Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: Prince of Peat - Bruichladdich Octomore

Famously touted as the most heavily peated malt ever made, Octomore may be the most eagerly anticipated Scotch release since Bruichladdich's earlier peat experiment, PC5.

Before we go into the details of this particular whisky, a word about peat. Peat, as you may know, is a fossil fuel derived from moss that imparts its smoky flavor on some Scotches when it is used to fuel the fire that cooks the malted barley. Peat in Scotch whisky is measured in parts per millions (PPM). Most Scotch has some amount of peat, and an "unpeated" Scotch may clock in at 5 to 10 PPM. What we used to think of as a heavily peated Scotch, say a typical Lagavulin, Ardbeg, Laphroaig or the aforementioned PC5 would usually contain between 25 up to 40 or 50 PPM of peat phenols. The new Ardbeg Supernova weighs in at "in excess of" 100 PPM and the Octomore has a crushing 131 PPM.

While I was excited by this new malt, it also made me apprehensive. It's great that Bruichladdich pushes the envelope, and they continue to do so in a way that few other distillers do, but for them, pushing the envelope always seems to include pushing the price point.

Marketed in a sleek black bottle (pretty bottles nearly always mean higher prices), the cask strength Octomore sells at a hefty $185-$200, which must be a record for a five year old whisky. I was worried when the Progressive Hebridean Distillers, as Bruichladdich likes to be known, charged over $100 for another five year old, their PC5, and now I'm even more concerned. Exciting new Scotch releases are becoming more and more inaccessible, particularly in this economic climate. Presumably, Bruichladdich will find out if it is economically feasible to keep its whiskies at the top of the market's price point. Time will tell.

Whatever happens, though, Octomore will ultimately be judged on how it tastes, so let's get on with it.


Bruichladdich Octomore [Ochdamh-mòr], 5 years old, 63.5% alcohol ($200).

It goes without saying that Octomore is heavily peated, though the smoke is not as overwhelming as you might guess. Given that a Lagavulin or Ardbeg is typically in the 45-50 PPM range and Octomore is 131 PPM, one would reasonably expect the Octomore to taste more than twice as smoky as those other peat monsters. Not so. The peat is there in force, but it feels about on par with those peatier Islay malts in terms of smoke.

The nose is heavily peated, I might mistake it for a Lagavulin for its intense campfire-like smokiness. The flavor is dazzling and balanced, smoke is accompanied by some sweetness, like the caramelized, smoky taste of a lovely hunk of smoked salmon; there are even notes of a sweet brandy sort. Peated whiskies nearly always offer a long finish and the Octomore finish is of a seemingly indefinite length, remaining with you as a long, pleasant reminder of the whisky.

I was never impressed with the PC5, which I considered rather one dimensional, but Octomore is something different. Despite its heavy smoke, Octomore has a complexity and a depth that the PC5 lacked. In a side by side tasting, Octomore blew PC5 away.

Since I first tried Octomore, I keep returning to it. I keep yearning for that smoke fix. It has an almost addictive quality (like some other smoky things).

Octomore is a great and exciting whisky and I'm excited to see what happens to it with age. The price tag, though, is far too steep. Come on Jim, give us working stiffs a break already.


Unknown said...

I'm glad someone liked it because I didn't like it much at all. It was definitely bottled far too early but hopefully will be much better with age.

Mark Connelly said...

Oh, I agree with your comment on the price, though!

sku said...

Thanks for your comments butephoto (it sounds like they were both from you). Different strokes for different folks, but I really liked Octomore, which surprised me since, as I say, I was less impressed with PC5.

Certainly, though, it will be interesting to try with some more years on it, and I'm sure we will get that opportunity at ever greater price tags.