Octomore and Virgin Oak

  • 4 mins

In case you missed it, we recently released the final expression in the super heavily peated Octomore 14 Series, Octomore 14.4.

This rare whisky is not only a first for the distillery but very unusual for the Scotch whisky industry (more on that later), so we wanted to dig a little deeper into the making of this unique small-batch, limited edition.


There is no stopping our passion for experimentation; we’ve been in defiance of perceived whisky wisdom since Octomore’s inception in 2008. And this latest release is no exception.

Distilled from 100% Scottish Mainland Concerto Barley, the five year old spirit is malted to 106 PPM before being bottled at 59.2%. We didn’t stop there; this distillery exclusive has matured exclusively in Colombian Virgin Oak casks that have been carefully seasoned, toasted and charred.


Adam Hannett, Head Distiller, says: "When we think of the whisky industry as a whole, we're typically using casks that have been used before. The previous contents of the cask will have drawn a lot of the oak, tannins and flavour out - so by the time we put whisky in, we get a much more subtle impact from the wood.”  Find out more about casks.

“Using Virgin Oak challenges tradition, as it's typically believed that whisky matures better in casks which have been previously used. Perceptions around Virgin Oak is that it's too powerful and it will ruin your whisky. And of course if you leave it and don't manage it - it absolutely will.

“When we first tried it [Virgin Oak], we wanted to see the impact of super-heavy peat and this powerful oak, and they just worked really, really nicely because there is such power and presence in those heavy phenols. With Octomore, you’ve got a super heavy peated spirit paired with equally powerful Virgin Oak, the latter of which can be quite dominating” Adam explains, “but because we’re bottling the spirit relatively young, at five aged years, the oak doesn’t overpower the final flavour”

“Each new Octomore series is the opportunity to push myself as a whisky maker, and this small-batch release of 14.4 is no different.” When it comes to the final release in the 14 Series, Adam continues, “This is the first time we have ever experimented with Colombian Virgin Oak casks, and we had no idea how the super-heavily peated Octomore spirit would take to the oak. We trialled different charring and toasting levels to find the perfect balance, honing our knowledge on these single cask variations and the incredible influence these subtle nuances can have on the final spirit.”


Since the launch of 7.4, the first Octomore spirit to be matured in Virgin Oak casks, .4 in each Octomore series tends to focus on Virgin Oak maturation. Read all about the Octomore numbering system.

The type of oak used also makes a difference. American Oak generally gives the whisky a softer, sweeter taste with notes of vanilla and caramel, while European Oak tends to be spicier and has a stronger wood input. We’ve tried both. The European Oak became Octomore 10.4. Our experiments with Virgin American Oak took longer, coming to life in 13.4.

The cask structure of Colombian Virgin Oak is similar to that of French Oak rather than American Oak, with the tight grain releasing a significant amount of sweet vanilla and caramel notes.

Not only is this unique cask influence uncommon in the whisky industry, but the flavours have been subtly enhanced by maturing in various Columbian Virgin oak casks at different toast and charring levels.


Adam says, “We trialled different charring and toasting levels to find the perfect balance, honing our knowledge on these single cask variations and the incredible influence these subtle nuances can have on the final spirit.” But what do these toasting levels mean?

1. Seasoning:

Seasoning oak helps dry out the staves and opens the grain, allowing the spirit to seep deeper into the wood, dissolving more sugars and colour compounds. Air seasoning takes longer and allows the wood tissue to start to break down, adding even more interesting compounds for the neat whisky spirit to access and absorb. This can have a very swift and powerful impact on the flavour of the whisky, even the most robust of distillates, like our super heavily peated Octomore editions. It can release intense spicy flavours, liquorice and vanilla, sometimes producing characteristics similar to American bourbon.

2. Toasting:

When a barrel is being shaped, the staves must be wet, and they are then heated up over a fire. This creates steam so the wood can be bent, but it also ‘toasts’ the wood. - It is left longer for a heavier toast.

3. Charring:

Charring is literally burning the wood until it starts to become carbon, caramelising a lot of the flavours in the wood and opening up the wood to allow the spirit in there as well. The more a barrel is charred, the more the lignin (an organic polymer) yields vanillin (an organic compound giving a vanilla flavour) and spicy flavours. With Octomore 14.4, you can taste the impact of different types of charring because the spirit has matured in casks at various toast and char levels, adding to the complexity of the flavours. The resulting spirits have then been skilfully married to showcase the depth of flavour and colour from the casks.


The 14.1 is distilled from the same batch of 100% Scottish Mainland Concerto barley as the 14.4, but is malted to 128.9 PPM, and matured in first-fill bourbon casks. The single malt has notes of vanilla, sweet caramel and bright citrus balancing Octomore’s signature smoke.

The 14.2 is the same distilled spirit that goes into the 14.1 but matured in a combination of Oloroso (Spanish) and Amarone (French) wine casks. The spirit is then brought together in French oak, adding depth and complexity to the resulting single malt.

Octomore 14.3 is distilled from barley grown on Islay – every grain comes from one farm just two miles from Bruichladdich Distillery - malted to 214.2 PPM. It is matured in a combination of first fill ex-American whiskey casks and second fill wine casks. The oak influences but never dominates the grain, allowing the unique flavour of the Islay barley to come to the fore.


A distillery and e-commerce exclusive, only a finite number of bottles of the limited edition Octomore 14.4 are available.

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