Octomore is the smokiest scotch you can buy. But for me, it's not about the peaty levels. My nose isn't all that sensitive to peat, and I've never been overwhelmed by it. Lightly peated whiskies (like Bowmore) barely register. Instead, I'm looking for flavor beneath the peat.
Peat (which is, essentially, decaying vegetation) was used as a fuel source on Islay and other parts of Scotland. Today, peat is no longer used as a fuel source, but it still can be used while drying malted barley to add smoky levels to single malt scotch. The levels of peat in the whisky is measured in parts-per-million (PPM). Distilleries, rarely drying their own barley these days, order barley at particular peat levels from suppliers
Octomore represents the extreme side of peat levels. The original Octomore had a specification of 80.5 PPM compared to a Laphroaig that's at 45 PPM or a Bowmore that's just over 20 PPM . Later releases of Octomore took peat to the extreme, reaching levels at up to 300 PPM. While the smoky sensation of peat survives fermentation and distillation, it does dissipate during barrel maturation. The older the whisky, the more it loses in its smoky notes. Octomore has it all covered by being a highly peated whisky, aged for only 5 years, and bottled at or near cask strength.
I tasted the original Octomore on my first trip to Scotland. I asked for peaty, and the whisky shop owner gave me the original release of Octomore. Since than, Bruichladdich Distillery has released many new batches of Octomore all pushing the envelop of flavor and peat levels. For the ones that I've tasted, I enjoyed them all, but none quite sated me the way the first Octomore had.
Octomore's 07.1 release is a special release, though, because it's the last one that Jim McEwan oversaw. Jim McEwan was formally the whisky maker of Bowmore, and left to join Bruichladdich when the distillery reopened in the early 2000s. He's a legend in the whisky making world. After may years of speculation, Jim McEwan announced his retirement in 2016.
It's fitting, then, that while the 07.1 release is far peatier than the oringal, it has that depth of character that I thought was expectional in that whisky released back in 2008. Thank you to Jim McEwan, cheers to you.
Peated Single Malt Scotch, Cask Strength
Nose: Face right up in the campfire intensity, the smoke plumes across your senses. As your nose acclimatizes (some might never), there's a wet grass sort of intensity behind it. The barley notes are present, though that takes time to detect. Caramel, grain, ash, sweetened (but still intense) freshly squeezed lemon juice.
Palate: Thick, buttery, black pepper spice at an intensity I've not felt before, with a dark chocolate and rich caramel finish. That char hangs on your palate for days. The buttery peppery mix of flavor is nothing one will likely experience (with the exception of another Octomore perhaps).
Whisky Cabinet Score: ★ ★ ★ ★
If you can smell peat from across the room, it'll likely needlessly overpower your senses with smoke. All the Octomore's have been great, but none (for me) matched the beauty of the original that Jim McEwan released. 07.1 is peatier than the original, and more intense than the original, but surpasses the original. If you're not overly sensitive to peat levels, this is a fabulous whisky to drink.
*Whisky Cabinet Rating Explained:
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ Not recommended
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ Good whisky, but not a ‘must-have’
★ ★ ☆ ☆ Your great regular rotation whisky that'll come and go
★ ★ ★ ☆ Excellent, a near must-have
★ ★ ★ ★ Extraordinary, memorable, and original