All things Octomore Q and A

IN

Last month, we released a limited edition Octomore 10 year old. Last week, Head Distiller Adam Hannett and Academy Host, Joanne Boyd tasted it live online, also taking questions from our closest community [join up here!] who had been invited to tell us what they had always wanted to know about Octomore. 

You can find the full 40 minute live chat embedded below. In that broadcast, Joanne and Adam covered 8 or 9 of the questions on the most common themes of enquiry: the effect of age, the variation in PPM, the cask influence, Adam’s process, and our future plans for the Octomore range. More than 650 of you took part in the live broadcast on our facebook page alone, and we are really grateful for all your comments and questions. 

The other brilliant questions we had through, that they didn’t get to due to time constraints, are listed here. If Adam has given us a direct answer to these and we’ve quoted him verbatim, the answer starts [AH] in brackets. We’ve logged how the question was submitted, and if we know the name of the question contributor, or where they are writing from, we have also included that below. Slaìnte!

General interest Octomore questions

 Q: How many distillations of Octomore happen in the course of a year?

Email, Matt Soucek, Dallas.

A [AH]: We make three weeks of Octomore currently – one of which is Octomore Farm grown

Q: What are the differences between 06, 10 and 13 [series] Octomore?  Were there different heat units, weather, etc that changed the flavour or did you use different barrels? 

Email

A: The Octomores are bottled and released in chronological order. There is a finite amount of it in our stocks from what has been created each year, so as we sell out of one edition, we ready the next one. The 6 series came out in 2015, the 10th series in 2020 and the 13s are yet to follow! 

We have been trying new things in maturation to find what works well with this unique spirit. Yes, different editions are made from barley grown in different years (it’s usually 6 years before release, as maturation for Octomore to reach its first great balance is usually around 5 years) Another big difference in the different editions is caused by what level of peating can be achieved at the malting, where they have a batch process. Every batch is different! Every parcel of Octomore malt that we receive is measured for its phenol content (smoke flavours come through from these phenols in the barley and each parcel registers a different number of phenols, shown as PPM (parts per million)

Q: I really like Octomore but I don’t have the capacity to buy all the finishes. When choosing, I would like to know the differences between the .1 .2 and .3 series 

Email, Theirry Reno.

A: The .1s we call the benchmark. They’re American oak matured. The .2s explore different casks for maturation. The .3s are Octomore’s made with barley grown only on Islay (they have the frosted glass bottles). The .4s are matured in virgin oak, and because of the huge influence from the fresh casks, where the other casks used for Scotch whisky have all held something else before, to date we have bottled the .4s at the younger age of 3 years, when the whisky has reached a really interesting point of balance. 

Q: Can tell us which barley type/types are used for this fantastic Octomore [10 aged years] and is it barley from a single farm on Islay?

Email, Jens Freymuth, Germany.

A [AH] : The barley for the 10 YO is mainland grown. The variety is Optic.

Q: The wife just found Octomore 12.1, 12.2 and 12.3. Love them all but .3 really stood out. Do you think it is the Octomore barley that really makes the difference?

Facebook, Ron Zarr

A [AH]: Yeah, it definitely does. Again it’s the whole package but it adds another dimension to the whisky. Islay barley I think does make a difference – you see it with Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte and Octomore. It’s a bit too simplistic to say it yields less therefore has more flavour, because it’s under more stress, but yes, you do find it does have a different flavour.

Q: Do you have a private distributor in Quebec (not SAQ) Thanks for your answer and by the way I really appreciate the 11.3. 

Email, Canada

A:  SAQ only, at present.

Q: With all the transparency/information put on your web and bottles, you do not state non chill filtered/colouring free on the bottles?

Email, Allan Sullivan.

A: It’s on the “capsule” around the cork of the bottle on the 12s. We were just wanting to refine how this series looked, just re-prioritising the design elements. We never chill-filter or add colouring, these are two central principles across everything we make at Bruichladdich. 

You’ll be pleased to learn that in mixing up the designs again for the 13th editions, these statements will be returning to their position on-bottle. Thanks so much for the question; it’s great to know that these things are important to our customers.

Future Plans

Q: Has Adam already had a chance to pick the cask for the Octomore valinch?

Facebook, Dirk Lunken

Q: Octomore valinch, anyone?

Facebook, Robert Büchner

A [AH]: Yes I think so. There is plans for single casks, but very, very limited. I think maybe we could do two or three a year – I’ve picked a few casks. They are quite rare.

Q: Which are the single casks that work best for it?

Internal, Jane

A [AH]: There was one I picked that was a virgin oak – one was a Chenin Blanc – but it could be any cask, you just have to go to the right cask at the right moment and it could be a fresh Bourbon, and you think that’s 10-a-penny, that’s standard, but if you get the right one at the right time: Amazing!

Q: Any plans for a purely sherry cask finish?

Facebook, Ed Wood

A: We have already released sherry cask Octomores in Event Horizon, and Discovery. We do have more full-term sherry Octomore maturing in our warehouses, so watch this space…

Q: How do you expect the prices for Octomore to develop during the next five years? Will bottles become an investment even more rather than being enjoyed with friends?

Email

A [AH]: “It’s for drinking! Absolutely drinking – with friends or not! The whole point is, those different releases we’ve done are all called Octomore but they’re all different, completely different!”

People’s whisky-buying is evolving all the time too, so it’s impossible to predict where Octomore is going to be in 5 years time.

Q: Do you have thoughts to do more triple distillation?

Email, Mr Lim

A: We have done some – the last time was 2019. We used one for last year’s masterclass, a 15-year-old triple distilled. It was absolutely beautiful. So, when I had picked one at 14/15 years old – and it was absolutely fantastic – I thought let’s do some more so that’s when in 2019 we laid a bit more down.  We have done Quadruple distilled Octomores in the past and when we did that there was a lot more space in the distillation programme. Where we are at the moment we don’t have the capacity to do it at the moment – but never say never! Triple distilled works really well, it’s a really light elegant spirit. At 15-years-old it’s beautiful but at 25 that’s still going to be super-strong and they can just go and go.

Process

Q: When a whisky is aged in multiple casks, is it important how the spirit is transferred between casks?

Email, Jesse

A [AH]: No, it doesn’t really matter. It is quite robust.

Q: Is there a trade-off between the older Octomore and the PPM? Why don’t you go for older than a 12-year-old Octomore. Is it to keep the distinct character of the high PPM?

Email

A [AH]:It’s mainly because we don’t have vast stocks of Octomore to be able to release it from, so we haven’t been able to do that. The idea with the 12s was that we would release the 12-year-olds but we didn’t have enough stocks to be able to do it. We can’t go back and make it, therefore it was a 10-year-old.

In terms of PPM, yes the PPM it will be different, the flavour will be different. Tasting this at 10 you get a lot more – because the spirit is in contact with the wood for longer – you are developing more flavours and drawing more from the wood so when you taste it the peat is not lost in there, but it has more flavour to contend with so the balance of flavours is different. I don’t think that’s a good or a bad thing, but it’s just the balance is what it is.

Q: What steps are taken throughout the production process to manipulate/mellow or lessen the  high levels of peat in the grain used for Octomore?

Email, Simon Lawry

A[AH]: In the process we have for making whisky – whether Port Charlotte or Octomore – it’s about making the very best spirit. Over 140 years, when you think about what we do today, it isn’t really new. Back in 2001 when the distillery reopened, it was the same team, making the same whisky in the same way. So, you taste all Bruichladdichs, they have always been of the same purity, of the same quality. 

We maybe have the freedom, or the ability to focus more on the quality of the barley and the quality of the casks than previously but in terms of distilling the spirit it’s always been done with quality in mind. So, you’ve got a long fermentation. That old mashtun is slow, it’s gentle, it’s extracting the sugar, nothing is forced. The distillation process again is slow, it’s about balance, it’s about contact with the copper, it’s about accentuating the high neck of the still. Bruichladdich has always been known as a very pure spirit. 

With Octomore, what we’re trying to do is not get something peatier we’re actually trying to distill again that quality of spirit and see where the peat fits in that picture. If you start manipulating, for example, the distillation cuts to get more phenols through (the phenols come through towards the end of the distillation of spirit, so into the feints) you could get feint-ier whisky, that could be smokier or peatier, but won’t have that purity and that elegance.  So for me, the most important thing is to retain that distillery character – that quality, that purity, that elegance – and where the peat smoke fits, is where the peat smoke fits. 

That’s how we end up with Octomore and people will nose it, and taste it and the peat isn’t aggressive, it’s not dominant, it’s got balance. On the finish is where you get that tremendous length of peat smoke. It’s partly about the distillation – it’s about the natural oils, the level of phenols, the type of phenols that come through. There’s a subtle balance of, are we controlling the process or are we manipulating it to be something? The cuts are the same, we are not trying to do anything to get more peat.

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