The Islay Barley release is the third expression of the sixth series (6.3) of the enigmatic single malt which occupies a category of its own in the world of Scotch whisky. Releases are numbered in accordance with provenance and style, those designated .1 being distilled using barley sourced from the Scottish mainland and maturing in ex-Bourbon casks, those designated .2 having additional cask enhancement, and those designated .3 being distilled from Islay-grown barley.
Octomore 6.3 is currently being bottled in the Harvey Hall at Bruichladdich Distillery. It is anticipated to arrive in markets around the world during December 2014 – but timings will vary.
Growing barley on Islay is extremely difficult and fraught with risks from weather and wildlife, so the tonnage yielded per acre was very low, achieving little more than half that expected from a conventional mainland farm. Even the volume of spirit that can be distilled from the barley is significantly lower when the malt is peated to this level. The release is limited to 18,000 bottles
The buildings at Octomore Farm have a fascinating history as they once housed a small distillery that was owned by the Montgomery family from 1815. Very few details of the operation survive today and the tiny distillery closed its doors in 1840. It is difficult to be sure of the character of the spirit it produced, but there are tantalising clues that cast some light on how it was set up. It seems to have been scaled to use barley grown on the farm, which may have contributed to its eventual closure as it would have been hard for locally grown barley to compete with the cheaper imported grain used by the larger commercial distilling operations that grew up on Islay following the Excise Act of 1823. Back then, few people would have understood the fascination of locally-grown barley and the Montgomery family did not have the benefit of a sophisticated and knowledgeable customer base who appreciate the concept of provenance and terroir.