Octomore : Not just about PEAT ?
I’ve been meaning to write this post for a few months now, ever since I got me a bottle of this nectar (Octomore 2.1) yet with no success. A few weeks ago I was able to get a wee sample of the new version of the octomore (2.2) one I was looking fwd to getting a long time. Now that I have tasted them both , It’s a good opportunity as any to be posting this long due review and now comparison. So, let’s go!
Yes, I am a peat addict. I love peaty whiskies, and you all know it by now. Islay’s finest distilleries are making amazing peated malts, and are in the middle of a big Peat war. The two opponents being Ardbeg with their highly acclaimed Peat bomb – the Supernova ( a name befitting this expression, will tell you every whisky lover who ever tasted that malt) and Bruichladdich’s (which is usually known for it’s more fruitier malts) Octomore.
When Peat is concerned, the “index” for measuring who has a stronger peaty expression is , of course , the infamous PPM.
PPM (or Parts per million) describes the concentration of Phenols, the little molecules which give the peaty whiskies their distinctive “smoky”, “Peaty” aromas. Just so you have a reference point :Normal peating levels for highly peated malts (such as Ardbeg 10 , Laphroaig 10 or the like) are at around 30-40 PPM. When talking about the Peated monsters such as those two (Octomore,Supernova) we’re actually climbing a few levels higher, to 100 PPM and higher.
In this post I will focus on the Octomore versions 2.1 and 2.2 I’ve had the pleasure of tasting head to head. Having tasted the Ardbeg Supernova a few months ago during a whisky tasting session with friends, I have only a distant recollection of that tasting, So I will have to get me a wee sample and then review it later on.
Octomore is a farm, near Port Charlotte, two miles from the Bruichladdich distillery. It is also the highest peated whisky available today. The first version of the Octomore was released last year and was peated at 131 ppm. Versions 2.1 and 2.2 were peated even higher at a whopping 140 ppm, and were released a few months apart. The Octomore is a young Islay malt, only 5 years old. Some of you may raise your brows and think that Bruichladdich are bottling this malt too young, but I beg to differ. When peat is concerned, youth is an advantage : Peat tends to break when matured , and at those peating levels, it’s only logical to try and preserve it as much as one can, without of course, releasing an immature youngster which is totally untamed …
Octomore 2.1 , 140 ppm , 62.5% ABV , Matured in American oak
On the outside it looks amazing. Great design work. Sleek lines, tall, black and sexy. Lying
there in a black velvety coffin. Numbered. A whisky fan’s dream come true?
Color : Pale straw. quite light in color, as most of the young Islays which have not been to sherry casks.
Nose : Smoke (no surprise here) , ash, sweet touches too (Laddie or not laddie?) , Wet stable (Someone who rides horses came today with their wet boots, and they smelled just like this one. i swear!). I love the nose on this one.
Palate : can you spell Kabooom?! what a powerful palate. Atom bomb kind of. Bam! in your face, the peat is Huge, but sweet notes on the side of the tongue do penetrate. Definitely some coffee notes (as Serge notes) and wet cereal sweetness developing into ashtray ash. This baby is anything but one-dimensional. Well Balanced . (if you can say thaty about something so peaty by nature)
Finish : Loooooooooooooooong. Looooooooooooong. amazingly long, with some dark chocolate notes on the bitter finish combining well with ASH. have you ever licked an ashtray and then eaten dark 80% chocolate? This is the feeling i am getting here.
Overall : Wonderful dram. At first i was a bit surprised by the sweet nose, as i had expected RAW peat (like the Nova) , but the more and more i visit this one (Happily i have a bottle) i love it even more. I won’t drink it daily, but hey – when i am in the mood for some strong and yummy peat, this is my go-to dram.
Octomore 2.2 “Orpheus” , 140 ppm , 61% ABV , Finished in Château Pétrus casks
This time the unique design has been taken one step further. The Bottle this time is put in a red, yes red! Cylinder, maybe to symbolize the “underground” or the eternal flame of hell. The bottle itself is similar with some small changes with the “O” logo in red.
For those who are not familiar with the Château Pétrus, let me just note that it’s one of the world’s better known Bordeaux wines, one of the top 5 actually. It’s casks when it comes to wine are very rate and it’s very hard to come by with a bottle unless you are very well connected / rich. It is really interesting to see how the Grapes of the Petrus casks are going to mix and mingle with the peaty malt in the secondary maturation period.
Color : Very unique Reddish brown (Mahogany?) it must be greatly influenced by the Petrus finish.
Nose : Sweet peaty candy. The ‘Laddie’ signature sweetness, and the peat hovering above. One would expect Harsher peat from a 140 ppm malt, but the sweetness is very well integrated into the peat. I left it a few minutes to “breathe” , upon my return the entire room was filled with an amazing melange of peat , and smoked ham. In addition there is a fruity quality to the nose (ripe kumquats, cherries).
Palate : At 61% ABV one would expect a strong malt, and indeed undiluted it’s a Hurricane. It literally Explodes in your mouth. First you sense the prickly sensation on the tongue, then warm sweetness. Then, the red fruits and kumquat are detected. The peat is omnipotent. All those flavours are combined to produce an amazingly complex dram. It’s not only about peat. NO way. Adding a bit of water releases more “Cereal” quality and emphasizes the fruity character, while making the peat sensation milder, but in a very appetizing way.
Finish : Fruity Peat smoke which lingers and lingers. It lasts minutes. I love that finish. sweet,peaty, delicious. you just long for more of this stuff. Ace.
Overall : Very complex, masculine ,deep and exciting dram. I like this one even better than the 2.1 version. The Petrus finish, adds a very interesting dimension to this dram, Not to mention the wonderful color and additional hints of fruit on the nose
. I do think it’s one of the nicer drams I’ve tasted this year.
I would Give it an A grade (Score lower, if you are not a peat-head like my friend Jeff uses to write
Conclusion time 2.1 VS 2.2 Orpheus :
Both Expressions are great. I would rate the 2.2 a wee bit over the 2.1. I do think that the extra maturation in the Petrus wine casks, did a good thing to the great Octomore of the 2.1 version. A more complex nose and those nice fruity notes on the palate , earn the Orpheus a few more points on my scale.
Sadly i have only a wee sample of the Orpheus 2.2 at home, so i guess i will have to go back to my still great 2.1.
So, Is it all about peat? in one word : No!
These two expressions offer much more than just your daily intake of peat. They are quite complex for such a tender age of 5 years, and offer a very good combination of peat, sweetness and malty goodness.
The Octomore is really not for the faint of hearted, but for the real hard core peat-heads. Like my friend Igal whom I’ve sent a sample of the 2.1, it’s a fine whisky but not your everyday dram. I totally agree. The price of these two expressions is about 80 GBP which is not cheap at all (cheaper compared to the current price of the Supernova, which is at 200 GBP at certain shops).
If you are a big Islay fan, and have most of the “ordinary” expressions, then I’d recommend adding the Octomore to your bar. It’s really more than just peat, and it’s a beauty. If i had to choose between them, i would slightly prefer the Orpheus , as i think the short finish in the acclaimed casks does add an interesting quality, and enhances the complexity of the dram by a few notches.
Well done Jim McEwan, you have created a really gem here.
Other Reviews of Octomore on the Blogosphere:
it’s really interesting and surptising to see that not a lot of whisky blogs / sites have written tasting notes on the octomore. The Octomore 2.2 is even less documented in the Blogosphere.
I would love to see more notes getting posted and compare them with my own notes (Ruben,Jeff,Keith,Oliver, Josh,Serge – anyone??? … hint hint… )
- Serge’s in WhiskyFun – http://www.whiskyfun.com/archiveoctober09-2.html (love this one)
- TWE Blog : http://blog.thewhiskyexchange.com/2009/12/octomore-22-pictures-and-official-tasting-notes/