I'm a massive fan of Bruichladdich's 'super-heavily peated' Octomore series, with the 6.3 Islay Barley expression still being one of my favourite whiskies of all time. Although those famous ppm numbers have calmed a little since then, these are still some of the peatiest whiskies you can buy. And the numbers aside, these bottlings are usually remarkably balanced, complex and approachable for their age (5 years, with one exception) and strength.
This one is a little different though. It's older than previous expressions (with the exception of the 10yo), and has also had a slightly more complicated maturation regimen. Once again Bruichladdich have gone where no-one has gone before, taking a little Ardbeg-style separate maturation and marrying, and a little Amrut-style 'intermediate' maturation, and combining the two with the super-heavily peated Octomore spirit. This is certainly not just a straight-forward cask finish!
What we have here is a seven year old whisky, with 25% undergoing virgin French oak maturation for the full seven years, and the remaining 75% being matured in first-fill ex-bourbon casks for three years, followed by two years in virgin French oak, followed by another two years back in first-fill bourbon. The ABV hasn't suffered through all of this either, coming in at 61.2% when all was said and done, and it was peated to 167 ppm on the malt (prior to distillation and maturation), which is considerably lower than the other recent versions. And considering the extra age and the types of casks employed, I'm not expecting a massive peat blast in this one. But I'm sure it'll still be there!
Only 12,000 bottles were released in early 2016, and while all Octomore releases are expensive, this 7.4 expression isn't an extremely massive jump in price from the .2 travel-exclusive releases, despite the extra age and no doubt very costly maturation. A very small quantity of those bottles is just starting to appear in Australia, and while the RRP is apparently $260, unfortunately they seem to mostly be priced around the $300 mark. Regardless, I don't imagine stocks will last very long!
167 ppm. 25% matured in virgin French oak casks for 7 years, 75% matured in first-fill ex-bourbon casks for 3 years, then virgin French oak for 2 years, then back to first-fill ex-bourbon for 2 years. Non-chill filtered, natural colour. 12,000 bottles.
Colour: Glistening bronze. Beautiful. The power of virgin oak!
Nose: Oooh, this is different. Sweet fruit & lots of spicy, nutty oak. Salt and a little white pepper, soft hints of peat on the edges. Baked sweet stone fruit and some banana with warm caramel sauce. Chocolate-coated dried orange, furniture polish and vanilla pods.
Texture: Medium-heavy weight. Gorgeous. The legs on the glass are near-permanent. Rich and spicy.
Taste: Spice explosion! There's more peat here than on the nose, but it's certainly been beaten down by the casks (as expected). Oak-y vanilla, big handfuls of wood spices & pepper. Dry & earthy peat, a little chilli salt and some soot.
Finish: Medium-length, sweet & spicy initially. Some hot ginger, then the oak comes in to start drying it all out. Vanilla syrup, charred hot wood chips.
Score: 4 out of 5.
Notes: Very good, and undeniably very, very different as we should've expected from Bruichladdich. The massive oak influence and loads of spices may put off some Octomore fans, particularly with the massively dialled-down peat and smoke. Personally I was expecting an Alligator-like experience, but it's not in that camp either, this one stands apart from any Islay I've tasted so far. In fact this one gave my oak-influence envelope a good push! Highly recommend trying this one folks, I don't think we're likely to see another quite like it.
This was quite an expensive release, but that's understandable considering the extra age and mega-expensive new French oak casks, which have certainly worked hard for their money. It is also quite rare now, basically all of those 12,000 bottles seem to have been snapped up, and once again I missed out (most of my budget - plus a bit more - has been sent in Heartwood's direction lately!) on a rather unique Octomore. So a big thanks to the generous fellow-whisky geek who parted with this sample, much obliged mate!