Last week I covered Bruichladdich’s Port Charlotte 10-year and mused about the big talk and heady claims printed on the canister. In that post, I added tidbits about the distillery itself and their approach to spirits-making. This week it’s less talk on the background a bit more focus on the whisky itself.
In contrast to the Port Charlotte’s wordy canister, Octom0re’s metal canister is in contrast quite restrained. The unsaid message here is that they don’t have to say anything about the Octomore besides it being “Super Heavily Peated” Islay single malt, and stating that it was conceived, created, distilled, aged etc. on the island. Like the PC10, it is un-chillfiltered and free of coloring.
If Port Charlotte is their heavily peated branding, you might wonder, what does ‘super heavily peated’ mean? One hint can be found on the canister: “PPM: 167.” That’s parts per million of phenols on the peated malt. What ends up in the bottle depends on the distilling process and maturation, even the type of oak, but PPM is a good benchmark to start with. See this post from scotchwhisky.com for more info. Our nose has to tell us how much of that phenolic potential made it into the bottle.
Bruichladdich (‘brookladdie’) distillery is a small operation that punches far above its weight. It is known for using antique machinery to create unique, terroir-oriented crafty spirits. They also like to tout that their spirits are made without resorting to computers. They state “A whisky made by people not software” right on the carton. Whether that affects the outcome or not I’ll leave to more philosophical writers. Bottom line, you can’t argue with their results. They make damn good whiskies and their tasting room is a joy to visit—no marketing, just comfy couches, lots of swag on the walls and friendly people behind the bar who’ll proudly give you tastes of their spirits.
There is a lot of pride in their presentation. “This Port Charlotte 10-year old is who we are” says the canister. It is “distilled matured and bottled at the source” not “immediately shipped off to the mainland to mature in some undisclosed warehouse.” Ouch, fightin’ words, as some Islay distilleries do exactly that.
Bob Woodward is a legend, yet I had never read one of his books. His famous breakout, All the President’s Men, came out when I was too young to be reading political heavyweights (I was not yet in middle school). He’s written many books since then but I admit I was not paying more than cursory attention to politics until things got weird in the Tea Party era. Anyway, I did not know what to expect.
Woodward is very organized, cogent and always clear in his recounting, but he is in this case not a natural story teller: in Rage, he does not spin a strong narrative. He is sparing with conjecture and weaves little of his own experiences or opinions in his reporting. He leaves a lot to the reader, which is appropriate for a reporter. He does not resort to partisanship or gonzo self-involvement in order to deliver a gripping, integrated tale as Hunter Thompson* would.
Laphroaig embraced the use of different types of casks with the Quarter Cask release of 2004. A NAS spirit, the Quarter Cask starts aging in the typical ex-bourbon barrels, then transferred to smaller “19th century-style quarter casks” as described on the the carton. The theory is that, with more surface-to-volume area of the smaller cask, the flavors from the oak are more quickly absorbed into the spirit. While that may be so, there is a noticeable mellowness seen only in older whiskies, so I would hold that aging has more to it than surface area. Who knows, maybe you could get a good whisky by dumping the spirit into a vat full of toothpicks for a couple months, but Scotland has that 3-year aging rule for whisky.
I cannot believe I forgot to write this up three years ago. Luckily, I have lots of photos and strong memories. It is a lovely walk from Port Ellen along the bike path past Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg. It was a typically grey Scottish morning, as you can see, but the weather mild.
Our walk was quiet, with little traffic. We were passed once by bicyclists, and reached Laphroaig in about half an hour if that. It’s an impressive place, especially after the businesslike Caol Isla and fungal-discolored Bunnahabhain distilleries. After a wood, you come across large brick warehouses stuccoed grey, and turn into a bustling and busy entrance surrounded by tidy white buildings.