Octomore meets Virgin Oak

The process of whisky’s flavour evolution through contact with fresh wood is particularly interesting in regard to our Octomore spirit.

Octomore is made with the world’s most heavily-peated barley, meaning that the malted grain contains phenols, from peat smoke, at levels of between 80 (high) to 258 (stratospheric) parts per million. The oak also deals in phenolic compounds, natural chains of flavour-complicating molecules. These originate in the wood’s tannins, lignins and polysaccharides and infiltrate the spirit over time, aided by the heat applied during the stave-toasting part of the barrel-making process. Our 167ppm 07.4 recent release is the first of our single malts to be overtly characterised by the time it has spent in new, virgin oak casks.

New Virgin Oak Casks

Adam Hannett, Head Distiller, gives this account of its flavour trajectory since being casked in 2008:

‘Initially, it got a lot of colour very quickly, as you would expect, from the oak. But there was still a lot of smoke in the Octomore. There was a point, around about 3 or 4 years in, when the smoke and the rich sweet wood sugars gave this amazing flavour, like barbecued pork! Which was unusual... But a dramatic, meaty, heavyweight flavour, which might not be that surprising when you think of what we were using – Octomore and Virgin Oak.

'Then the sweet and the smoke started to kind of slot together, getting tighter and tighter at the centre and it became more about the other fringe voices from the oak; perfume-y, the vanillas, and the coconuts, and you get chocolate and all these orangey flavours. And the smoke just died away, allowing the fruitiness of the spirit through, and the balance got better as it got older.

'Each time we went to it, we’d expect it to become tannic and bitter, but it just didn’t happen. The flavour got richer and richer and deeper and deeper, and the quality of the liquid was fantastic. But - we were aware that there could be a point where the oak takes over completely, like someone drawing a thick curtain; eventually, you don’t let any light in, everything goes black. And you could lose what’s good about the spirit... I think if we left it longer, it would have been interesting to see what would have happened, but I suspect it would just have become woody, with the oak overpowering everything else.'

So the whisky was released when it had come together, rather than when it was an arbitrary number of years old.

See Octomore 07.4 in our online shop >

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