OCTOMORE by Bruichladdich


by Bruichladdich

It’s safe to say they do things a little differently up at Bruichladdich (brook-laddy).

Islay — the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides, Scotland

One of the smaller of the nine distilleries on the Scottish isle of Islay, they happen to employ the most people. This is because cost efficiency is not in-keeping with the Bruichladdich mantra. In fact, their dogged resistance to the risk-free, numbers-obsessed distilling of whisky lead to their closure in 1994, when the multi-national company who owned them deemed Bruichladdichsurplus to requirements.”

Bruichladdich Distillery, Islay
Barley grown on Islay

Six years later, a small group of investors managed to lure legendary master distiller Jim McEwen out of retirement with the promise of unprecedented creative independence. Having hung up his pots after a glittering 40 year career with Bowmore, only a project of passion would tempt him. The idea was to focus on lovingly nurtured ingredients and artisanal methods to explore new realms of flavour. He assembled a team of elite distillers – many of them casualties of the 1994 purge – and set to work firing up the 120 year old distillery equipment and rebuilding the site.

Jim and his team slowed the entire process down. Having preserved the original Harvey machinery, they did away with computerisation and commodifying their product. Rather than see barley, for example, as a simple commodity or component, they delved deeper. Where is it grown? Who cultivates it? What’s the grain’s story? They broke down each ingredient so they were no longer components in well-worn formula. Whisky is more than maths; it is so much intuition and artistic flourish – magic, for want of an even more mystical word.

Islay — the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides, Scotland

Reconnecting with the isle of Islay was an important aspect of Bruichladdich’s new modus operandi. Instead of sourcing cost effective ingredients, they invested in the isle itself, setting up barley fields and a spring water bottling factory so the whisky would be imbibed with the very landscape in which it is distilled.

Being an independent distillery, they were untethered by quotas and costing. This allowed them to radically revolutionise the way layered flavours are achieved. Firmly established tenets, such as age-equals-quality were shattered in favour of this new, personal approach. Rather than count the years in the life of their whisky, they enriched the life in its years. It’s an old Abraham Lincoln adage but never have the words rung truer.


Octomore 10.3

Bruichladdich is notorious for producing the most heavily peated drink in the world. That divisive flavour has spawned two firmly established camps among connoisseurs and casual whisky drinkers alike – those that adore the smoky flavour and those that abhor the overwhelming medicinal qualities of the peat. With their Octomore series, however, Bruichladdich seeks to break conventions again and realign the perspectives of those who are vehemently anti-peat.

I was honoured to sit down with native Illeach and Bruichladdich Head Distiller Adam Hannett to ruminate on his unprecedented take on the flavour. Adam is the man who signs off on whiskies when he deems them ready to go to Harvey Hall for bottling. He was mentored by Jim McEwan himself, when the illustrious distiller identified in him a remarkable nose and palate.

Adam exemplified the pioneering spirit of the new Bruichladdich. He waxed lyrical of his mission to break the conditioning of the whisky masses. So many of us, he suggested, veer towards the drinks we are told are good – our father’s drink, for example. Adam wants to strip it all back and let people choose their dram purely based on flavour. It is this breaking down of conventions that he think could perhaps turn those who detest peat onto his new iterations. Experimentation is valued above all else at Bruichladdich, with the Octomore being a symbol of this ethos.

“There’s no straight formula. Each expression of the Octomore release will differ, despite the same basic steps being taken. This way we were able to bottle something wilder – something of the land.”

— Adam Hannett, Head Distiller, Bruichladdich

Adam Hannett, Head Distiller, Bruichladdich

And boy, is it wild – but not the oily palate steamroller you may have come to expect from peated whisky. Remember, this drink was distilled completely different methods to an aged dram. Expressions range from three to eight years old and, because of the artisanal methods applied and the calibre of barley used, this relatively short stint in the cask is enough to achieve ineffable levels of flavour. When the grain is of such high quality and so characteristic of Islay, why age out its flavour? Not only that, the way the peat comes through is unlike anything you’ll taste in a generic peated whisky. Far more elegant, far more floral is the Octomore 10 and its four varied expressions.

Octamore by Bruichladdich

I tasted the Octomore 10.1 and the 10.3. The former being deliberately stripped back to an ex-American oak maturation, aged for just 5 years and bottled at punchy 59.8%abv. The 10.4 is even younger and stronger – aged for 3 years and bottled at 63.5%abv ( to be released January 2020). It is matured in virgin oak and exhibits an uncanny depth of flavour. Upon trying the Octomore, the overriding sentiment one of earth-shattering surprise; it’s age (or lack thereof) by no means denotes quality. To give context, the Octomore 10.3 is as layered as any 10, 12 or 18 whisky I’ve experienced.

Bruichladdich Distillery, Islay

It’s ironic that with such ancient techniques and machinery, Bruichladdich seem to constantly destabilise the given, so-called-wisdom of the whisky industry. Oftentimes, “perfection” leaves no room for invention and by treading rougher terrain; the team in Islay have unearthed an untold trajectory for this ancient drink.



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