Editor’s Note: This whisky was provided to us as a review sample by Bruichladdich. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
Bruichladdich’s Octomore series is famous for including the most heavily peated whisky ever made, Octomore 8.3, which boasted a phenolic content of 309 parts per million (ppm). The latest releases aren’t quite that high, but they’re still no slouch in the smoke department, with phenol measurements clocking in between 118 to 130 ppm. For reference, Ardbeg is made with barley peated to 50 ppm, and Lagavulin uses barley peated to about 35 ppm.
That said, ppm numbers aren’t necessarily an accurate measure of how smoky a whisky will taste. That’s because the unit measures the phenolic content of the malted barley used to make the whisky, not the whisky itself.
The fermentation and distillation process makes a big impact on how much smoke character you actually perceive in your glass. Phenols generally partially dissipate during fermentation. Those that do make it into distillation come over late in the run, which means distillers can delay the tails cut to capture more smoke, or cut earlier to eliminate some of the heavier components. Phenols also dissipate with time in the cask–the older the whisky, the less smoky it will taste.
Octomores do tend to be quite smoky (which makes sense, given their youthfulness), but they’re not three times smokier than Ardbeg–many, in fact, are downright elegant, and the 12 series is no exception. The collection includes three cask strength, five-year-old single malts, and explores barley provenance (it’s Bruichladdich, after all) as well as cask finishing:
- 12.1, distilled from Scottish-grown barley and aged in ex-American whiskey casks.
- 12.2, distilled from Scottish grown barley and aged in ex-American whiskey casks but then finished in Sauternes casks
- 12.3, distilled from Islay barley grown at the Octomore farm, aged in a combination of ex-American whiskey and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks
A note on Octomore’s naming conventions: the first number refers to the series itself. This is the 12th release of Octomore whiskies. The second number refers to the whiskies within that specific series—in this care, there are three. The 12.2 features Sauternes casks in an homage to Octomore 4.2, which Bruichladdich describes as “one of the most acclaimed and sought-after whiskies in our distillery’s portfolio.”
Tasting Notes: Octomore 12.2
Vital Stats: 57.3% ABV. Five years old. Aged in first and second-fill American whiskey casks, then finished in Sauternes casks. Distilled in 2015 from 2014 harvest of Scottish-grown Concerto barley. Barley peated to 129.7 ppm. Islay, Scotland
Appearance: Medium gold with a warm, coppery cast.
Nose: Meaty and rich, with an earthy, smoldering smoke tone. I pick up honey-glazed ham, candied and caramelized fruit, grilled peach and nectarine, dark chocolate, salt, maple syrup, and mushrooms. With water, stone fruit, banana, and white grape emerge, and the smoke is less prominent.
Palate: Amazingly multidimensional. It’s lushly fruity, with bright stone fruit and musky pawpaws and jackfruit. It’s also earthy, with the mushroomy funk of botrytis. It’s also savory, and smoky, and salty, and tart—it’s like if you took the old-school map of your tongue’s taste buds and ticked every box. With water, the smoke plays a bigger role–earthy, dense, and muscular. Yet it still manages plenty of elegance, with flavors like white grapes, mocha, powdered sugar, bitter flowers, roasted mushrooms, and turned earth.
Octomore 12.2 is a one-way ticket to flavor town. It gets right up to the limit of “is this clashing?” but stops just before the answer is certainly “yes.” Is it a tiny bit clunky? Maybe. Does it lack the finesse of 12.1? Undoubtedly. Does every moment call for finesse? What a boring world that would be.
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Margarett Waterbury is the author of Scotch: A Complete Introduction to Scotland's Whiskies and a full-time freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Whisky Advocate, Food and Wine, Spirited Magazine, Artisan Spirit, Edible Seattle, Sip Northwest, Civil Eats, Travel Oregon, Artisan Spirit, and many other publications. She is...