The Campfire Dram

Impression // The Octomore 10.x series (10.1, 10.2, 10.3, 10.4) – Droppin’ Them Smoke Bombs

January 15, 2020

When you are reading this, the Octomore 10.4 is available to order.. or it might already be sold out! So go to the website of Bruichladdich and buy a bottle now. I’ll wait… Back already? Okay, here are my impressions of the Octomore 10.x series. I can tell you, they are distinctly delicious!

What you are about to read are my edited notes that I took during a special Octomore tasting last November at Spirits in the Sky. Let me tell you that the atmosphere was, to say the least, rather excited. Most of the people during the tasting kept firing questions at Nick Baeyens, brand ambassador of Port Charlotte, Bruichladdich, and Octomore. And the man listened, pondered, and then answered in his – already legendary – brutally honest fashion. 100% transparency is a thing, and it’s starting to be tied closely to the Progressive Hebridean Distillers!

Credit: bruichladdich.com

If you don’t know anything about Octomore, let me tell you one thing: on paper, in theory, these whiskies are undrinkable, as they are distilled from the most heavily peated barley on the planet. While browsing these notes, you’ll find a number followed by “PPM”, which is an abbreviation for total “phenol parts per million”. It’s a representation of how heavily peated the whisky is. The higher the number, the peatier the whisky. In theory. A Talisker 10 scores 22 ppm, an Ardbeg 10 contains about 55-65 ppm. The ‘least peated’ whisky from the 10.x range of Octomore scores 88 ppm. The most heavily peated one, 114 ppm.

What is interesting, is that when you taste these expressions, they tend to release plenty of nuanced flavours. You are not drinking liquid ashtrays. The first time I tried an Octomore, I was surprised by its gentleness. Yes. Octomore can be gentle! And complex! And layered! But most of all, Octomore is delicious. And here’s an overview of the 10.x series I tasted.

The 10.x series in all its delicious glory! Credit: bruichladdich.com

Octomore 10.1 / 107 PPM / Aged 5 years

If you are familiar with the Progressive Hebridean Distilleries, you probably know that they apply a “What If” philosophy towards the entire whisky-making progress. They start with the choice of barley and the choice of farm land, and they continue with their experimental, but very straightforward, approach during every step of the distilling process. The Octomore 10.1 expression, therefore, is an example of a very modest approach to whisky-making. What would happen if you take Scottish barley, distill it, and have it mature on exAmerican oak casks for 5 years?

Well, you get an expression which is a benchmark. It’s simple. It’s very tasty. It’s salty, smokey (duh), and blessed with a pleasant oily texture. There is no burning sensation in the mouth. Instead, there is a gentle simmer. It’s a cleanser of the mouth lining. Even more so, it “exposes the structure and presence of the Octomore spirit“, according to the distillers (bruichladdich.com). It’s a good introduction to the 10.x series, and even more so to Octomore in general. No nonsense, just an excellent whisky. And proof that 107 ppm on paper is very different from 107 ppm in your glass.

Credit: bruichladdich.com

Octomore 10.2 / 96.9 PPM / Aged 8 years –  (Travel Exclusive)

If the 10.1 is the benchmark, the 10.2 is the first ‘experimental variation’. First aged for 4 years in fresh bourbon barrels, then fully brought to maturation for another 4 years in incredibly rare Sauternes casks (French sweet white wine). At 56,9% ABV, you can expect a strong expression, ready to put some hair on your chest. Or so you might think.

While I tasted this expression, I experienced smokey flavours, combined with the sweetness of late autumn honey. There is a delicate burn, which is unexpected for a cask strength whisky. The smokey flavours crept up nicely into my nose as well. At this point, I had questions. And plenty more people attending the masterclass with me had questions too! Brand ambassador Nick jokingly informed us that at the distillery, they rarely offer answers. They simply create more questions.

The 10.2 is the perfect blend of smoke & sweetness, but sadly only available when at international airports. Is it okay to book a ticket simply because you want to buy a certain whisky?

Credit: bruichladdich.com

Octomore 10.3 / 114 PPM / Aged 6 years

After a balanced ‘smoke & sweet’, we had the chance to taste the Octomore 10.3, the distillery’s most local whisky to date. Bruichladdich wants to one of the first distilleries (after Kilchoman) to produce whiskies entirely on Islay, which means it would be a 100% Islay whisky: from growing the barley to malting (expected in 2023) to bottling the whisky. Even better, they want to be the first decarbonized distillery (expected in 2025). These people know what’s important!

The Octomore 10.3 is a ‘work in progress towards 100% Islay‘. Thanks to local farmer James Brown (the godfather of SOIL, thanks Nick!), the distillery was able to use Islaygrown barley, which grew on Octomore farm in “the wet and wild west coast” of Islay. The result :”an exploration of Islay terroir and stratospheric smoke” (bruichladdich.com). Maturation was done for 6 years on exAmerican oak casks.

On the nose, a sharp expression, drier than its sisters, with notes of burnt hay and dried heather, with a hint of pepper even. Contradictory (nice word), the flavours are nice and smooth on the palate, even though its 61,3% ABV! Very similar to the 10.1, on paper at least. I wondered how this expression could be so different from the 10.1, which was matured in similar conditions. Luckily for us, this is one question the distillery did answer: terroir. Both expressions were stored in Warehouse 16. And the distinct flavours can only be attributed to “the barley’s respective growing location” (bruichladdich.com).

Yes, terroir is a thing! And the 10.3 is actual proof!

Credit: bruichladdich.com

Octomore 10.4 / 88 PPM / Aged 3 years

Finally, we tasted the youngest Octomore to date. The little mysterious bastard, the oddball, the underdog, the ‘damn this is good for a three year old whisky’ expression. And it stands proudly next to the other expressions, despite its ‘low’ ppm level. I am genuinely impressed by this expression. And a bit sad that I haven’t been able to try it again!

Matured for merely 3 years on Virgin Limousin European oak, this delicious enigma of a dram offers up burnt wood, like putting your nose into ashes. There’s the smell of freshly sawed wood, only to be found in a proper woodworker’s woodshop (try to say that 10 times). It was difficult to pinpoint. At times, I was reminded of BBQ coals, of rainedout campfire smoke, of dry wood at the brink of igniting. The dram was dry and fruity. There. That’s probably enough. Just go buy a bottle already.

Credit: bruichladdich.com

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