Welcome to Add to Bar Cart, where Cool Material’s writers and editors recommend the spirits that they’re enjoying most right now.
There are many gift-worthy spirits out there. Bucket-list bourbons, quality gin, sipping tequila — no matter what a person is into, there’s probably a special occasion bottle or three on their list. For anyone who always reaches for a smoky single malt Scotch, there’s nothing quite like Octomore from Bruichladdich Distillery in Islay.
The Octomore single malt releases (which always come in threes, like all good things) started in 2008. The superlatives speak for themselves, and its title as the most heavily peated Scotch has made Octomore’s annual releases notable for people who chase those superlatives.
The peaty smoke quality of a whisky is easy to tell from first sniff. It comes from using peat to dry the barley — something that Islay distilleries in particular are famous for. To put a number to that flavor, distillers measure the phenol content of malted barley in parts per million (PPM). The higher the PPM, the more smoke a drinker tastes. Islay single malts that are typically considered very peaty go up to about 55 PPM. Octomore more than doubles that.
Octomore 13.1 is the first in the series and also a fair starting point for this year’s releases. The mash bill consists of 100 percent Scottish mainland barley. It has 137.7 PPM and spent time in American oak casks after a five year maturation. 13.2 differs in that it is aged in barrels that previously held Oloroso sherry, providing a nice comparison point for how the two barrel influences compare and contrast.
And then there’s the 13.3. While slightly lower in smoke (though a still unbelievably high 129.3 PPM), one of the biggest draws has nothing to do with phenols. The barley comes from a single farm on Islay — the Octomore farm about two miles south of the distillery, to be more specific, as the barley for all .3 editions do — and the spirit is finished in ex American whiskey barrels and second-fill European oak casks. Grain-to-glass whiskeys are already some of the most interesting you can buy, this one just happens to be one of the most peated as well.
What makes the Octomore whiskies interesting as a bar cart showpiece or special gift isn’t just the peat. It’s how downright drinkable the whiskies are for something at this proof and with this level of smoke.
Octomore is more versatile than you might think. On a recent virtual tasting with Bruichladdich head distiller Adam Hannett and brand ambassadors Abi Clephane and Jason Cousins, each of the three versions were paired with classic snacks from the U.K. and the U.S. Barbecue chips, bacon chips, Tunnock’s Tea Cakes (chocolate covered marshmallows with a biscuit underneath), and cheese crackers all proved to be delicious companions to the whiskies.
The Bruichladdich Distillery is on the southwestern tip of the Hebridean island of Islay. Aside from the world’s most heavily peated Scotches, Bruichladdich makes Port Charlotte whiskey (a respectable 40 ppm), unpeated Brhichladdich whisky, and The Botanist Gin. It’s one of two distilleries among the nine on Islay that distills, matures, and bottles all of its single malts on the island. It’s also B Corp certified as of 2020.
Scotch fans will appreciate all of the whiskies produced at Bruichladdich, but the Octomore releases stand out as something special to add to the bar cart. Allocation is limited, so finding one, let alone all three, can be a challenge depending on where you live. But it’s worth the effort and the expense.