A moment of light and shadow, color and line, up and down, sky and lake, what appears and what appears reflected, all seem to hinge on the surface of the water or the surface of the air, take either one, and by taking one breath and falling up or leaping down, two worlds exchange places–the world of what’s real, the world of what’s only reflected, and both become real, both become an illusion. Grey clouds above, grey clouds below and the sky looks just like the lake, and the lake looks just like the sky with the deep green of conifers bordering both. All these thoughts concerning alchemy and distillation blend what’s perceived, imagined, tasted and contemplated. Consider Bruichladdich Octomore Masterclass 08.2. Circulating somewhere where peat bogs meet barley meet smoke meet water and meet air oxidizing the whole mix to fire.
Purchased at the duty-free in Edinburgh as a topping for all the Islay scotches I’ve brought back from Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Lagavulin. I’ve had run-ins with previous versions, other super peaty siblings. A spirit sent out into the world packing phenols. Let Andrew Jeffords define: The portmanteau term used to describe peaty aromas and flavors in whisky: a complex spectrum which includes phenol (carbolic acid: C6H5OH) but also includes many other chemical compounds, too. He adds . . . The peatiness of a particular malt is measured in parts per million, phenols. (381, 10)
And peat? Jeffords continues,
Dead plants. Not just any plants, though; these are the plants of an irredeemably wet place, a place from which the water cannot drain. Visitors to Islay are sometimes surprised to hear its peat bogs described as ‘moss’. Surprised–because the intractable, unwalkable, boot-filling bogs don’t look at all like vivid green carpets and soft poufs of woodland moss you can find on a forest stroll . . . Sphagnum capillifolim and its many relatives: a strange, rootless community of plants commonly called bog moss. (193)
Laphroaig 10 (45 ppm), Lagavulin 16 (92 ppm), this Octomore 08.2 (167 ppm). And with a matching 58.4% ABV, well you have a potent elixir. A strong spirit.
Let’s read what Bruichladdich has to say.
Initiation brings provocation. All of the opulent spirit in Octomore 08.2 spent the first six years of its life in one of three different styles of wine cask. French Mourvedre – a red wine grape that has a reputation for producing intense red fruit, and strong, earthy, even gamey flavours. Austrian sweet wines – full bodied and charming with an ability to challenge convention with innovative techniques. French Sauternes – casks from the Graves section in Bordeaux that previously held some of the most revered and exclusive dessert wines the world has ever seen.
When held up to the light, the rose-red color trapped in amber gives witness to a red wine parentage. To return to Jung and alchemy,
The basis of alchemy is the work (opus). Part of this work is practical, the operatio itself, which is to be thought of as a series of experiments with chemical substances. (288)
The cask contains, protects and alters what it keeps by imbuing its chemicals to the liquid within. Carbon, hydrogen and oxygen and trace minerals interact with a viscous mixture maturing all the elements it brings to the tasting. And, of course, tasting is what this post is all about. Time to work.
First, tasting music. I’m choosing a combination of Bela Bartok, free improvisation, a solid bass and drums combo with all the chops and technical abilities with a violin singing and screeching and a guitar channeling some very wicked and beautiful demiurge. Yes, King Crimson of the Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black, and Red vintage.
So, my tasting notes for the Octomore Masterclass 08.2 (note these words are the result of my olfactory and gustatory systems combining in a chemosensory system to translate chemical compounds into felt experiences, meaning transduction, meaning that besides what I’m drinking, I am also a chemical process converting chemicals into thoughts, memories and emotions–and, of course, vice versa):
Nose: Charred wood and rum raisin cake, sweet wine and brandy, honey and pine forest, cheesecake with graham cracker crust, smoked oily fish, caramel and plums, hint of apples.
Palette: Toffee, red hots, smoked and stewed citrus, Assam tea, white pepper, chipotle sauce.
Finish: Puckering mouth, dark chocolate, slight sour.
Then, adding a small spoonful of water.
Nose: Syrup, leather, gravel with a hint of cinnamon and pumpkin on the nose
Palette: The above plus brown sugar and ash. A few more swirls in the mouth and smoky apple cider vinegar BBQ sauce.
Consider a vignette reprinted in Jung’s Psychology and Alchemy.
The vignette (fig. 144) that is on the title-page to the Tripus aureus (1618) is a graphic illustration of the double face of alchemy. The picture is divided into two parts. On the right is a laboratory where a man, only clothed in trunks, is busy at the fire; on the left a library, where an abbot, a monk, and a layman are conferring together. In the middle, on top of the furnace, stands the tripod with a round flask on it containing a winged dragon . . . Time and again the alchemists reiterate that the opus proceeds from the one and leads back to the one, that it is a sort of circle like a dragon biting its own tail. (290-291, 293)
I wait a week before taking another tasting, giving time for the fresh oxygen which entered the bottle when I uncorked the treasure, to work any further taste-altering, chemical-altering magic. Another King Crimson gem and another tasting–The Night Watch with a nod to Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn.
Nose: Butter, allspice, nutmeg, balsamic vinegar.
Palette: Milk chocolate, roux, maple syrup, red hots, burn.
Another small spoonful of water.
Nose: Melon and dark chocolate, orange and lime.
Palette: Peppermint, botanically rich gin.
A few days later, I make another run. Improv and Talking Drum from the 1973 King Crimson concert in Berkeley, California.
Peppermint and orange slices in water. Yes, wine definitely on the nose, raisins and dark chocolate on tongue with ash. Now with water–a rum and raisin bread, cognac with marinated cherries and oranges, and always fire. Everywhere a charring of oak. Brown sugar and cinnamon on the nose. Sour and savory, bacon and smoked salmon with a side of maple syrup and tar. Leather and dark cigar to take my breath away. Oh yes, tea. Oh the bacon fat, in the finish. With all three tastings, certain notes remain, even with water, which usually alters with a scotch, but this one has such an intense peat flavor and high alcohol content that the “stewed” taste never diminishes, nor does the burn. If anything changes, the spirit gains a more focused character, eliminating what may have proved to more random sensations. Let’s leave the rest of the bottle for other nights; for now, let’s finish with William Blake’s The Tyger performed by Ian Richardson. Sláinte!