For good or for ill (mostly for ill) Americans have this sad, misguided little notion that bigger and/or more extreme is better , especially when it comes to food or pretend food products. There’s a new line of “bold” Doritos out there that promises an artificially produced heat hitherto unknown in the natural food world. There are all sorts of extreme sour candies that leave kids squirming in FDA-approved chemical ecstasy. Hell, we took that beautiful horn of buttery, flaky simplicity, added lots of lard, threw some powdered eggs and mystery meat on it and called it a croissanwich. We’re suckers for anything marketed as “The Most Something Something Ever”, so of course a scotch like Octomore is going to go over well here.
As usual, Bruichladdich does a great job with the graphics, but for me, misses with what looks like a cricket bat or evil “premium” vodka bottle. The number 140 is featured pretty heavily and refers to the high peat phenol content of the whisky. 140 parts per million (PPM) is supposed to be a lot, an extreme expression of peat. For comparison’s sake, Ardbeg’s 10 clocks in around 50, Laphroaig around 30, so yeah…EXTREME PEAT! The 140 PPM coupled with the high, 62.5%ABV, alcohol level and limited availability and you’ve got the perfect malt for Americans who don’t really know Scotch but want to say they’ve had the peatiest, smokiest, baddest-assed shit out there.
However, before you jump to the conclusion that I’m cranky and just have sour grapes because I can’t really afford this $200 5-year old whisky (true), let me say that Octomore is really pretty good stuff and it is a fun experience. Bruichladdich has done a fantastic job pushing the envelope of the Scotch world and Octomore is certainly no exception. Still, I keep coming back to “why?”. Just because you can do something doesn’t always mean you should. To me, Octomore seems like a fun experiment and they did a masterful job of it, but to continue to market it…I dunno. Too many buzz words, too much emphasis on pushing one aspect to its limits, perhaps not enough reverence to the tradition of Scotch, it all adds up to a bit of a turn-off for me.
The Nose: Not as overwhelming as I expected. Ok, let me rephrase that, the peat was not as overwhelming as I expected…the alcohol singed my eyebrows off. THAT was overwhelming. Not much wood smoke here, it’s all the phenolic peaty kind, really green and vegetal. There’s lots of diesel-y solvent, antiseptic, and band-aid notes. If there’s anything else, you really have to dig for it…for a brief moment I thought I caught a bit of melon but I can’t be sure.
The Palate: P.E.A.T. At first, less than I expected, but then, all of sudden, it’s there, lots of big diesel-y, rubbery peat. There’s a great ashy quality as well. If there was anything else, my taste buds weren’t refined enough (or just burned off) to find it. It’s mostly a big, huge alcohol burning funny car made out of smoldering peat blocks.
The Finish: Longish, but given the ppm of the peat and the high ABV, I thought it flamed out a little sooner than expected. I liked that the ashy quality lingered on and on.
Thoughts: Again, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. I’m sure this won’t make me any friends, but I feel like Octomore is a gimmick…a really good gimmick, but a gimmick nonetheless. This is a 5 year old whisky, people, and they want $200 for it…c’mon. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it and thought it was a good whisky. It did a good job holding the reins on something so high in alcohol and overblown in terms of its flavor profile, but still…why? I wasn’t incapacitated by the high level of peat, I didn’t lose long-term memories, or pick up a weird eye twitch. It was peaty, very peaty, but the way people talk in hushed tones about its “140 PPM”, you’d think the stuff could level a small village if not handled properly. Well, it’s just whisky, folks, really peaty whisky. If I have to go down this peat PPM pissing contest road, I’ll chose Ardbeg’s Supernova, it’s more complex, just as “extreme” and quite a bit less expensive.
Octomore 2.1, 2009, Islay