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The Story of Octomore Farm
Octomore is an anglicisation of ‘Ochdamh-mòr’ , a name long associated with a stretch of farmland on the hillside above Port Charlotte on the isle of Islay. Back in 1815, the farm was taken over by a man named John Montgommery who worked the land with his three sons George, William and Alexander.
In 1816 George collaborated with John MacVorran from a neighbouring farm to build a distillery, but when his Father passed away unexpectedly, George’s two brothers tried to muscle in on the business with William claiming tenancy of the farm and thus the land on which the distillery stood. George managed to maintain control but family relations suffered irreparable damage.
When George himself tragically passed away just three years later at the age of 44, his distillery passed to son Donald only for him to be subjected to repeat claims from his two uncles. In the end, the family had to call in an Arbitrator in order to settle the dispute. Sadly, the eventual outcome was the closure of the distillery and the years that followed saw the family emigrate, one by one, to Canada.
Whilst the distillery may be long gone however, the current owner of Octomore Farm is a man named James Brown who has long been supplying nearby Bruichladdich with locally grown barley and fresh spring water with which to dilute their spirit. It seems appropriate therefore that the Octomore name was chosen for their “super heavily peated” spirit back in 2002.
Octomore was first bottled in 2008 after five years in American Oak Barrels. The barley used in production had been smoked to 80.5 phenol parts-per-million (a unit of measurement used to record peat content in malted barley) – almost double the level of most other Islay malts. This however, was only the beginning. Subsequent batches have reached astronomically high levels that have thus far topped out at just over 300 ppm.
Perhaps surprisingly however, the Octomore dram offers so much more than peat. Each version I have personally come across has displayed fantastic balance and layer upon layer of complexity that help to make its admittedly high price point a little more palatable.
Each of the annual releases is split into four distinct variations…
.1 is distilled from Scottish Barley and matured in American Oak.
.2 is a travel retail exclusive matured in European Oak
.3 is distilled exclusively from Islay-grown barley.
.4 is matured in virgin oak.
2019 meanwhile saw the arrival of the 10th release in the series with the benchmark expression 10.1 distilled from barley peated to 107ppm and matured for five years in American oak before being bottled at 59.8% abv. It retails in the UK for £125.00.
Smell: Smoky bacon and maple syrup. Vanilla. Toffee apples. Almond. Lemon. Liquorice and leather. Grilled pineapple and melon. Sea salt and cracked black pepper. Coal embers.
Taste: Honey, orange and mango. Vanilla. Salted caramel. Oak. Pepper. Icing sugar. Tablet. Ashy smoke.
Thoughts: Octomore isn’t cheap. Never has been, never will be. Though in fairness, the price hasn’t increased over the last few batches and I’ve personally never felt ripped off by it. Expensive, but the quality is always extremely high.
That said, this batch seemed to lack some of the smoky complexity of previous batches but there is no shortage of flavour at least. Tropical fruit notes come through more than ever before whilst the raw character of the barley sits right at the core of the experience. It’s a well balanced and delicious dram but don’t expect the explosion of intense smoky flavours that you may have found in previous Octomore bottlings.
It makes for an enjoyable single malt but I do question whether I would pay the money for it. It’s commendable that Bruichladdich want to push the boundaries of what this brand can be but isn’t big smoke what Octomore is all about?
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