Having first tried Octomore 7.4 at a tasting at Milroy's some months ago (and being absolutely blown away by it) I've been eager to get my hands on a bottle ever since. It was the last whisky of the night, and I couldn't help but wonder if it was the fact that I was 6 or 7 drams deep that made me so vocal about my love for this whisky at the time.
I remember the overwhelming smell of woodsmoke from camp fires – the sort of smell that clings to your clothes after bonfire night – not quite the medicinal peatiness that Islay whiskies are renowned for. Then in the mouth intense smoke and sweetness, with an incredibly long finish that went on and on, throwing out flavour after flavour as the alcohol subsided. With an ABV of 61.2% alongside a dangerous price tag, Octomore made my decision that it was time to call it a night, so home I went with that sweet smokey taste in my mouth and playing on my mind.
Finally last Monday I made the trip to buy myself a bottle, parted with my £150, and hurried back to pour out a glass. The Virgin Oak cask makes itself known immediately, as a rich, deep amber liquid emerges from the opaque matte-blackness of the Octomore bottle, followed closely by the aroma. You don't need to get your face close to this one to know that it's in the room. The high alcohol alongside a PPM of 167 means that the smokey flavours rapidly fill the air, nipping the nostrils and making the mouth water. So now to taste:
A big hit of smoke and alcohol with a waft of vanilla sweetness sitting behind. The smell was more medicinal than I remembered bringing on waves of Islay peat followed by wood ash and smokey bacon. Some mellowing with water really opened up the nose for me and suddenly details from the Virgin Oak emerged delivering dried fruits and rich cooked butter developing into peach cobbler and bread and butter pudding with that grill smoke lingering behind.
At full strength this is packs a serious punch that will leave a lot of heat in the chest and may have you reaching for the Gaviscon. I would recommend adding a bit of water to this to help it ease down. As you do you'll notice the heat reduces to a wonderful warmth that carries with it the smoke and sweetness from the nose. The flavour combinations in this are truly astounding and seem to come from everywhere. Cinnamon and raisins develop into bread and butter pudding, while floral honey and richly toasted oak from the Virgin barrels lead towards the finish.
It's long. Very long. And waves of citrus, smoke, mango, smoke, vanilla and smoke trail off, leaving the warmth behind. And did I mention smoke? Not for the faint-hearted, but definitely worth the risk.