The universe saw fit to give southern Minnesota snow on this the first day of May, and I was thus in the mood for something very smoky. And as both the brats were utter bastards at dinner-time I also needed something very strong. And so naturally I reached for my bottle of Octomore 2.1. The word “Octomore”, I assume, means “very expensive despite being very young” in Scots Gaelic. It is the bane of those who like to alphabetize their whisky collections, as the very striking bottle is also very tall (a single bottle of Octomore would cause havoc in a collection housed in an IKEA Billy bookcase). It would also be very good for striking people with as you can comfortably hold it by the neck in a tight fist and use the bottle as a club. But you should wait till the bottle is empty to do that–and when that will be is hard to tell as the bottle is darker than Donald Rumsfeld’s soul and it is impossible to tell what the level at any time is. The feeling of anomie that this sometimes inspires must be another of the things we are paying for when we pay through the nose for Octomore.
As you may or may not know, Octomore is the line in which Bruichladdich‘s experiments with very high peating levels are released. Bruichladdich’s Port Charlotte line is also heavily peated (at about 40 parts per million, which puts it in
Ardbeg/Lagavulin/Laphroaig territory as per Andrew Jefford) but Octomore is really heavily peated, with each release (I think we’re now up to 5.1) breaking the record for the highest levels of peat. This 2.1 release was peated to 140 ppm. It’s worth noting that a) peat levels in matured spirit are drastically lower than in the wash that goes through distillation and b) that, at any rate, a 140 ppm peated whisky doesn’t taste seven times as peaty as a 20 ppm peated whisky. This one, for instance, is certainly peatier than, say the Ardbeg 10, but not drastically so. I was pleasantly surprised to discover this when I first tasted it (a fellow whisky geek shared a 2 oz sample) as I’d previously assumed that this would be the whisky equivalent of an outrageously hopped IPA that no one enjoys but which is supposed to mark he who drinks it (and it is usually a he) as a true adept. But, as I say, this did not prove to be true and I liked it enough to get a bottle for myself and have been enjoying it as it has steadily descended to whatever level it is at now.
Octomore 2.1 (62.5%; from my own bottle)
Nose: Pungent, phenolic smoke fills the room before I’ve put the glass down after pouring. But when I sniff the glass it’s a different story: sweet peat, briny oyster liquor, charred fatty pork. And after a few minutes something rotting in the wet undergrowth (a dead frog maybe). After a few more minutes, it gets tarrier, with some ink but always with that sweet meaty note. Like walking on a recently tarred road after a rainstorm while someone barbecues a pork butt in the middle-distance (“That’s enough of that!” ed.). After a while, the peat/tar assault mellows while the inky note expands. With even more time the nose becomes relatively mellow–almost in Caol Ila territory, with a lemony note coming to the fore. With water that lemony note really intensifies and there’s something reminiscent of almond oil about it too now. Not phenolic at all now. After a while the lemon is now preserved, or maybe that’s citronella.
Palate: First impressions are of sweet ash, a lot of brine, charred mackerel, and a vegetal bell peppery note. Not undrinkable at full strength and not off-puttingly smoky either (though at this point in the history of my much tortured tongue I don’t know what it would take for a whisky to be off-puttingly smoky). The brine expands with time, and gets a little olive-briny. With water the palate also becomes lemony–though these are very ashy lemons. There’s champagne vinegar in there too. On my very last sip it seemed to get a little creamier with some vanilla showing up too.
Finish: Long and intensely, tinglingly smoky. The smoke hangs around for a long time, and the final impression is of mild salt. Water adds lemon and some ink and turns the smoke to ash but doesn’t shorten the finish at all.
Comments: This is pretty extreme, but it’s not obnoxious. In fact, if you have a taste for peat it’s rather nice. It’s young and brash but shows hints of elegance if you give it the opportunity. Wonderful development on the nose with time and water. It really hit the spot tonight. I don’t like it quite as much as its slightly older and fancier sibling, the Octomore 4.2 “Comus”, but I do like it a lot. If it were a fair sight cheaper I’d have a bottle on the go on a regular basis.
Rating: 88 points.