169. That’s the level of peat stated as phenol in ‘parts per million’. 169ppm. It means that the folk at Bruichladdich have basically smoked the bejesus out of the barley.
We could get into the details on peat here, but I’d lose half of you. For those of you who don’t know much about the process, you can read up about peating elsewhere, but for the purposes of this review, all you need to know is that Laphroaig’s barley is peated to levels of around 40ppm, and Ardbeg to around 54ppm. Even if you haven’t got a clue about peat, you can see that the numbers are massively different – that’s saying something, because a lot of people consider those whiskies to be among the smokiest they’ve tried. Bruichladdich Octomore 5.1 is indeed the most heavily peated Single Malt Whisky in the world.
The whisky takes its name from Octomore Farm, which is located a mere 1.6 miles up the road from the distillery. I don’t know about you, but there’s something to be said for that. Not only is this one smokey bastard of a whisky, but you’re getting something that’s a slice of Islay too.
Various incarnations of Octomore have crept ever upward in their peating levels, as the gurus at Bruichladdich work out just how far they can go, wondering if their tall, narrow-neck stills will transform these ever-higher levels into an even more elegant whisky. A couple of years ago I tried one of the earlier Octomores, and was blown away, so I’m also curious as to what Bruichladdich have done here, many incarnations on.
Colour: pale, pinot grigio. On the nose: has there been a better integration of sweetness and peat? This is a fiery crème brûlée. Bonfires. Port. Green & Black’s Dark Chocolate. Dried cranberries. The faint whiff of diesel from a boat puttering along the harbour, the last one leaving for the mainland: distant, a touch of brine in the air. For the world’s peatiest whisky, the peat is incredibly subtle.
In the mouth: boom. If you had any doubt about that peat, here it comes. Where does one begin unpicking this behemoth? It’s like a treasure chest that needs a crowbar: and then come all of those flavours from the nose. At first, the bitterest of chocolate, smoked ham, barbecued meats, Chinese Five Spice, desert wine, a sprinkle of salt across the tongue, almonds, Turkish Delight. A long, long finish: sweet embers warming the soul. A sense of stillness afterwards.
This is quite simply one of the finest whiskies ever produced.
A bottle – if you can get one – will set you back around £100+, and it’s worth every penny. Failing that, there are other Octomores on the market, so if you can find one, just give it a shot. It’s an experience.