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Sunday, 12 November 2017

Rest & Be Thankful Octomore 2009 Whisky Review!

What's this, some unusual independent bottling of Octomore? Why yes, that's exactly what it is! Not something you see every day hey?

Taken from the shore at Inverary, but looking towards Rest & Be Thankful... you get the idea!

Rest & Be Thankful is owned by the England-based blender & independent bottler Fox Fitzgerald, and is a relatively new brand, only arriving in Australia in 2016. They have made an impact though, bringing us one of only a few independent bottlings of Bruichladdich's super-heavily peated Octomore whisky that are available in the world, and the only one so far that is officially distributed in Australia, in this case thanks to Baranow's Emporium. The slightly awkward brand name on this bottling refers to the "Rest & Be Thankful" viewing area & rest stop located near the highest point on the A83 road in western Scotland, not far from Loch Lomond, which is the road you'll take if you're driving from Glasgow (or Edinburgh) to Campbeltown or Islay. Although I only passed it on the bus, just rest assured (pun intended) that it's a very, very beautiful area.

As you can probably guess by the fact that they've been able to sell Octomore as an independent bottler, Fox Fitzgerald have a close relationship with Bruichladdich, and are bottling both Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte and Octomore spirit under their Rest & Be Thankful brand. Rumour has it that they managed to purchase a large number of privately owned mature casks during the purchase of the distillery by Remy Cointreau, along with some mature casks from other distilleries not very often seen in independent bottlings, such as Macallan, Arran, Highland Park and Springbank. Most carry age statements and cask details on the label as well, and are bottled at cask strength, without chill filtration or added colouring. When comparing these Octomore bottlings to their official cousins, you may notice a number missing: the ppm measurement, which Bruichladdich quote on most of their Octomore expressions. But we do have a 'vintage', as in year of distillation, which in this case is 2009, so we can assume that these casks were filled around the same time as the official 6.1 (which was bottled in 2014 as a 5 year old), which weighed in at 167 ppm. Not that it really tells us a whole lot anyway, so like all Octomore we can safely assume it's going to be seriously peaty.

This particular bottling I'm looking at today was fully matured, not finished, in a single ex-red wine cask from the Pauillac region of Bordeaux, France. So we don't know the grape variety or the vineyard responsible for that red wine cask, and there are half a dozen famous wineries in the area, but that's OK, since that's also how Bruichladdich often operates with their official bottlings. That single ex-red wine cask yielded a total of 300 bottles, at a cask strength of 66.9%, and an age of approximately 6 years & 3 months. These Rest & Be Thankful bottlings are not exactly cheap, with the Octomore releases retailing at around $500 AUD in Australia, which is around double that of the more expensive official bottlings such as 7.2 & 7.3. But then they are older than those official Octomores, they are higher in strength, and of course there are far fewer bottles available. The sample for this review came from the Australian importer for Rest & Be Thankful (among others), Melbourne-based Baranow's Emporium. Let's get to it!

Rest & Be Thankful Octomore 2009, NAS, 66.9%. Islay, Scotland.
Distilled 11/2009, bottled 2/2016. Matured in a single ex-red wine cask from Pauillac, Bordeaux, France. Cask number 2009004312, 300 bottles. Cask strength, non-chill filtered, natural colour.  

Colour: Deep gold.

Nose: Fresh, meaty and quite citrus-y. Lemon rind, bitter oranges, meaty & salty fresh natural oysters on a plate of rock salt. Yes really! Sweet red fruits come out with time, and does a little damp oak, some wood spice incense, and a soft hint of crumbly, earthy / muddy peat.  

Texture: Heavy weight, thick & meaty texture. Some heat as well, but it's 66.9% remember!

Taste: There's the peat finally, but it's really subdued for an Octomore. Meaty & spicy, like Moroccan-style spiced grilled red meat. Then becomes sweet with red berries and thick dark toffee. Then a little of that citrus and incense spice from the nose.  

Finish: Medium length. Hot & spicy initially, and drying. The wood spice incense note is very dominant for much of the time, when it tapers off the citrus and a little smoke comes out, and that spiced meat note again with a little salt. 

Score: 3 out of 5. 

Notes: This was a tough one to call. It's really quite hot, but not in a completely unpleasant way. And at 66.9% that comes with the territory really. Yes I could have added water, but I don't usually do that for any other reviews until after I've scored the dram at hand, so it wouldn't be fair. I love the nose on this Rest & Be Thankful, and the palate was nice too, but the finish didn't quite float my boat personally. I'm not a big fan of dominant spice notes in a whisky (Ardbeg Kelpie, for example), so that incense note didn't really gel with my palate. But the nose does help to make up for that, and this is definitely one of those drams that you could sit with for a long time without even taking a sip. 

It's all too tempting to compare this with the official bottlings from Bruichladdich, and let's be frank, they are much cheaper than this one is. Let's also remember though that they are often reduced, albeit only slightly, from the natural cask strength, while this one is really packing a punch. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing in this case is hard to say, but the distillery obviously has a reason for reducing the strength of their official bottlings of Octomore or they wouldn't do it. This Rest & Be Thankful bottling is also a year older than most of the official releases, although still a young and fresh whisky, so that would make a difference as well. 

I know I'm harping on about the price a little, and an independent bottling of Octomore is not such a commonly seen thing, so we don't have a lot of other examples to refer to, but there's no denying that this is a seriously expensive whisky. Despite it's limited and single cask nature, $500 AUD (and upwards) is quite a number for a 6-year old whisky. One could easily buy two bottles of the official bottlings for that, even two of the delicious 7.3 Islay Barley at the moment. But this is a single cask bottling, and it's a different take on the make, with far less peat and more spice, so it doesn't really replicate any of the official line-up. For me though, it's a little hard to get past that spice, and that price.