Another highly peated whisky from Bruichladdich this week, this time the far more ludicrously peated Octomore 5.1. I believe at 169 ppm this is the most heavily peated of the Octomores yet. Of course, as Jordan Devereaux and other people with actual knowledge of chemistry have pointed out, the ppm rating of barley before distillation is always a more spectacular number than the ppm rating of the matured whisky, and still shape and size can also have tremendous influence on how much of the phenols make into the distillate (Bruichladdich has very tall stills).
Anyway, I don’t mean to give the impression that I know very much about these things. I do know, however, that despite these eye-popping ppm numbers the Octomores have not been particularly outlandishly smoky in the glass and that I’m increasingly sceptical about the point of this series (see my comments in my review of the 6.1; I’ve also reviewed the 2.1, the 4.2 and the Octomore 10.)
Let’s see what this one is like.
Octomore 5.1 (59.5%; from a sample received in a swap)
Nose: Rather closed at first but there are cereally notes and some sweet (berry) notes along with vanilla and cream and just a hint of the trademark Bruichladdich sour milk. More lemony after a bit but this doesn’t nose like the world’s most heavily peated malt—that is to say the peat is more vegetal than smoky. There are some floral/mezcal notes as well (that’s the youth, I guess). There’s a bit of melon too now. The smoke intensifies as it sits and it gets more peppery as well. Ten minutes in it’s rather smoky (though with the vanilla/cream note below it) with something reminiscent of very hot asphalt; it’s also quite salty now. Water makes the peat far more pungent and the lemon more musky and integrated with the salt.
Palate: Sweet at first with the smoke lurking behind—not very tarry smoke, more of a char (and some charred meat). Again, very drinkable at full strength. On the second sip the smoke comes out quicker but it’s not overwhelming now either. There’s more of the fruit from the nose now, and also some of the mezcal-like floral notes, but this might need some water to unlock the palate properly. With more time (and water not yet added) the lactic note expands a fair bit, and it gets saltier too. Okay, here comes the water: with water it’s sweeter still, and there’s also wet stones and quite a bit more smoke; in fact, the smoke gets more phenolic and becomes much denser now (more of a smoky fog). The fruit gets pushed back/under.
Finish: Long. Inky smoke with salt crystals and pepper. With water the smoke gets brighter and there’s more acid in general (salted lemons). And as on the palate it’s even more phenolic and smoky with time, but some creamy notes emerge late.
Comments: Better with water. As with the 6.1 I liked the nose much more than the palate, which I found relatively simple. It’s very well balanced and with water there’s far more going on here than in the 6.1. I do like it much more than the 6.1 but can’t see any reason to get this either over much more reasonably priced cask strength peated Islays (such as those from Laphroaig or Lagavulin).
Rating: 88 points.
Thanks to Michael K. for the sample!