By Richard Thomas
Although the center of small cask maturation is now found in the American craft distillery movement, the practice is 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 which drove them to use whatever casks they could lay hands on. While using barrels smaller than the modern 53-gallon American Standard Barrel isn’t the norm in Scotland, it’s hardly unheard of.
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.
In the glass, this 44% abv single malt has a rich, golden color, darker than one would expect from a typical Scotch whisky, if not in the amber vein of new oak-aged American whiskeys.
The scent jumps out with a heavy coat of cereals before currents of green apples and pears come up to join the grainy field. The fruitiness is somewhat candied. It’s not quite a caramel apple, but more a caramel-drizzled apple.
Once on the palate, the liquid has a silken texture, and a blend of (a much more pronounced) apple and malty sweetness, seasoned with vanilla. This rolls over into a sweet, wet tobacco note, spiced with dry, white pepper. The finish leaves traces of wood and a tingly aftercoat.
As an experiment, I say Octaves is a success. This particular one offers a pleasant sipper with just a little complexity to it, bucking the common conception of what small barrel aging can do.
Barring excessive taxes (such as in Ireland), expect to pay £55/€62.