I’ve reviewed rather a lot of Bruichladdich’s Octomore whiskies that I find myself running out of things to say about them. For newcomers, the Octomore series is an experiment that got out of hand, and it showcases the world’s most heavily peated single malt whiskies. It has a sense of place, too. I’ve been to Octomore farm on Islay, where the barley is grown; I’ve shaken the meaty cudgel-hands of Octomore farmer James Brown, and have drunk the cool, velvety water from the Octomore spring. I’ve reviewed Octomores 5.1, 6.3, 7.3, 7.4 (plus a secret single cask), and Octomore 10 (and I’m fast approaching 40 reviews of Bruichladdich’s proprietary bottlings). I guess you could say I’m reasonably familiar with this Octomore stuff.
So I was rather intrigued when Bruichladdich announced a new range of Octomores – four whiskies (even though I have three here) to celebrate… well, I’m not sure what really. A moment in time to reflect on 15 years of this experiment to keep upping the peat level of the malt and see what would happen. (I remember when Rémy Cointreau bought out Bruichladdich that there was meant to be a streamlining of the range, a slimming down, but this is definitely not a streamlining. And it’s not as though I especially liked the streamlining. I loved the mad releases, and to put out a whole wave of Octomore releases is fine by me.)
Anyway. So we have a new set of releases, 8.1, 8.2, 8.3 – and the 8.4, which I do not have to hand (though I made up for it as you’ll see). Where does the Octomore OBA in its smaller bottle size sit among all of the new stuff then? I’m not really sure. The Octomore releases have returned to some kind of madness – planned or otherwise. But these new releases do have some kind of a point. They make up the Eighth release (or were they technically the ninth, when you include the OBA?) of this curiosity that has become a series as distinct as Bruichladdich itself. The Octomore Eights or 8s are a “masterclass” of four (even though today I only have three) and are all 8 years old (apart from the one that isn’t).
“Head distiller Adam Hannett,” we are told, “has pulled together a Masterclass of four, his first full collection of these enigmatic spirits. While they are all fascinating in their own right, presented as a set they represent a powerful exploration of what makes Octomore, Octomore.”
So really, these are best enjoyed together as a set – which is convenient, as I have them as a set. And then, as we shall see, perhaps they are also enjoyed literally all together?
Octomore 8.1 – American Oak – Review
Colour: yellow gold.
On the nose: fresh and citrusy. We’re in ex-bourbon territory here, I feel. The peat actually is rather distant, mellowed by time. It’s here in a black tea, Lapsang Souchong kind of way. That huge Bruichladdich maltiness and haybarns merge with those notes closely. Floral honey. Toffee fudge. Terry’s Chocolate Orange.
In the mouth: the peat says hello. It’s still in the earthy, Lapsang Souchong zone, but it’s mingling with cloves, black pepper, maltiness, making the peat feel exceptionally integrated with the typically viscous Laddie spirit. A real sharp, citrus, grapefruit acidity. Brine. Later the sweetness kicks in: clear vanilla, golden syrup. There’s something wonderfully pure and, for an Octomore, light about all of this. I wouldn’t go far as saying it has layers of complexity; instead there’s just huge depth. The flavours are expressed very well, and manage to find a balance.
Octomore 8.2 – European Oak – Review
On the nose: this is more up my alley. The massive redcurrant, blackcurrant and strawberry jam notes jostle with the smoke. Plummy and curiously fresh still. Several shades of sweetness: it’s not the kind of dried fruits of a sherry monster, but more at the tarter end of things. Mango smoothie and passion fruit. Malted milk biscuits. A touch of Assam tea and that’s the main reference to peat. Perhaps traces of coal dust.
In the mouth: again, huge fruits – red fruits at first, cranberry sauce, flashes of sweet ketchup. The peat creeps up gently – amazing how understated it is, yet how integrated with the spirit it is too. Jam tarts. Hedgerow fruits. Tobacco, perhaps even cigars as we get into the cloves and chilli pepper heat. Blackcurrants on a spicy finish.
Octomore 8.3 – Octmore of Octomore – Review
Colour: deep copper.
On the nose: a third way. Treacle, toffee notes – golden syrup drizzled over sponge cake. A lot of vanilla now riding shotgun with the peat, but it’s actually quite an aggressive vanilla. A lot of chocolate then some voluptuous fruits. A fudge shop. Beyond: mangoes, passion fruit. Citrus and pouring honey.
In the mouth: spicy as hell. Sharp and astringent. And then, on the third and fourth sips, it isn’t at all. Straight into stem ginger in syrup, with a ton of cinnamon. It’s a completely earthy affair: vegetative peat now. Quite woody still. Blackcurrants again, but to say it’s fruity is slightly misleading. It’s sweet and woody, but in quite clever and entertaining ways. I’ve kind of forgotten about the peat, even though it’s more present in this one.
Octomore 8.35 – My Random Octomore Blend
You might think my tasting ends there, without 8.4 – Virgin Oak, but you’re wrong. I basically decided to mix three equal measures together to see what I would get. Exploring whisky is all about experimentation – and it feels in the spirit of Octomore to mess about with things. Also, with all of these flavours, the theory goes that we should create something of greater complexity. In theory. (Plus a fellow I know quite well high up in the whisky industry said that anyone can assemble single malts – that there’s nothing overly complicated about it. I dare say there’s a bit more to it than that – but why not?)
Colour: burnished gold.
On the nose: hate to say it, but it’s kind of good. It brings out the best in all three – the vanilla from 8.1, the red fruits from 8.2, and the toffee from 8.3. They’re all there (perhaps I’m now more sensitive to their presence). Citrus and grapefruit, with the redcurrants, shine above all of them; it’s still very malty and tea-like. The fudge notes really linger. Lemon drizzle cake. It’s very approachable.
In the mouth: yes! It still works very well. The spiciness has mellowed, and the peat is liberated more so weirdly; it’s ashy, with more cloves, but it’s still tame to some extent. Hedgerow fruits, and a lot of raisins and sultanas; the tartness is mellowed, and the cranberries are softer, perhaps into plum jam territory. Creme brûlée. It feels slightly more velvety than the others. To say it’s warming is an understatement, but it isn’t massively spicy towards the end (that comes in tiny doses at the start). The finish is mellow, but I’m not sure the finish will actually finish.
Well, what did you expect? There was no point in actually scoring this one, so I’m just being a bit of a dick about the total. My actual point is that there are tons of flavours to play with here, and in whatever approximate combination it’s fun to draw out nuances, to play at being the blender, especially when you have the brilliant – and highly distinct – components to start with.
As ever, Octomore whiskies make for a heck of a ride – and don’t forget, with our scoring bands, which are value-based, these scores are actually very good.
But for me, these particular Octomore whiskies are all about escaping the peat. They are heavily peated whiskies that do not want to be labelled merely as peat beasts. The blenders want you to see what else they can do. They have become cogent in some way, seeking to avoid being judged for the peat content – and if that was the intention, then it’s worked. These most heavily peated whiskies are not about the peat: they diverge, and to try them all together (and literally together) is really good fun.
Anyway, they’re all good. The 8.2 gets my money – I wasn’t surprised, as I’m a European Oak whore, and I like the intensity and range of flavours. I believe it’s a travel retail exclusive, but that doesn’t really mean anything with auction sites. Expect to pay anything between £100 and £130 for each of them. Quite pricey, perhaps? But when there’s all kind of fourth-fill filth being put out by other distilleries or bottlers for not much less than that, I’m happy to spend my money on real flavour. But, if you’ve just done well with a scratchcard, you should by all three of these and mix them together, because the result is excellent…
Perhaps I’ll go four-for-four when Octomore 8.4 becomes available.