A travel exclusive Octomore which like all of them, and unlike plenty of other travel exclusive whiskies, is absolutely delicious, and is well worth making the extra effort to obtain!
There have been a few travel (duty free) exclusive Octomores now, all with the _.2 suffix, dubbed the "Cask Evolution" releases by Bruichladdich. The first was the 5-year old 167 ppm Cognac cask matured 6.2 that was initially released way back in late 2013, and the second that we're looking at today: a 5-year old 208 ppm release that is a marriage of first-fill ex-bourbon casks and first-fill Syrah French red wine casks. The third travel exclusive release, 8.2, doesn't seem to have hit the shelves of many of the world's duty free stores just yet, but it promises to be very interesting. It will also be quite different to the usual Octomore MO, being significantly older than most at 8 years of age, and resulting from quite a complicated cask recipe: second-fill French Mourvedre red wine, second-fill French Sauternes dessert wine, and second-fill Austrian sweet wine casks, all matured for six years before coming together for 2 years of further maturation in first-fill Italian Amarone dry red wine casks. That's quite a mouth-full! I was lucky enough to try a small pour of the 8.2 at the distillery during my visit in 2017, but it was immediately following both a fantastic warehouse tasting and a few different drams in the shop, including this fantastic 7.2 that I'm reviewing here, so I'll reserve judgement on the new addition until I've had a chance to give it my full attention!
As frustrating and restricting as the whole "travel exclusive" thing can be for those of us who don't travel internationally on a regular basis, at least it tends to mean that stock of those releases last quite a bit longer than the other limited editions. At least it certainly does in Australia, and the distillery shop also had quite a few bottles of the 7.2 release still on the shelves during my visit. I do notice though that unlike its predecessor 7.2 doesn't declare what the size of the release was (6.2 and 8.2 were both 18,000 bottles), so perhaps it was also a larger release this time? Regardless, it was because of that little fact that I was able to pick up a second bottle of this excellent whisky through a travelling family member, and it was promptly cracked open a couple of days later! If memory serves me correctly Octomore 7.2 was actually the last Octomore release to be bottled under the reign of Bruichladdich's legendary former master distiller Jim McEwan, since both 7.3 and 7.4 were released under Adam Hannett's leadership following Jim's retirement.
So as I mentioned, this bottling is a marriage of 5-year old ex-bourbon casks and 5-year old French Syrah red wine casks, both first-fill. It was distilled from Scottish barley peated to 208 ppm, and was bottled at 58.5%. Being a Bruichladdich whisky it's also free from added colouring and chill filtration. Syrah wine is known as Shiraz in Australia, and is a dark savoury red wine that tends to be quite heavy, although apparently most European Syrah tends to be lighter and less tannic than the Shiraz we're used to in Australia. Which suits me just fine! In the case of this Octomore the casks were sourced from the Rhone Valley region of France, one of the most prolific Syrah producing regions in the world. Pricing has hovered around the $250 AUD mark in Australian duty free stores, which puts it roughly in the middle between the 'standard' 7.1 and the 7.3 Islay barley. But that's enough talk, it's time to take a closer look!
208 ppm. Marriage of first-fill ex-bourbon and French Syrah red wine casks. Non-chill filtered, natural colour.
Colour: Deep gold.
Nose: Soft and refined for a young Octomore, but there's plenty going on. Fresh, herbal and meaty with hints of Bruichladdich's trademark sweet & sour lactic notes. Wood smoked pork with lots of sea salt, licorice, dried herbs (sage?), golden barley, dried red berries, and a few blueberries. Sweet buttery pastry, creamy vanilla and salty smoked bacon with time.
Texture: Absolutely beautiful. Medium weight, silky and voluptuous. No heat either, despite being just 5 years old. The magic of Octomore!
Taste: Soft, fruity and sweet entry, then building spicy & ashy smoke, more hints of 'laddie lactic notes, like a sweet & sour berry yoghurt. Wood spices, licorice and a little burning herbs. Chewy dark milky toffees, more red berries and vanilla, and hints of iodine.
Finish: Long length. This is where the peat shows itself in full - big earthy, spicy peat with lots of spicy smoke vying for attention. More sweet dried berries and creamy vanilla, slight wine tannins. Then more salty smoked meat, more burning herbs and lightly smoky golden malted barley hang around for quite some time
Score: 4 out of 5. But it's very close to a 4.5.
Notes: Absolutely delicious dram. To be honest I struggled with the scoring on this one for quite some time, in fact I had to have a second glass to help decide, but in the end the slightly restrained nose sealed the deal. Although I'm nitpicking really. Overall 7.2 is quite softly spoken for a 5-year old Octomore, it's certainly more approachable and perhaps also more complex than most. It's very, very easy to drink actually, which is remarkable for such a young whisky at high strength. Should we be thanking those Syrah casks for that? Or is it just the usual Bruichladdich distillery magic? I'm thinking it's probably a combination of both.
I really like the berry & vanilla notes in here, plus that lovely Bruichladdich lactic milky note, all combined with the peat and smoke which take a while to show their hands, but when they do you'll know about it. Also, the fact that the malted barley itself can still be detected in a 208 ppm peated Octomore is pretty amazing when you think about it. It's a little unfortunate that the "travel exclusive" thing means that even some hardcore Octomore fans may not get the chance to taste this expression, but I imagine that stocks would not have lasted this long if it were otherwise. Another great whisky from a truly great distillery with a great team.
Speaking of which, I was saddened to hear of the recent passing of Carl Reavey, Bruichladdich's head of communications. Carl was responsible for the distillery's web content and was behind the vast majority of official social media posts and PR and blog activity, and had been involved in a number of other successful projects during his 20+ years on Islay. While I never met Carl personally, I was a regular reader and admirer of his informative and passionate writing on the (excellent) Bruichladdich website, and I'm sure the distillery, the island and the industry will be feeling this loss for quite some time. Here's to you Carl!