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Water of Life – Bruichladdich’s Octomore 13 series

Updated: Apr 25, 2023

Does terroir, the barley, the varieties that grow, the land and the grains matter in the realm of malt whisky not unlike it does for wine?

In a word, yes, yet one cannot help but hear you wondering why.

Ever since Bruichladdich was revived in 2021, not shrinking from distilling whiskies that truly reflect the unique moment in time and space where its ingredients were sourced, the distillery geared itself towards letting terroir be the star in creating the distinct DNA whisky aficionado have grown to love the distillery and its delectable emissions for.

Conveying a sense of place and time, understanding terroir can give one a better appreciation of how local land, crop and ecosystems accentuate subtle differences between drops in different locations from just a few yards to many thousands of miles apart.

While the aforementioned holds true for most whiskies, there are few locations that imbue the resulting expressions in the profound way the southernmost end of western Scotland’s Hebridean Archipelago does, which is where Bruichladdich is situated.

Focussing heavily on local Islay terroir and with a formidable portfolio of peated and non-peated drops, all of which prove to be immensely enjoyable, Bruichladdich’s Octomore is a category onto itself.

Yes, it might be touted as the “smokiest” drop on this earthround and by going by the facts, i.e. too young, too strong, too smoky, it should be undrinkable, yet what has been created with Octomore does certainly not have to hide behind the phenolic novelty factor – au contraire – as it is one of the most nuanced whiskies on the firmament of luxury offerings.

Ever since my Octomore cherry was popped, it changed not merely the way I interpreted and enjoyed peat and smoke, but it intensified my appreciation for whisky at large.

Needless to say, giddiness ensues when words gets out about a new incarnation of the most heavily peated whisky series in regular production becoming available, with this time being lucky round thirteen.

Heading the charge and setting the benchmark of the three new Octomore varieties, with a forth being exclusively available from the distillery, is the 13.1: Not unlike it was the case with the .1 equivalent of previous instalments, it was aged for five years in ex-Bourbon barrels and has been peated to a solid 137.8 phenol parts per million.

Distilled in 2016 from a 2015 harvest of Scottish barley, this little number tickles the nostrils with fulminant bonfire notes, which are subtly accentuated by what appears to be embers of piny, evergreen branches.

On the top of the mouth, a pronounced smokiness is married with notes of stone fruits, lemon and apple, oily and mashed into oblivion, to then artfully transitioning into a vibrant briny finish that evokes smoked kippers and iodine, redefining the meaning of what an elongated reverberations can be.

Bruichladdich’s Octomore 13.2 dials things up a notch: Having spent its full life of five years in first fill Oloroso sherry butts and with a PPM of 137.3, not unlike the 13.1 it was also distilled in 2016 from Scottish barley.

While for the .2 Octomore releases wine cask finishes are a defining quality, this beauty offers an interesting detour into Sherry territory, which adds an interesting twist to the tried and tested.

With the resulting colour being darker hued and all the more opulent as far as eye candy is concerned, the aromatic experience is quite something as smoky and intense notes of orange peel meet leather, spice, and bacon fat, which evokes a Pavlovian reaction.

Interestingly what first materializes on the palate is a citrus-heavy sweetness, which gives way to a salty, iodine-laced character, providing the backdrop for toasted lime-chocolatey notes to dance against.

The finish is an accomplished exercise par excellence in tobacco smokiness, which artfully counterpoints the nuanced impact of the Sherry cask.

Bruichladdich Octomore 13.3 was produced from 2015 harvest of 100% Octomore Farm-grown Concerto barley, then matured for 5 years in a combination of first fill Bourbon and second fill European oak barrels, which is again a welcome, slight variation of the usual formula, which is typically focussed exclusively on Bourbon casks only for the .3 variants.

Peated to a slightly lower PPM of 129.3 PPM and clocking in at a punchy ABV of 61.1%, I find the 13.3 expression the most well rounded of the trio as the smoky and ashy aspects are more subdued in favour of a more pronounced fruit character on the nose.

Covering lemon and orange-peely territory, fruity nuances transform themselves nutty nougat on the palate, which is further set in scene by well-calibrated saline seaside bonfirey highlights.

As far a composition is concerned, I would go as far as claiming that the 13.3 expression hits all the high marks of what traditional, great Octomore expressions can be characterized by, which makes it a uniquely complex, intricate and harmonious release that not merely soothes the peat gods but lingers sheer endlessly.

Summa summarum, Bruichladdich has done it again: Staying true to their maxim to not try to please everyone but instead create something uniquely specific, the Octomore 13 series is another masterstroke of a distillery that not only banks on the tried and proven, but skilfully explores sophisticated nuances and consistently pushes the envelope with subtleties in an area where usually the only feature that counts is one dimensional charry, intense smoke.

The fact that Bruichladdich ever being the pioneering and change making distillery, is invested in reconnecting the land and the dram reducing the impact of their operations and becoming more environmental in their actions, by e.g. installing a circulatory heating system to recycle hot wastewater and switching to 100% renewable energy, sourced within the UK, only adds to the appeal. Dedicated to decarbonising is entire production process by 2025, Bruichladdich’s ambitious hydrogen project will not only reduce its own footprint, allowing to switch from fuel oil used in production, but constitutes crucial move in a bid to inspire and benefit the wider whisky industry and paving the way for an increasingly dynamic and self-sufficient future.

On terra australis, Bruichladdich’s portfolio is distributed exclusively by Spirits Platform ( ).


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