Thursday, 6 October 2011

Vertical Limit - Bruichladdich X4+3 and Octomore Release 4

Mankind has an inbuilt urge built into our psyche to test and push the limits. From a mischievous four year old prodding the house cat repeatedly with a screwdriver to NASA putting a man on the moon. Humans have an inclination to see how far they can go. Events such as the Olympics demonstrate how far the body can be pushed in activities extraneous to everyday living. Games like Jenga emphasise how far we can push the laws of physics; and TV shows like Geordie Shore push the boundaries of bad taste. So why do we have this inherent desire to go where no man or woman has gone before? My theory is that we are naturally competitive and territorial so claiming any ground, no matter how abstract, is seen as a primal gain.

This of course leads me to whisky. The whisky world is rife with pushing the limits of what is possible. One distillery in particular is renowned for doing this, and that is those progressive Hebridean distillers over at Bruichladdich. Jim McEwan and friends are not afraid to attempt things that few others would dare to do, and of all of their experiments, two jump to mind that highlight how far they are prepared to go to lay new ground. These two whiskies are the Bruichladdich X4+3 and the ferocious Octomore Release 4.

The X4+3 is a not twice, not thrice, but quadruple distilled whisky. With each distillation the ABV of the new make spirit rises and with each distillation the risk of an explosion also increases. What is left is new make that clocks in an ABV in the early nineties. The X4+3 is the first release that can legally be called whisky and is an intense dram. The hope is that in seventy plus years it will still be strong enough to be labelled whisky even after the angels have had their greedy share.

Bruichladdich X4+3
63.5% - 3 Years Old
Nose: Candy sticks and sugar syrup arrive first with a jammy scent swiftly following. Then comes the spirit with a slight methynated spirityness and notes of sweet potato.
Palate: Very spirit forward like poteen with a nuttiness that becomes more jammy with water.
Finish: Very hot, spirity and clean with a longer finish than I expected.
Overall: An accomplishment in what can be done with a pot still but not something I would quaff regularly. It did have a warming quality that wasn't unpleasant.

The Octomore Release 4 builds on the already impressive work of its predecessors and can claim to be the peatiest whisky to date with a scorching ppm of a meagre 167 (compare this to ppm's in the mid-40s from other highly peated malts). This whisky is pure ash and frightfully huge.

Octomore Release 4
62.5% - 5 Years Old - ppm 167 - Distilled and Bottled by Bruichladdich
Nose: Muddy wellies sinking into a peat bog of eternal stench (forgive the labyrinth reference) that increases the longer it sits in the glass. Under this smoky shell there is a brine and vanilla that added a depth I foolishly doubted would be there.
Palate: Well my notes simply say: "F***ing smoky!" More eloquently put there is every layer of smoke imaginable: peat, ash, soot, oak smoke, more peat. An orchestra of peat smoke. A peat troll lighting a cigar in a burning building. Smoky.
Finish: Powerful, a touch of vanilla before steam erupts from your ears. Massive, like the Ardbeg Alligator, taints your palate and sinuses for some time to come!
Overall: This is a whisky like no other, it is a record-breaker that rises out of the glass, forces its way up your nose and roars down your throat. Huge, peat-ridden and powerful.

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