So how did the Octomore story all start? When Bruichladdich was purchased by Mark Rainer (of wine fame) in 2000 he managed to convince revered Master Distiller Jim McEwan to join him, and then let him loose on the influence of what Bruichladdich was going to become.
Jim quickly set out to establish a heavily peated line as Bruichladdich was well known for being predominantly an unpeated whisky. Unfortunately, the local Port Ellen maltings was already running at capacity, so he had to go across to mainland Scotland to find a malting house to produce his peated whisky. He ended teaming up with Bairds Maltings in Inverness.
While most malting houses will add peat influence after the drying process by lighting a peat fire in a kiln under the barley and imparting the smoke for a few hours, Bairds had a special malting facility which included Saladin boxes. This enabled them to use peat as part the drying process, which lasts 2 days. The peat levels would get so high that they would cut the super heavily peated barley back with unpeated barley to achieve the correct specs of PPM (parts per million) that the distillery would require. It was during this process that Jim McEwan questioned how high they could get the peat levels?
Always willing to experiment, Bairds cranked the peat fires up and imparted maximum smoke influence on the barley. In doing so, each run of barley through the Saladin boxes will be slightly different in ppm. This gives each release a different level of smokiness imparted in the barley.
The result is what you see in the sleek black bottles today. Every year, Bruichladdich only distil super heavily peated barley for less than two weeks to put aside for the Octomore range.
They say it’s the impossible equation… that it shouldn’t work. And yet it does. Every year, Bruichladdich challenges preconceived notions of what quality whisky should be and how it should be made, while at the same time polarising opinions and exposing itself to criticism. And we’re all the better for it.
The annual Octomore series usually consists of four - though sometimes more, sometimes less - experimental, relatively young, and super heavily peated releases. Known for super high levels of peat, Octomore 08.3 set the record for the peatiest whisky produced in Scotland in 2017, coming in at 309.1PPM. By comparison, Bruichladdich’s own Port Charlotte, Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Laphroaig and many other well-known heavily peated malts range from 35 to 50PPM. PPM (parts per million) refers to the number of phenols imparted into the barley during the kilning stage of the malting process, as opposed to a measure of the smokiness of the finished product, but still, you get the picture.
In an effort to keep the whisky bold and brazen, and to maximise the peat levels before they diminish over time in the cask, Octomore whiskies are bottled relatively young of age, indeed as young as 3 years old. Bottled at cask strength, every Octomore delivers an unforgettable whisky experience.
As an annual release, the bottles follow a numerical naming scheme. It’s easy to decode when you know how. The first number is the number of the series, with each variant indicated by a decimal. So as a quick guide:
x.1 bottles are the benchmark release, offering context and easy comparison across the different editions, showing how each vintage is different. Clean and fresh, they’re matured in American oak ex-Bourbon casks, and are usually 5 years old.
x.2 are all about experimentation with wine cask maturations. The distillers are let loose to discover the influence from different spirit, types of oak, cask types and of course the previous occupants of the casks.
x.3 releases are all about Islay terroir. Always made with Islay barley, from the Octomore farm in the hills above the distillery, this Octomore has the truest Islay provenance.
x.4 bottles are always matured in virgin oak, however there’s always plenty of experimentation with different species of oak, as well as the toasting and sizes of the casks.
Sometimes there’s also a 10 Year Old release, which offers a chance to see how age is affecting spirit. The peat phenols soften as the years go by, and more time in the cask affects the overall balance of flavour in the whisky.
Originally a Travel Retail exclusive release, Australia's airports’ loss is our gain, as we’ve managed to snare some of the last remaining stocks Octomore 08.2 in the country.
Peated to 167ppm, Octomore 08.2 spent the first six years of its life in three different styles of wine cask. French Mourvedre, Austrian sweet wines, and French Sauternes before spending a further 2 years in Italian Amarone casks. Bottled at 58.7% ABV, you can expect to encounter waves of peat smoke mingling with red fruit, barley sugar, stewed apple, raspberry, blackcurrant, cherry wafers and coconut and a bubble-gum sweetness.
Octomore 08.2 has now sold out. Be quick: Sign Up Free to Australia's biggest whisky community now to get incredible single malt whiskies delivered straight to your door.