This is the third part of a three-part series on Bruichladdich’s Octomore 11 release. For my review of 11.1, which includes all the background, click here.
For the fourth time, Bruichladdich has included a 10 year-old version of Octomore along with the annual release. The first time was in 2012, the second in 2016, and the third in 2018. Each has represented a unique spin on Octomore, and this year’s focus is on virgin oak.
Virgin oak is uncommon in scotch whisky. While it’s used extensively (indeed it’s required by law) in bourbon and other American whiskies, the climate of Scottish dunnage warehouses does not favor long (10, 15, 20 years) aging in virgin oak. The whiskies become too bitter, too tannic, and too overpoweringly flavored by the oak. Still, when handled carefully and used in moderation, virgin oak can bring unexpected flavors of cinnamon and baking spices, sandalwood, and tropical fruits that aren’t otherwise found when using only refill casks. Compass Box has used this fact to great effect, and other Scottish distillers sometimes dabble in it. Here, it forms a small part of the vatting, along with greater amounts of ex-bourbon (1st and 2nd fill) American oak casks from Jim Beam, Heaven Hill, Buffalo Trace, and Jack Daniels.
The idea behind the 10 year-old editions of Octomore is for Bruichladdich to examine the effects of longer aging on the somewhat-well-understood young (typically 5 year-old) Octomore. As Head Distiller Adam Hannett said in our interview session for the Octomore 11 campaign, “we just don’t know everything,” and “there are so many infinite variables in the creation of single malt whisky, so we try to isolate one variable at a time to see how it improves the whisky, or doesn’t.”
The fourth edition of Octomore 10 year-old was distilled in 2009 from the 2008 harvest of 100% Scottish grown Optic barley. The barley was malted by Bairds in Inverness to 208 ppm before shipping to Bruichladdich for distillation. After aging for 10 years, it was bottled in a limited 12,000 bottles at 54.3% ABV without chill filtration or added coloring. Although it is cask strength, Bruichladdich mixes in a “just a drop” of spring water from Octomore Farm’s natural spring.
My tasting sample was provided by Bruichladdich for “The Octomore 11” Campaign.
Nose: Um. Wow. Fragrant. A ton of lemon verbena, white tea, honeysuckle, and orange peel, plus a ghost of peat infusing all of it with smoke that reminds me more of Chinese tea-smoking than peat. The whole is also sweeter than 11.1, with a lot more brown sugar and a little oak resin. Lovely. This release is also more stable – it appears unchanged after a rest in the glass.
Palate: Medium bodied. A robust (but not blinding) tongue burn is followed by burnt salted caramel, mild earthy peat, and sweet malty barley with just enough wood to remind you that it’s been aged longer.
Finish: Long. The peat rolls in like a storm front. Dark, heavy woodsmoke-style peat, with a some of the dark chocolate notes from Octomore 11.3. Not bitter. Finishes with a sudden wisp of black licorice and mint.
With Water: Several drops of water wake up an odd pomegranate note (like fresh grenadine), and also bring back some of the fleeting floral notes from the original pour. The palate is a little fruitier, as is the finish, and the licorice note arrives earlier. Definitely try this without water first, and then add a little after it starts to languish in the glass.
Overall: This is definitely my favorite of the three Octomores that I got to taste. That said, I did miss some of those youthful bright citrus notes that were prevalent in Octomore 11.1. If I had all the money in the world, I would own a bottle of each.