In the far mists of 2008, Bruichladdich ignited the brief but brutal Peat Wars.
For most of the history of whisky, 'heavily peated' meant that the whisky had been made from barley peated to somewhere around 50 ppm phenols. And the resulting spirit is going to be very, very peaty. But Bruichladdich under the ownership of Mark Reynier was all about experimentation and they wonder what would happen if you packed even more phenols into the malt.
The experiments became Octomore. This first batch was made from barley that was peated to 131 PPM, aged for 5 years in fresh ex-bourbon casks, then bottled at a hefty 63.5%.
Thanks to Ian of PDXWhisky for letting me try a sample.
Nose: clay, play dough, tortilla chips, pervasive but not particularly aggressive peat, salted green vegetables (spinach?), fresh malt, wood polish, young oak, very light fruit/floral esters, and something a bit jammy. After adding a few drops of water, there's some Laddie funk in the foreground, the clay becomes putty and overtakes the peat, which slips into the background, the wood and brine integrate, and the malt fades.
Taste: waves of sweet malt and wood sugars with rounded stone fruit esters and an underlying brininess, fading into oak tannins, moderate peat, and clay. After dilution, the sweetness is slightly smoothed out and resolves into sugarcane syrup, the peat comes in earlier, but fades more quickly in favor of strong wood tannins/barrel char.
Finish: clay, moderate peat and wood
I will presage all of this by saying that this sample came from a bottle that has been open for years, so it's hard to know how much the spirit has lost in that time. But honestly? This is kind of boring. There is literally nothing going on that would make me think this was peated to a particularly high degree (this may have to do with Bruichladdich's stills) and at 5 years old there's not enough development to add much from the barrel to give it more character. In fact, part of me wonders if this was bottled when it was because the spirit had already extracted so much tannin from the casks that it risked becoming over-oaked. Oddly, the high proof isn't even particularly evident - I've had whiskies that were below 60% that singed my nose more.
I can envision some of the cask experiments like Comus and Orpheus giving it a little something more, but every release of Octomore has become a collectors item and is basically impossible to find at this point. Beyond that, they cost more than I would care to pay even at retail. So, one more whisky that I'm perfectly happy giving a miss - my bank balance will surely thank me.