By Richard Thomas
Although small barrel whisk(e)y aging is most often associated with the American craft distillery movement, it’s not entirely unknown in Scotland. The Scots and Irish whiskey industry already had a rich tradition of using a wide variety of used casks for maturing their whiskies, a tradition due largely to a lack of local timber for coopering. While using barrels smaller than the modern 53-gallon American Standard Barrel isn’t the norm in Scotland, it’s hardly unheard of.
However, given the massive number of used ASBs on the market, small barrel aging today in the Scotch industry is now focused on secondary maturation, or finishing, as the popular Laphroaig Quarter Cask does. What Glenglassaugh have done with their pair of Octaves releases, so named because the small barrels are 1/8 the size of a butt, is use a new, small barrel for the primary maturation. From first to last, the Octaves single malts are aged in small casks of new oak.
This peated version of Glenglassaugh Octaves whisky is bottled at 44% ABV, and I think the contact with the new oak has combined with the somewhat higher alcohol content to give it a decidedly un-Scotchlike appearance, especially in view of how it’s not filtered and has no coloring added. The liquid has a rich, lustrous look, with a coloring on that point of the metals spectrum where deep gold leans into light copper.
The nose is very light, and initially smells only of grass. Sweet grass of the kind you cut for hay, but grass nonetheless. I found that very odd for a peated whisky, so I set it aside and let the air make more contact for 15 minutes. I returned to find the grass joined by a waft of creosote, a scent a little like sitting in a field and catching traces of a faraway brush fire. So, my first piece of advice is to let the first couple of pours from Glenglassaugh Peated Octaves get plenty of air; after that, the air in the bottle ought to do the job for you.
On the palate, the liquid is silky and a little creamy, sweet with green apples seasoned by peppery ginger, and with a strong current of creosote running right down the middle. The finish is short, warm and tingly.
Glenglassaugh Octaves Peated is a quite straight forward single malt. The flavors are simple and vibrant, without becoming bold or overpowering. Because it is tasty, but uncomplicated, it is precisely the sort of thing you can enjoy in company, knowing it won’t distract you too much from your friends.
€65 or £55.