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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Single Malt Report: Octomore 3.1 / 3_152

Octomore 3.1 / 3_152.  Its name looks like a eight-limbed military robot prototype.  But it ain't no war machine, it's a peat machine.  Let's break down that name.  Octomore is named after a farm that sits on a hill above Port Charlotte on The Rhinns of Islay (the peninsula on the west coast).  In the early 1800s, a distillery was built on the farm that utilized their own barley for malt whisky.

Today, "Octomore" is being produced at the Bruichladdich distillery by the same folks who make the "Port Charlotte" whiskies.  This particular version of Octomore is the Third Edition, thus the "3".  Many of the editions have sub-editions, usually with different maturation techniques, thus the ".1" designation.  "3_152" says that this third edition has a phenol level of 152 parts per million.

The Octomores are the most heavily peated single malts in the world.  That's been their calling card.  The ppm levels for the six regular editions have ranged from 131 to 169.  Compare that to the standard Lagavulin and Laphroaig levels of 35-40ppm.  Ardbeg's malt has 55ppm and their own peat experiment, Supernova, reached 100ppm.  I've been told the key to Octomore's extra high peat levels is moisture.  Manipulating moisture levels in the peat and barley allows more smoke to be generated and phenols to be absorbed.  (By the way, if anyone knows that I've been given erroneous info on this last part, please let me know.)

To me, the Octomores are a stunt.  They are experiments.  But they are also VERY expensive whiskies, as in $200 for a five year old.  And it's not a single cask whisky.  There are 18,000 bottles released for each expression.  My feelings about the pricing have, in the past, influenced my opinion of the whisky itself.  Also, my previous three Octomore tries have been in circumstances that did not lend themselves to full appreciation of any sort of whisky.

Thanks to two different readers, I was able to look past the pricing issues, sit down with THREE different Octomores side-by-side in my dining room and suss them out.  Daniel, a professional DJ and a well-versed whisky man, brought over two of the Octomores.  Eric S., a very generous anorak from the Lone Star State, sent the third Octomore I brought to the table.

Daniel and I dug into the Octomore three-for-all...

courtesy of Daniel's camera
OCTOMORE 3.1 / 3_152

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Brand: Octomore
Ownership: Remy Cointreau
Region: Islay
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: Bourbon barrels
Age: 5 years
Alcohol by Volume: 59.0%
PPM: 152
Limited release: 18,000 bottles

The color, a medium gold, is actually the darkest of the three, leading me to consider there's a large factor of first-fill or heavier-charred casks in the mix.  The nose is the most farmy of the three as well.  Quite some manure.  Ocean notes arise, but not of a clean clear ocean, rather something more like Long Beach: the waters of an industrial port.  There's a friendly back-and-forth between sugary lemon rinds and something meaty-savory.  Maybe some roasted nuts in there too.  A veggie peat note pops up at the end, reminiscent of bean sprouts.  Some very palatable peat on the palate, considering its levels.  Vanilla peat perhaps?  A little mild cheese, pleasantly bitter black tea, and a green herbal note as well.  Give it some time for some rich toasted oak and yeasty bread notes to appear.  The finish is mellow, but very long.  There's the vanilla and caramel from the oak, toasted peat from the malting floor, and a bright herbal-ness from the spirit.

Keep in mind, this sampling came from near the bottom of the 3.1's bottle.  It had been decanted into a smaller bottle, but there's a chance a little bit of oxidation was involved which may have made the ABV feel softer.  So that's my disclaimer.  Otherwise, this was darned good.

One thing I've noticed with all the Octomores I've tried is that despite their extreme PPMs, the drinker isn't cloaked in smoke nor blinded by iodine and medicinal sharpness.  You can actually experience more peat aggression in the official Laphroaig CSs or some Port Charlottes or The Corryvreckan.  It's almost as if there's so much peating going on with the Octomores that the drinker goes right through the peat wall and into the other side, finding a controlled, mossy, coastal, toasty Islay malt.  We'll see this happen with the next two Octomores as well...

Availability - Getting tough to find, maybe a dozen retailers around the world
Pricing - $170-$250 (still, unforgivable)
Rating - 88 (after further consideration, I've adjusted the rating from its original four stars)


  1. Some of it might also have to do with Bruichladdich's stills. They're tall and narrow, which give a lot of reflux and copper contact. Unless they make really broad cuts, a lot of the phenols won't actually make it over into the spirit - from what I've read, the final PPM levels in the new make spirit for the first run of Octomore was almost exactly the same as those for Laphroaig. It's certainly gone up as they've pushed things, but the stills just aren't designed for making beefy spirit. On that note, it'll be interesting to see what kind of stills they pick if an actual Port Charlotte distillery is ever built.

    1. Thanks for the scoop on the 'Laddie stills. It's interesting that almost no one ever talks about ppm levels in the spirit itself. Tougher to brag about smaller numbers, I suppose. It was very interesting following your convo on Twitter about the Laddie 10 peat note. I found it too, last year. Would be interesting to see if it differs from batch to batch.

      I was really cheering on the construction of the Port Charlotte distillery back when Mark Reynier was running the show. Since the sale, I've been kinda indifferent about it. What Remy's going to do still remains to be seen. Though I do enjoy the PCs a lot.

    2. Here's the piece where I pulled some of those numbers from:


      And even more numbers:


    3. That's interesting stuff, thank you. Laphroaig's spirit appears to hold on the ppms at a higher % than most of the rest. Port Charlotte new seems to hold the phenols well, while Octomore's sheds them the quickest. Perhaps they take a shorter middle cut for Octo?

      It's also good to see proof that phenols decrease rapidly during maturation. I'd been finding Laphroaigs and Longrows getting almost kittenish with their peat as they age longer. I'd been wondering if it was my palate or weird bottles.

  2. The one I've been salivating for is the Comus editions. Looking at various reviews, the Sauternes finish transforms the Octomore into a peated dessert malt which is certainly quite a feat.

    1. That was the first Octomore I'd ever had. I'd recommend that you to get a taste of it before buying a bottle, if that's at all possible at this point. That bottle costs a lot of dollars.