Maybe it’s like becoming one with the cigar. You lose yourself in it; everything fades away: your worries, your problems, your thoughts. They fade into the smoke, and the cigar and you are at peace.
Smoke is indelibly linked to water for me. Years of camping with my family have sealed the sound of the waves in the night with the scent of smoke hanging in the air. The Octomore encapsulates that in the deep black of its bottle; the fact that it’s massively over proof really helps out right about now.
The Octomore line sails in from the shores of Islay and the Bruichladdich distillery. Bruichladdich is old history with a new face with that spirit of this spirit running right back to its earliest days. When the distillery was founded in 1881 it was the height of modernity. A state of the art facility, especially when compared the distilleries on Islay at the time which were often just converted farm houses. Built right on the shore with uniquely tall and narrow necked stills the distillery managed to survive when many others failed. At least until 1994 when it was mothballed for being ‘surplus to requirements’.
But it was resurrected in 2000 when a group of private investors purchased the distillery, dismantled and reassembled the whole shebang. Having missed out on all the modernization in the 90’s the original machinery was still in place making it one of the few distilleries to have no computers in use for production.
The new owners did make two major changes though. 1) They turned their focus to the province of their barley. They wanted the local character of the barley to shine through as much as the barrel and aging. They shifted to using all Scottish barley, something somewhat surprisingly not required for Scotch, and started growing barley on the actual island of Islay. All of their whiskies now have both a Scottish and Islay barley version with their own DNA. 2) They hired Jim McEwen as their Master Distiller.
Jim McEwen is a whisky legend. He started working at Bowmore when he was 15 and Islay Whisky may as well literally run in his veins. He ran the stills with skill but he also started producing peated whiskey for the traditionally unpeated Bruchladdich. These peated whiskies have become the Port Charlotte line up, and in it’s super peated forms the Octomores.
The Octomores are some of the most heavily peated whiskies in the world. Their phenol content (the scientific way to measure peat) have been as high as 238 but even in their “standard” range they are three times as peated as a Laphroig. Yet, even with all this smoke, and being bottled at cask strength, they avoid being one dimensional. They are sea salt air tinged with smoke and a threat of rain in the air once the sun has set while I’m reading by the fire.
With the distillery now owned by Remy Cointreau and Jim McEwen no longer at the helm though it’ll be interesting to see where that leaves the Octomores as the years, and the memories, roll on