The Octomore range is not for the faint of heart and is perhaps not one to sample as your first foray into whisky (or even your first dram of the night, unless it’s your only dram). But, here we are. It has truly been a journey to get to this point. What point is that you might ask? That would be the audacious decision to put my nose and palette through three Octomores – a Herculean task.
Having sat down to try the new Dialogos 10-year-old, I decided it was time to write about the fabled and mythical creatures of the Octomore range. Yes, to be clear, someone is opening bottles of old Octomore. You might think this is madness. Madness? This. Is. Malt. Anyways, that is what the bottles are there for, no?
Octomore has taken on a number of titles over the years. Orpheus, Comus… five rounds later, we got the Dialogos series (which is the most recent release). What connection does Octomore have to Hellas? Nothing more than marketing. Which is fine, as long as the whisky is more a Greek tale of heroism than a tragedy. For a refresher on the Dialogos myth, the first three releases were covered by Mark here.
We will tell this story in chronological order, giving an idea of how Octomore has, in a sense, developed its own lore over the years.
Orpheus was the greatest musician and poet in Greek mythology. He could charm animals, trees, stones and even Hades himself wih his music and singing. A man who, according to the myths, actually went to hell and back for his wife Eurydice and sailed with the Argonauts. Orpheus’ captivating melodies might indicate that the distillery had constructed their own tune that had tamed the peat monster that is Octomore. This was matured in bourbon and further matured in Château Petrus wine casks before being released as 02.2 in the series at 140ppm and 61% ABV. So, can the release sooth the peat gods as well?
Comus, meanwhile, was the Greek god of festivity, revels and nocturnal dalliances. More importantly for our purposes, he was also the god of excess. In 2012, his namesake whisky was released as 04.2 at 167ppm. At the time, along with release 04.1, this was the most heavily peated whisky from Octomore. A 5-year-old matured in bourbon and finished in Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes, this arrived in stores at 61% ABV. The most peated whisky in the world (at the time) finished in such a desirable wine cask (d’Yquem) was meant to represent Comus’ excess and that of his father (Dionysus).
Finally, the Dialogos (dialogue), which is supposed to represent the great debate. In addition to the 09.1, 09.2 and 09.3, an additional bottling at 10 years old was released as part of the series. I won’t even try and summarise the maturation process, so here it is from Bruichladdich – “Full term maturation in 1st fill Port pipes (37%), 1st fill Cognac casks (31%), 2nd fill ex American whiskey casks (20%). With an additional parcel from 3 years first fill ex American, 2 years virgin oak, final 6 years in ex American whiskey casks (12%).” The result is a 167ppm whisky at 56.8% ABV.
Does all this peat talk seem familiar? Mark recently reviewed the Dialogos 10-year-old here. But there is no harm returning to such an interesting range of whiskies and the unique pantheon that is heavily peated malts. While Mark went for a comparison against Smögen, this article looks within the distillery itself to see who will triumph in this clash of peat titans.
This brings us to our tasting odyssey. Let’s hope the smoke doesn’t obscure the way home. For transparency, the Comus and Dialogos were purchased at retail. The Orpheus was a gift, so Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes (to paraphrase, beware the Greeks bearing gifts). Thanks, Virgil – I am prepared. The tasting for these three drams was split out over the course of a week to provide a fresh start for my senses on each one.
Octomore Orpheus 02.2 – review
A rare release nowadays, Master of Malt are asking £695 for a bottle.
On the nose: The initial sweetness strikes me immediately. The peat smoke is obviously there, which is a nice combination of tar, brine and cigar smoke. Through all of this, the taste of the wine grapes is evident. The battle between the spirit and the wine cask is over and the spirit has won – the wine notes die down, which brings the rest of this dram into balance. A few more notes shine through – malty aromas (porridge) with fresh fruit (red berries).
In the mouth: This is where peat falls away (still lovely tar flavours) and the red fruit has more presence. The malty notes follow on from the nose – still porridge but also a bit more of the fresh grains in there too. Altogether, a nice balance of the sweet and malty. The ripe grapes are still there but that is more a reminder than a key element. There are some light honey notes as well. The finish is medium-long, with more of the oak and wine alongside some pepper and spices (ginger).
Octomore Comus 04.2 – review
Colour: Melted butter
On the nose: A soft and gentle nose (considering the ppm and ABV, an accomplishment). The wine aromas and the peat notes are subtler than expected. The vanilla and honey are a bit stronger, giving this an overall sense of balance throughout the nose. Lemon rind also appears, making it a pleasure to breathe this in and as you do, the smoke gets a bit stronger (less ash and more firewood)
In the mouth: A pleasant texture and the smoke is also easy to absorb. Sweet peat – there are elements of tropical fruit (pineapple, papaya, melon), demerara sugar and some apples and pears. The Sauternes flavours are delightfully balanced – it does not cut through the rest of the spirit, instead it works with it. Letting this dram breathe makes all the difference to let the flavours settle. The finish is long and fresh with a light oak impact, which completes a stunning dram.
Octomore Dialogos 10-year-old Third Edition – review
This is available from the Whisky Exchange for £160, or from Master of Malt for the same price, or even Amazon for £159.94.
On the nose: A bit maltier this time – barley and hay, a truly farm-like feel. Vanilla sponge, pear orange peel. Did we forget the smoke? It actually has the strongest element of smoke out of the three – like a beachside bonfire next to the field. The flavours move in and out, so they come across a bit more disjointed than I would have hoped.
In the mouth: The smoke is a bit softer than I would have guessed from the nose but still has that same warmth and comfort to it. There is also an element of tar to this, what many of the newer Ardbegs should be aiming for. Some nice leather notes in there alongside some medicinal flavours. The variety of sweet notes hit at the same time – powdered sugar covering a number of fruits (red fruits, citrus). A wide variety of spices fly through as well (cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger). The finish is long and incorporates all of this together with some wood flavour into a vibrant dram.
It’s nice to see that Bruichladdich did not heed the marketing siren’s call. This is substance all around.
Orpheus – what a lovely song! This dram has achieved a sense of balance that makes it an excellent drink. Complex and harmonious. The flavours themselves do take some time to settle down, which draws your attention away from the dram for a moment, which is where it falls short (barely – sometimes we are too harsh).
The Comus? Well, we are always warned of pushing things to excess, and most of the time I will agree. But then I remember my Twain – “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” It looks like Bruichladdich got the message – this is incredible! Perfectly balanced, uniquely complex and intricate. Detractors will point to the Sauternes impact but that will be a point of view on flavour. This whisky does not resist the wine, it cooperates and brings the sweeter notes from the bourbon into the fold in the way I would hope and makes this even better than I could imagine – simply fantastic!
And finally, the Dialogos. Another lesson on the importance of listening to your customer base. Sure, this one did not top the charts, but that is never going to come through discourse and preparation alone. Sometimes you’re going to need a bit of luck and that’s probably where this went wrong. It also demonstrates the challenges of achieving peated perfection. But, seeing the combination used in the maturation process, I am happy to see the endeavour in trying something new. We are also told that the distillery will continue to learn from both its experience and customer base, which is no bad thing – so continue with the Dialogos (just make it slightly more riveting).
You won’t find the Orpheus and the Comus in your local wine and spirits shop (and if you do, call me immediately). They are long gone and hitting auction at anywhere between £300-£400 for the Orpheus and c. £250 for the Comus. The Dialogos is still available in most shops, so happy drinking.
The Greek myths have always captured my imagination. One that I come across less often is the tale of Orpheus but what that story will teach you is not to look back and risk it all. We always read about these long-lost drams, which brings on that serious fear of missing out. But you should tread your own path. So, don’t stress about missing these two earlier releases, there are many more to come (Bruichladdich – if you are reading this, I have some great characters from mythology in mind for the next release).
I am happy to say I made it through this Labyrinth of smoke in one piece. The lesson? Keep trying what is out there and see where your next whisky quest will take you.
Photographs from Bruichladdich and the Whisky Exchange. We’ve also some commission links if you’re feeling flush and want to make a purchase. Either way, such things never affect our scoring.