I was lucky enough to get a ticket to the whisky show this year, and very quickly made my way to the Bruichladdich stand, to go and try some of the new additions to their heavily peated Octomore range.
While it divides opinion, the Islay distillery’s premium peated range has become a right of passage for any smokey whisky lover..
They’re all a bit experimental, and some work better than others, but every one I have tried has been an interesting experience in its own right. In fact, along with Kilchoman, Bruichladdich’s probably making some of the most interesting whisky at the moment.
A focus on provenance, ingredients and balance through finishing rather than just a long age statement, makes them really stand out. Young whisky never tasted so good.
Of their latest expressions, the pick of the bunch for me is their 09.3. While the 09.1 and 09.2 are great, this one is about the purest taste of Islay you could find.
You’d think the combination of 62.9% ABV, its young age and about three times the peat of a Laphroaig would make this harsh and undrinkable, but if anything, the opposite is true.
Unlike most 5-year olds you know, this young spirit is remarkably mature. Needless to say, at 133ppm, it’s a smoke monster (though down from the 167ppm of the rest of the 9 series and way down from the frankly ridiculous 309ppm of the 8.3), but it is well-balanced and offers the most incredible flavour of fresh barley you can find. Using predominantly second-fill barrels for ageing, the muted influence of the wood allows the barley to shine.
The bottle and tin will look great on your whisky shelf, but the reason I love this dram is because I have never tasted barley so clearly in a whisky, a flavour profile I adore in Kilchoman Machir Bay. It’s a true experience and was far better than the 9.1 or 9.2 which while good, don’t have this freshness.
Given this was made entirely from stressed Concerto barley, from one field, at one farm in Islay, its provenance is unmatched and flies in the face of the inherited wisdom that the age a whisky is, and the wood its matured in are the only gauge of quality. This is about the ingredients, and a very clever guiding hand.
A 20% maturation in 2nd fill Syrah barrels gives it a slight fruitiness towards the finish, to add to the barley bonfire on the beach that is the rest of this taste explosion.
It’s the biggest whisky experience I’ve had this year, and although it’s pricey at £175 a bottle, I would argue it’s worth every penny.
The fact that it was the only bottle I bought from the show, evidences why this is a must have.
Not for the fainthearted, but if you get a chance to try this, you won’t be disappointed.
Smells like: You get a very strong and fresh barley smell on the first sniff. Smells like the day after harvest, and someone has shoved all the barley on a roaring bonfire somewhere in the distance. You get some sea salt, and then a few medicinal and floral notes.
Tastes like: Absolutely incredible malted barley flavour, which retains its freshness from the nose. Slight taste of a farm, in a pleasant way. Peat is smoky and salty but not sharp, and surprisingly not overpowering. Incredibly smooth considering its age. There is a mild fruitiness, maybe some sharp citrus, but more of a grain undertone.
Lingers like: Leaves your mouth with the same lingering taste as the smell you have on your clothes the day after a barbecue or a bonfire. It lasts a while.
Taste: It’s incredible. Full marks.
Value: I can’t give it more than two. It isn’t going to be your everyday whisky.
A smashing dram. The only thing I’ve tried this year that competes is the Kilchoman Founders Cask, which I will compare in a piece soon.