Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Bruichladdich's Peat Comes of Age: Three 10 Year Old Peated Bruichladdichs

Peat Pastoral

Arguably no one made more waves in the Scotch Whisky industry during the first decade of the twenty-first century than Bruichladdich.  The distillery was the comeback kid of the 2000s, rising from the dead as a pugnacious independent with an endless pipeline of new releases.

They probably made their biggest splash of that decade with two peated releases:  Port Charlotte PC5 and Octomore.  Bruichaladdich had traditionally been made at a very low peat level, but master distiller Jim McEwan quickly showed he wasn't going to be bound by tradition and turned the peat level up to 11.

The PC 5 came first, a five year old, heavily peated whiskey released in 2007 with a bold price point of $120 (for a five year old?!? - we cried back then).  It got almost universally rave reviews and there was a new PC6 the next year and so on up to the new PC10.

Octomore came out a few years later in 2009.  It was another five year old at an even higher price that boasted one of the highest peating levels ever used.  Octomore was a bit less popular than the PC5, though I liked it more. (I actually think much of the less than enthusiastic reception was due to the distillery's release of a low proof Octomore "futures" bottling prior to the release of the cask strength official bottling; initial reports on the futures bottle were negative and impacted perceptions of the official release).

Now, five years later, we have our first ten year old peated Bruichladdichs. A PC 10 from the Port Charlotte series, a ten year old Octomore and a lower proof Port Charlotte 10 that will become a regular release.  Given this sudden plethora of 10 year old peated 'Laddies, I thought it was a good time to taste them.  Keep in mind that the ppm level, measuring peat phenols in parts per million, is based on the original count in the malted barley.  Peat tends to fade with age and two of these are also diluted with water.

Bruichladdich Port Charlotte 10, 40 ppm, 46% abv ($60)

The nose is quite peaty with a sweet, ocean breeze.  The palate is a bit flatter than I'd expected, with a soapy note along with the peat.   The finish returns to the nice peaty, coastal notes of the nose.  The nose and finish are spot on, but the palate lets you down on this one, and hey, that's the important part.  It's fine, but doesn't distinguish itself among the other peated mainstays of Islay.

Bruichladdich PC 10, 40 ppm, 59.8% abv ($150)

The nose on the PC 10 is the least peaty of these three.  It has more of a motor oil nose with some very light fruit notes in the background.  The palate has malt and some fruit, maybe even a touch of sherry.  Only later in the palate do you get with that sharp, less aromatic peat that is the mainstay of the PC series and harkens back to the oily, peat of old Ardbegs.  It drinks surprisingly easily for the proof.  The finish is mostly peat on the nose and some sweet cereal grains and maybe a trace of sherry on the palate. 

Bruichladdich Octomore 10, 80.5 ppm, 2012 First Release, 50% abv ($275)

This expression of Octomore, while still double the peating level of the other two, is quite a bit less than the earlier Octomore releases which were peated into the hundreds of ppms.  It's also lower proof than the other general release Octomore expressions, all of which have been cask strength.

The nose has an herbaceous quality along with the strong dose of peat; there's some juniper in there.  The notes follow into the palate with some sweet notes early on, but then it becomes all peat and herbs, like a peaty pesto.  The finish, as expected, is just a big dose of peat.  I really wish they had bottled a cask strength, because I think it would have been fantastic.  As it stands, it's good, but nowhere near what I would expect for the price. If you're going to put out a ten year old for nearly $300, it better be something amazing, and this isn't. What I really would have liked to see as the ten year old Octomore is the ten year old, cask strength version of the original Octomore which was peated to 131 ppm and was excellent at five years old.  Hopefully, we'll see that in the future sometime, and maybe even it will even be worth the price.

All three of these were good peated malts.  The PC10 was my favorite, with a lot more complexity than the other two.  The Port Charlotte was the least impressive, and while the Octomore was good, the price to quality ratio is way off. 


Alex said...

Thanks, Sku.

Is that when they measure phenol concentration, in the new make spirit? I've heard conflicting explanations in the past. I was under the impression that the reported ppm was the phenol concentration of the peated malt. Since the distiller usually orders the peated malt from a supplier to their own specifications, it would make sense that they specify 80ppm phenol for their order and that the malt is tested to meet that requirement before its use.

Certainly the new make could also be tested for phenol concentration, but by then it's already been distilled and the phenol content cannot be reduced in the new make with use of additional unpeated malt.

I'm sure modern distilleries test all components throughout the process, but I've never been clear about which phenol ppm they report. Maybe it differs from distillery to distillery.

sku said...

Thanks Alex, you're absolutely right. I was trying to emphasize that the ppm didn't represent the level of peat in the aged whiskey, but it usually is the measure of the barley prior to distillation. Thanks for catching it.

My Annoying Opinions said...

Does the PC 10 have a wine cask component like all the others (I think) in the series did?

sku said...

Annoying Opinions, I have not been able to find any information on the casks used (nor do I recall seeing any on past PC editions) but it seems likely based on my tasting.