A few years ago the distillers at Islay had an idea: A competition to see who could add the most peat to a whisky. Which is weird, when you think of it: Bakers don’t come together and add the most lemon to their lemon cakes, and chefs don’t see who can add the most cumin to their dishes. It’s a balance of flavours that draws you to different distilleries.
The eventual outcome was a few releases declaring they had amped up the amount of peat. For Bruichladdich they ended up with Octomore, a young whisky that had so much peat in it that the others basically stopped (other than the odd Ardbeg Supernova) competing. Surprisingly it was a tasty dram regardless of the reasoning behind its creation. Not for me, as I was still young in my whisky journey and I thought “More Peat = More Better”.
As a Bruichladdich fan, I used to try every distillery/original bottling Octomore that came out. This wasn’t easy, and required some trips to Scotland. Heck, I’m still missing a review of 2.2, but perhaps I shouldn’t apply a completionist mentality to real life, as it’ll lead to mental health issues.
As time went on, in addition to my thoughts on being a completionist and it being bad for the old jumble in between my ears, the whisky didn’t wow me as much. At first I wondered if this was due to the X.1 releases being similar, however I ensured to re-read my previous reviews to recalibrate, and there was a peak and an eventual valley in the quality. In addition the older Octomores didn’t wow me.
Add to all of that someone decided that more money was needed for these and I stopped. However recently a friend of mine was looking for a way to obtain all three releases of the 12.X series, and I went along, if for no other reason than to see if I skipped the 10th and 11th editions if I was, in fact, becoming too used to them.
So what we have now is the most peated whisky on Islay, and the 12th release. For those of you who don’t know the nomenclature, the ones that end with .1 are typically ex-bourbon, no fuss and no muss. The x.2 are wine matured or finished and for a while there were travel retail exclusives. The x.3 are made from barley that is sourced from local farms, and in the past were the highest PPM of the bunch, however they’ve since dropped that second part.
So this year we have an ex-bourbon cask, an ex-Sauternes cask finish, and one made with 100% Islay-sourced Concerto barley from Octomore Farm grown by James Brown, then aged in ex-Bourbon and ex-PX sherry casks.
How do they taste though? Let’s see, shall we?
Bruichladdich Octomore 12.1
Price: $260 CAD
Cask type: Ex-Bourbon
Colour: 5Y 9/6
Nose: Oreo, baby’s breath, brine, pear
Floral, nice cookie note that Octomore is known for, and some salt. It’s giving traditional vibes, but I feel it’s a tad simpler than previous ones. There’s an interesting floral aspect though, so maybe they’ve been tweaking it.
This does have lower amounts of peat than previous releases, perhaps that was below the surface this whole time.
Taste: Pear tart, smoked caramel, brine, charcoal
Alright, some butter, some nice pear, good amounts of earth. Still a tad locked away though, and there’s a strong amount of sugar that’s unbalancing this. Now I’m a big sweets fan, but that’s quite strong.
Also the nice Oreo note is gone. I like the butter, and it’s alright, but for something that’s cask strength, this isn’t living up to the complexity of previous X.1. I tried a sample of 6.1 after this and it’s night and day.
Finish: Canned pears, ash, grassy, cocoa biscuit
Weirdly this ends very, very sweet. The sugar aspects are really hitting hard. I start to wonder about it, and go looking to find that was on purpose. Bruichladdich was aiming for additional malty sweetness on this.
But Octomore always had a sweetness to it. So… that seems to be unbalancing the whole thing.
Conclusion: They aimed for malty sweetness, and then they overdid it. There’s aspects that remind me of older releases: Cocoa, some brine, some pear aspects, and even a nice buttery note. It just all gets buried in sweetness which unbalances it and drags it down.
I didn’t really enjoy this one that much, and the fact the price has gone up and it’s lost some of the nuance that previous ones had, I can’t recommend it unless you have a very big sweet tooth.
Bruichladdich Octomore 12.2
Just a quick note here: I’m not the biggest Sauternes cask finish whisky fan, so if you are, you may enjoy this more than I did.
Price: $211 CAD
Cask Type: Ex-Bourbon, then an 18-month Sauternes Cask Finish
Colour: 7.5Y 8/6
Nose: Oreo, roast almonds, cereal, mineral, more cereal
Again, love that cocoa biscuit note. Seriously, it’s one of the few store cookies still worth buying. Also there’s a lovely nuttiness to this.
Sadly it then goes to a ton of cereal (which there’s never a reason to buy) and then more of that and some mineral notes. It’s really odd to have a dram that has two really interesting notes and then goes full cereal simplicity.
Taste: Cinnamon hearts, butter, currant, cashew, molasses
Very hot, but wow, what a surprise, the cask strength young hyper peated whisky is hot, news at 11 along with the weather and something about sports.
Good spice, buttery, nice currant and nuttiness. I’m frankly enjoying the taste. It’s gotten rid of the simplicity of the nose and is showing off some unique elements. That said, it’s really hot, hotter than previous releases, and even with water and time that heat sticks around. I like cinnamon hearts a lot and they take over.
Finish: Cinnamon hearts, black licorice, Demerara sugar, cashew, char/smoke
So I like all the flavours of this whisky. But all at once? It’s a lot. Eye opening a lot. Very sweet. Most notes are sweet, or some combination of sweet and heat, or smoke and sugar. It’s a lot.
Conclusion: It’s a candy shop on fire, for all the best and inherent sadness that brings. Still very sweet. Don’t really know why they used a sweet cask with whisky they were aiming for with more malt sweetness. I mean, wouldn’t this be better to use something that has some bitterness? Man, when the sweet tooth nutjob whisky reviewer (me, that’s me) is asking for bitterness, you may have gone too far.
This should be a completely fine whisky. It’s sold because it’s the same idea as 2.2, which still has legendary status. The nose doesn’t deserve to be here, the rest is fine if you like sweet and heat. It feels like they could have had an easy homerun and they fiddled with the spirit to get more sweetness out of it and then tried to recreate 2.2, which was less sweet.
Which is kinda like admitting you wanted a steak, buying pork chops, then attempting to cook them like a steak because you originally wanted steak. Try it if you like Sauternes whiskies.
Bruichladdich Octomore 12.3
Price: € 299
Cask types: Ex-Bourbon and Pedro Ximenez Sherry Cask
Colour: 10Y 8/6
Nose: Strawberry, peanut butter, farm, tarragon
Nice fruitiness, some interesting nuttiness with some sugar, and farminess and herbal/floral notes. It’s still quite sweet, but the PX cask is at least adding some aspects that are balancing it.
It’s too little on the nose, and weirdly strawberry is typically something I get from Oloroso rather than PX (usually richer), but it’s alright.
Taste: Swedish fish, farm/hay, caramel, roast almond
Hey, more sweet notes. Cool, cool, cool, love that for it. On the upside, it still has that farm note, some nuttiness, and some butter, but it’s still very sweet. You can’t escape that. It’s here now.
Finish: Peanut, brine, smoked toffee, vanilla
Nutty, more sweet, nice vanilla and peanut, most of the red fruit is gone.
Wow, congrats, I’m unimpressed with a PX/peated whisky mix. Here I was waiting for more species to go extinct to hit a low morale point in my life, and you did it without wiping out any primates.
Conclusion: Still very sweet, but at least this one ended up with some more farmy notes. That’s literally where I’m living at the end of these three.
Should you buy 12.3 over 12.1? Probably, as it’s a tad more interesting, but only a bit. The issue with too many sugar aspects is on display here again. I don’t think these should be made again.
That’s not to say you can’t do Octomore with lots of barley sweet notes: I just don’t think you should use these casks, which add sweet aspects to a sweet grain spirit. Use aperitif barrels or coffee barrels or Amaro barrels in the future. These lack balance, and it drags them down sadly.
Scotch review #1570-1572, Islay review #407-409, Whisky Network review #2294-2296