lying around. This one is from a refill butt.
Nose: aromatic and fruity with lots of oranges. It’s not really complex at first, but after some time (and a bit of hand warmth) it opens up. Flowers. Some paraffin, chalk, green tea with lemon, a hint of smoke. Chlorophyl. Sweet lavender and lemon sweets. Quite attractive. Mouth: citrus notes again (orange, lemon). Something that reminds me of tequila as well. Juicy and honeyed. Some vanilla. Some coastal hints as well. Finish: quite sweet, on pear and peaches with soft spices. Not very long.
Elegant whisky with a nice balance. There’s something feminine about it, although that’s hard to define. Around € 120.