The Southwestern tip of the Hebridean island of Islay is home to Bruichladdich Distillery. Built in 1881 by the Harvey brothers, Bruichladdich Distillery was, at the time, a state-of-the-art distillery, when compared to the older farm distilleries on Islay. Now owned by Remy Cointreau, they are known as Islay’s “progressive” distillery. Three styles of single malt whisky and an artisanal gin are produced onsite. The whiskies are Bruichladdich (unpeated), Port Charlotte (Heavily peated) and Octomore (Super heavily peated). The distillery has 2 wash stills (12,000 liters), 2 spirit stills (11,000 liters) and a Lomond (adjustable) still. These stills are tall and narrow-necked to create a pure and unique spirit, which is very different from a lot of older, traditional farm distilleries.
At Bruichladdich, they have adopted and absorbed the centuries of experience and knowledge held by the great vintners. They believe that terroir does matter when it comes to growing barley and producing whisky, as it does with growing grapes and making wine. Terroir is a concept that reflects the interaction between soil, location and climate on the growth and the harvest of the grain. Terroir varies regionally, farm to farm, from one field to another, harvest to harvest, year to year, plant species to plant species and crop to crop. Many in the industry state that all of this does not matter and has no effect on the final product after distillation. But, with a rich and complex spirit like single malt whisky, how could terroir not play a role?
Octomore 10.4 Virgin Oak is the newest expression released by Bruichladdich. It is also the youngest age statement and the lowest peat level in the Octomore range. At 3 years old and just 88 ppm one can understand why Octo-heads were up in arms when this expression was first announced. However, it didn’t take long for their tunes to change. The heavily charred French Limousin virgin oak casks somehow make this, cask strength, 3-year-old whisky, not only drinkable, but rich, bold, well balanced, and amazingly delicious. Here’s my take!
Bottled at 63.5% ABV
Nose: Incredibly rich, coffee, leather, chocolate, underlying berry notes, vanilla and, of course, wonderful campfire smoke.
Palate: Spice, more leather, tobacco, malty sweetness and earthy peat smoke.
Finish: Oak spices, more tobacco and vanilla then everlasting, glorious smoke.
This is currently my top dram of 2020 and I will be surprised if I come across something that tops it this year. I recommend actively seeking this whisky out and for god sakes…open it and drink it! Octomore has a bit of a cult following and tends to be a little pricy but if you are looking to treat yourself…do it! I was very impressed when I attended the Bruichladdich master class at the Victoria Whisky Festival back in January. I was impressed by their approach to whisky making and that intrigued me enough to make a point of giving their distillery a chance. I recommend picking up a bottle and seeing for yourself, and maybe a few different ones to get the full terroir experience!