Recommended use: Serve neat/ with a dash of water
Malt Mileage Rating: ★★★★★
Type: Scotch single malt whisky
Origin: Islay, Scotland
1. The whisky
Aging whisk(e)y in fresh virgin oak has commonly been the domain of American whiskey makers; all that lovely sweet bourbon and Tennessee whiskey in the world is matured in new charred American oak barrels. This tends to give bourbon and Tennessee whiskey its sugary flavours (i.e: caramels, toffee) and mild smoke/charred notes, for example. The Scottish whisky makers, in contrast, traditionally age their whisky in used oak barrels. These oak barrels have already matured spirit (i.e: bourbon) or fortified wine (i.e: sherry or port), and they are emptied before the Scottish whisky makers put their spirit in them to mature. This means that this whisky draws out not only flavours from the actual wood, much of which has already been soaked up by the bourbon, sherry, port etc, but it also gets some flavour from that bourbon, sherry, port etc.
To make the Octomore 7.4, Bruichladdich have aged some of its heavily peated Octomore malt in fresh virgin oak which is sourced from the French oak forests of Allier. A quarter (25%) of this heavily peated malt – which is measured at 167 Phenol Parts Per Million (PPM) – has been aged in this virgin French oak for seven years. The other 75% of this malt is matured for 3 years in first fill bourbon barrels, then 2 years in the virgin oak barrels, then another 2 years in first fill bourbon barrels.
The interesting thing about oak from the Allier forest is that – like Tronçais oak which is found in the Allier region of France – it tends to have tighter grain than oak from some other forests in France. Cognac Houses such as Hine for example use Tronçais oak, which is more more impermeable than some other oak types. This is likely to mean that alcohol aged in tighter grained oak such as oak from the Allier or Tronçais forest tends to draw out less wood flavours and tannin during maturation than if it were matured in more loosely grained oak. Using tightly grained oak is one way Cognac, and now whisky, makers might try to guard against the virgin oak overtaking the flavours of the eau-de-vie (for Cognac) or “new make” (for whisky) too quickly.
2. Tasting notes
On the nose find honey glazed Christmas ham with spice (cloves, cinnamon) and waves of vanilla interwoven with subtle nuttiness, herbal honey, peppermint oil, potpourri, chocolate, raisins, toasted coconut, toasted wood, wood smoke, ash and the integrated aroma of peat smoke. In the distance sits sweet apple, probably from the distillate. The peat plays its part in the symphony of aromas, without dominating. Recalling that this single malt whisky is aged in the same oak as many Cognacs, the bouquet offers vanillas and dried floral notes which are common in the first stage of Rancio (the Cognac maturing process, the first stage commonly occurs at around 10 years of maturation). As the malt rests, lots of chocolate develops buttressed by the rich vanillas and honey from the Allier French oak. With time, walnut oil and freshly varnished wood emerges.
On the palate the whisky is immediately intensely spicy, and the peat saturated ethanol violently whips the palate; this is S&M in a bottle. Strong flavours of herbal mossy honey wrestle with the peat and toasted oak, and as the burn intensifies more sugars from the oak develop into the finish. This is a hot dram which heats up the palate, setting it alight with French oak spice and heavy hitting peaty ethanol! A dash of water sweetens the whisky, and releases buttery vanillas, clove, citrus peel, orange oil, toffee apple, and, hard shards of crunchy caramel alongside milk chocolate and herbal honey. The spice becomes peppery, and the taste of a freshly discharged cap gun develops. It whisky is smoky, oaky, spicy and drying, softened by soft fruit, dried floral notes and honeyed sugars.
The finish is drying with the taste of ash and embers. The spice softens into cocoa powder and clove, as anise seed and licorice take hold. The sugars resemble the taste of dried dates and caramel, as soft maritime flavours sit in the foreground with gentle sea spray and minerality.
Bruichladdich Octomore 7.4 Virgin Oak is a spectacular single malt whisky. Those best positioned to fully appreciate its flavours would, however, be seasoned drinkers of single malt and Cognac; single malt drinkers would appreciate the peaty malt, and, Cognac drinkers would appreciate the French oak influence. While a person who loves both single malt and Cognac would understand this exceptional malt, this whisky would satisfy those who long for a violent burst of Islay peat alongside a naughty whipping of spice and the soft caress of honey, vanilla and dried floral notes from oak. Like I said, this is S&M in a bottle.