The fascinating thing about Octomore is the whole idea isn't supposed to work. But, before I explain why, the big question is, What is peat? In a nutshell, peat is the waste of plant material that is compressed in bogs and marshes. It is abundant around the world. Peat is typically harvested in bricks. The bricks are then burned for its heat in various gardening uses.
In terms of whisky, peat is used to dry barley and cease the germination process. Burning peat results in phenols, or smoky qualities, and phenols are measured in parts per million (PPM). Your heavily-peated Scotches, typically from the Islay region of Scotland, such as Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg for the most part ring in somewhere at 55 PPM or less.
Now, let's cycle back. Why should the whole idea of Octomore be unworkable? Firstly, the PPM is about 2.5 times that of those other Scotches. Secondly, it is a younger whiskey. Thirdly, it is bottled at cask strength. What that should translate to is a young, hot, batch of alcohol that stinks like burning tires.
Today I'm reviewing Octomore 11.1. It starts with 100% Concerto and Prodino malted barley grown on the Octomore farm and harvested in 2013. That barley was distilled in 2014 and then aged in first-fill American whiskey barrels from Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Heaven Hill, and Jack Daniel's. At five years old, it came out of the barrel at 59.4% ABV. There was no chill-filtering done and it is naturally colored. The yield was 30,000 bottles.
What have I left out of that description? The 139.6 PPM of phenols!
Does that sound a bit scary? Will Octomore 11.1 have any quality aside from smoke and ash? The only way to know for sure is to #DrinkCurious. However, before I do that, I need to offer some transparency.
I was provided samples of Octomore 11.1, 11.3, and 10-Year in exchange for reviews. I've been recruited as part of a group of US-based whiskey writers dubbed The Octomore Eleven. We were selected to assist with the launch of Octomore 11. However, my review is 100% mine, it is as always my true tasting notes and experience. As you know, my reputation is everything.
I want to make one other thing clear. It would be a huge mistake to pour Octomore into a glass and drink it without letting it breathe. Bruichladdich recommends eight minutes. I recommend between ten and fifteen.
Appearance: In my Glencairn glass, 11.1 appeared as the color of sauvignon blanc wine. It was pale and clear. It left a medium rim that stuck to the wall like glue. Flat, slow legs eventually formed but even after they dropped, the rim remained.
Nose: While I was giving this my ten-minute wait, sitting outside on my deck, the smoky peat was evident. It made my mouth water. Yet, when I went to start the nosing process, the peat was much less than I prepared myself for. The aroma of peat, of course, was there. But, I found brine, pear, citrus, apricot, and a sweet floral quality. When I inhaled through my lips, the smoke and pear teased my palate.
Palate: The mouthfeel had a warming, medium body. It came as no surprise that smoky peat would be there. It took a sip or two to start identifying what lay beneath. Smoke and black pepper were up on the front. Mid-palate became a very complex recipe of pear, apple, citrus, cocoa, and mace. Then, on the back, I ran into clove that I could almost chew and brine.
Finish: A very long and lasting finish of smoke, oak, and clove remained. The clove rolled on and on and suddenly fell off a cliff. It did make my hard palate tingle.
Bottle, Bar, or Bust: Despite the explosive number of 139.6 PPM, this whisky was well-balanced and so much more than smoke. I almost psyched myself out and was a cautious taking that first sip. I prepared to have my palate wrecked, but that never happened. I was pleased with how much complexity existed and how flavorful this Scotch turned out.
The unknown factor for me is the price. I have not been provided with suggested retail prices, but I have seen Octomore previous releases in the low-to-mid-$100 range, and I'm willing to go out on a limb and suggest it is in that neighborhood. Octomore 11.1 is absolutely in a class by itself, and while it isn't the destroyer of palates that made me nervous, you absolutely must be a fan of peated whiskies, otherwise, this is not the dip-your-toe-in-the-pool opportunity.
As for myself, I really enjoy peated whiskies and was very impressed. If that's your jam, too, then you'll also appreciate my Bottle rating for Octomore 11.1. Feel the peat, but don't fear it. Cheers!