It was always our original intention to distil three different versions of Bruichladdich.
With Bruichladdich whisky being traditionally unpeated, we set out to distil two other whiskies at differing levels of peatiness. Port Charlotte was the first of these, heavily peated at 40 ppm, making it one of the most peaty single malts from Islay.
This begged the question, posed late one evening at the Port Charlotte pub: if at 40 ppm the elegance, finesse and purity of Bruichladdich spirit still shines through, what would happen if we upped the peat even further? In fact, just how far could we go?
The challenge of an über-peated single malt was duly issued to our maltsters, Bairds of Inverness. Using Saladin boxes, where barley is malted with minimal movement, peat smoke from kiln fire made up of solid peats was ducted through the box. After several days of peat smoke, the phenols rising off the Richter scale, the malted barley was ready.
The ‘ppm’ (parts per million of phenols) refers to the peatiness of the barley from which the spirit was distilled and not the mature, bottled whisky; with distillation and time the ppm falls.
Controlling the peatiness is not a precise art. The first year’s batch was 80.5 ppm; subsequent years have produced levels as high as an eye-watering 360 ppm.
The barley for Octomore treatment is now grown appropriately enough on Octomore farm, just a few miles from Bruichladdich Distillery here on Islay.
Some might call such a high level of peat excessive; we call it Octomore whisky.