Weekend Sip: Is this the smokiest Scotch on the market?

The bottle

Bruichladdich Octomore Edition 12.3 Scotch whisky, $259

The back story

This is the time of year we usually think a lot about Scotch — not just because we love a good dram, but because we want to honor Robert Burns (1759-1796), Scotland’s most famous poetic son, on his birthday (January 25). Indeed, Burns Night celebrations, as they’re called, have become increasingly popular in recent years. Think gatherings with readings of Burns’ work, and feasts built around such Scottish foods as haggis (a classic meat dish), tatties (mashed potatoes) and neeps (turnips).

Of course, there’s plenty of Scotch whisky to be had. But which Scotch should you put on your Burns Night table? We’re inclined this year to opt for Bruichladdich’s Octomore, a limited-edition annual release from this distillery that has a history going back to the 19th Century but was resurrected as a brand about 20 years ago. (Today, it’s under the ownership of spirits conglomerate Rémy Cointreau.)

In many ways, this Bruichladdich (pronounced brook-LAHD-ee) sip is the most “Scotchy” Scotch on the market. For starters, the distillery prides itself on often sourcing key ingredients — as in the barley malt — as locally as possible, with a keen attention to terroir. (“Our farmers are known to us by first name,” the Bruichladdich team boasts.) But there’s also the type of Scotch that Bruichladdich produces, which is typically a peated (or smoky) style in keeping with the traditions of its location on the Scottish island of Islay. And Octomore is billed as one of the most intense, heavily peated whiskies of them all — and it’s bottled at cask strength (about 124 proof in the case of Edition 12.3), to boot. “It really speaks to the experimental nature of the distillery,” says Bruichladdich spokeswoman Christy McFarlane.

What we think about it

We’re fans of pretty much any Islay Scotch — and we’ve written about our share of them, including ones from Bowmore and Laphroaig. So, yes, we like Bruichladdich’s Octomore as well. Don’t let the intensity of the sip scare you off. While you taste the smoke, this Octomore edition isn’t all about that — it’s rightly described as having a salty citrus note, plus the taste of sweet dried fruit. In all, a very satisfying sip — and a very “Scotchy” one — that arguably merits the high cost. (Bruichladdich has two other current Octomore releases at slightly lower prices.)

How to enjoy it

This should be sipped neat to best appreciate its beguiling intensity. (But it’s okay to add a little water, or an ice cube or two.) Pair it with some good dark chocolate for the perfect Burns Night after-dinner treat.

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