Octomore 02.2 Orpheus

I recently posted a fairly unflattering account of the Chenin Blanc finished Bruichladdich, which will go down in memory as one of the more peculiar bottles of whiskey I’ve had in my life. Well before having that adventure, I’d planned on opening a bottle of Octomore early in the new year. I’ve had the bottle open for a while now and let it develop as I’ve gotten to know it, and I think it’s safe to confirm that the Chenin Blanc just had something weird going on. Bruichladdich (and Jim McEwan) can make a great whiskey, no doubt about it.

Octomore, for those who aren’t following the intricacies of whiskey nerd-dom, is a whisky produced by Bruichladdich. Unlike Bruichladdich, though, Octomore is heavily peated. If you’re thinking Ardbeg peatiness, think again. Ardbeg measures 24ppm (ppm is a measure of the phenols from peat smoke). Octomore Orpheus? Oh, not much – just 140ppm. Yes, it’s a little crazy and extreme – but there’s nothing wrong with that. Beer drinkers have their IBU wars with hops; why can’t whiskey go extreme with ppm?

Orpheus actually is my first encounter with a super-peated whiskey. Though it had gotten good reviews, I half-expected it to have the nose and palate of a raging inferno at a tannery. Unlike the mainline Octomore releases, Orpheus is finished in Chateau Petrus casks. Sometimes wine finishes can be a little gimmicky or overpower the underlying spirit. In this case, the spirit is so intense that I wondered if the wine finish would have much influence.

As expected, the nose initially had a strong kick of intense peat – an earthy richness with a faint rubber note. Underneath the peat were some grains – barley and a hint of popcorn (of all things). Not unexpectedly for a Bruichladdich, it was lightly briny and had just a slight bit of perfume. After this initial show, the nose started to reveal the fruit – hints of cara cara oranges, lemons, and after some time, a touch of grilled pineapple and apricot. There’s also the faintest hint of buttercream vanilla as well. Despite the high ABV it wasn’t initially strong on the nose (though subsequent pours have occasionally been a bit sharp).

The palate is rich and coating, and low heat despite the proof. Obviously there’s plenty of peat influence – tar, rubber, and some smoke. Underneath the peat on the palate, citrus fruit notes come through again – orange and lemon. There’s some slight brine and faint fennel; hay and gentle malt provide a foundation for it all.

The finish is as long as you’d expect – eternally long. It’s more reminiscent of a cookout than a campfire. Again, on the finish, the fruit notes pop up a bit – lemon and orange, but they fade relatively quickly. There’s a rubbery note again, and the grilled pineapple from the nose makes an appearance again, as does a bit of banana.

At 61%, I thought I’d check to see what happens when a little water is added. It simplifies things in a fairly pleasing way, but it does cost some of the more unusual fruit notes. The nose focuses on barley and lemon, with the peat providing a foundation for everything. The palate is similarly changed – barley comes through in a big way and subdues the fruit influence overall. A bit of white pepper creeps in too. Finally, the finish becomes more generally sweet, but has a more pronounced kick of fennel.

Overall, Orpheus is a richly nuanced whisky. Despite the massive peat, it’s still fruity and light. In fact, I’ve had pours where the peat recedes quite dramatically and you’re mainly left with the fruit notes. I tend to think of Orpheus as a December cookout just off the Pacific Coast Highway. Despite the high ABV and intense peat, it can have a light character.

It’s a pretty interesting whisky – I’ll be interested in trying more Octomores in the future. It’s possible that without the wine finish they’re much more one-dimensional. However, this is a great one to start with.

At a glance:

Octomore 02.2 Orpheus 5y (61% ABV) – 140ppm
An initial strong kick of intense peat – earthy and rich, with a faintly rubbery tone. Underneath, some grains – barley and a hint of popcorn. Slightly briny tone, lightly perfumey. There’s a lot of fruitiness – slight hint of cars cars oranges, a little lemon, and a touch of grilled pineapple with some apricots. There’s the faintest, faintest buttercream vanilla as well. Water focuses the nose more on barley and lemon with the peat. 
Rich and coating, low heat despite the high proof. Plenty of peat – tar, rubber, smoke. Some orange underpins it and lemon too. Slight brine, faint fennel, some hay and gentle malt flavors. Water brings up more barley notes, subdues the fruit influence and adds a bit of white pepper. 
Eternally long smoke and peat. Cookout versus campfire. The fruit notes pop up a bit – lemon and orange fade. Hints of rubber, some grilled pineapple, and a touch of banana. Water makes the finish sweet but with a pronounced fennel kick.
Richly nuanced. Fruity and light around all the massive peat – it’s like a December cookout with fruits and veggies off of PCH. Despite the intense ABV it still has a light nature.

10 thoughts on “Octomore 02.2 Orpheus”

  1. Oooooohhhhh…140 ppm sounds like a peat blast for sure.  Not sure that sounds appetizing.  I like Arbeg, Lagavulin, etc,. but balanced peat is what I look for.  Looks expensive too…what’s the sticker price?

    1. Well, I’m of two minds on this one. It’s very peaty – yes, but the wine really does a lot to balance. Truly, I’ve had Caol Ilas that I thought were more ashy than this. I don’t know if it’s just so peaty that it just goes off my scale, but I’ve found many “normal” Islays that I thought were heavier in that regard. 

      I think this would be a good one to see if you could try somewhere. I think the majority of Octomores are not finished though so they may be fairly one-dimensional. 

      This has only gone up in price… I got it a while back and I think it was a hair over $100 and it seems that Binny’s has it for $150 these days. I would say if you’ve got a few like-minded peat-heads, this would be a GREAT one to do a group buy on. 

      1. For what it’s worth, I’ve got the Ardbeg Corryvreckan and Supernova (2010), and I love them both, but the Orpheus is in a sort of different category with the wine finish. I find it to be better in many ways than the other peaty hellhounds because it offers many flavors underneath the peat. That said, I like the Supernova the most right now because it presents the most vegetal, living peat flavor I’ve ever had. I didn’t like it at first because it seemed too close to the 10 year, despite the 4-fold difference in phenol PPM, but it grew on me and the subtle differences in smoky, ashy peat vs. smoky, ashy, and Swamp Thing ALIVE peat got more apparent.

        1. I’ve got Supernova deeper in the cabinet and I’m generally a fan of Ardbeg peat. That earthy peat vibe is great – I feel like PC6 had it as well and it was so different and good that it was undeniable. (Corryvreckan – I agree – good and I enjoyed it though I didn’t think it was astronomically peaty)

          You may have me bumping Supernova up sooner though, that’s really enticing. There’s something about that more earthy, damp taste that I like versus the ash and soot which can sometimes just be a little too dry. 

          1. The Ardbeg ash and soot is definitely there in the Supernova, though not nearly as pronounced, compared to their other bottlings. The finish, once all that Ardbegy stuff dies down, is mossy and vegetal – very pleasant! If I can nitpick, the bourbon cask vanilla shows way too much for my taste, but I find that in all the Ardbegs. I want an austere, devastating peat Leviathan! But that’s minor – it is a worthy dram, no doubt.

            I loved the PC6, as well! I actually had it next to the Octomore in a tasting, along with an old Longrow and Laph 15, which was a huge mistake because they tasted like barley water in the presence of such monsters. We’re quite lucky to be in an era that values such strong whiskies.

          2. This leads me to ask what you thought of Alligator, assuming you had it? 

            PC6 was such a brain-breaker. I had it at Nihon in SF one night with no expectations and it was like an atom bomb blowing my synapses apart. It’s since become a favorite and every now and again when I see a bottle I pick one up. To give away some future blog content, one of my planned verticals is PC5 through PC10 to track the evolution. I’ve got them sitting and waiting… It’s not in the same peat category as Octomore but it is so great.

          3. I haven’t had the Alligator – the Committee bottling is $80 here, but I had 4 open Ardbegs already and I couldn’t justify another one. Apparently, to promote it they went around America in a nice old car, perhaps with a large fake reptile, hanging out at the larger liquor stores. However, at the time they stopped near me, Alligator hadn’t even been released yet, so nobody knew what in the heck these people were doing.

            PC6 was like doing handstands over hot coals. I was shocked to find it wasn’t the absolute peatiest (potable) substance in the world.

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