We whisky fans are an unashamedly geeky bunch. Some of us are more geeky than others to be fair but beneath our malty and sometimes peaty exteriors lies a nerdy centre.
Some of my favourite tasting experiences have been deconstructions, verticals or side by sides so when a surprise package from independent bottlers AD Rattray arrived on my doorstep I found that something exciting was lurking within.
What if you took a cask, split it between several different octaves specifically constructed from various cask types and then left it for an additional short period of maturation?
Wouldn’t it be great to try them all side by side and get a real feeling for the impact of each type of cask on identical spirit.
Oh, and wouldn’t it be great if they were non-chill filtered and at cask strength too?
Well that’s exactly what Rattray’s have done with their Octave Project. There were initially three different casks involved in the project. One from Arran (which is the one we will be focusing on) as well as ones from Old Pulteney and Bunnahabhain.
In the case of the Arran they took a 6 year old whisky matured in a bourbon barrel and split it into octave casks (approx 50 litres) specially constructed with staves from Rum, Rioja, Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez casks. The whisky was further matured for 5 months before bottling.
Anyway, on with the experiment…
Arran,(AD Rattray),6y.o,Original Bourbon,59.3%abv, official sample, available here.
It’s a fresh feeling nose, very fresh. Strong elements of vanilla and crisp lemon. There is a pleasant sweetness which, combined with the citrus is reminiscent of lemon sherberts. There is a soft florality and a light toffee feeling. Given that this is close to 60% abv there isnt much in terms on nose prickle but its definitely there. Given time there is a slight vegetal note and a sort of soapy tang too.
The palate starts with green grape, apricots and soft peaches. There is a twist of oak intermingled with vanilla, milkybars and a slight maltyness. Vaguely resembles a distant Crème brulé.
The finish is dominated by the vanilla and the wood notes but not excessively so. There is a slight pepperiness and a curious perfume note arises. For the first time the higher abv is noticeable with a bit of heat on the tail end.
Arran,(AD Rattray),6y.o,Oloroso finish,57%abv, official sample, available here.
The nose begins with the usual vanilla, this time mixed with touches of ginger and cantucci biscotti. There is a prominent sultana note here along with a slight twist of orange.
The palate is dry and tannic, ginger is here again along with a strong spiced influence. There is a nice nutty feeling too, mixed with cedar wood a faint tobacco element. There is a nice butteriness here which makes the mouthfeel quite thick, big and bold.
The finish is flavoursome but there is a slight cliff edge here. It is still pleasant but is more just a continuation of the palate. Tangy and tannic with some light oak.
Arran,(AD Rattray),6y.o,Rioja finish,57.6%abv, official sample, available here.
The nose is intriguing right from the start, there is a massively different influence here. A slight musty note, like a dunnage warehouse, is noticeable. Under this are elements of dark chocolate, old style furniture polish and a soft salted caramel note.
Leading the palate is a mixture of green and red apples and some punchy, drying tannins. There are dark fruits and leather popping out all over the place. A slight chocolate and cherry feeling leads to the finish.
The finish has a strong feeling of red fruits, and perhaps even blackberries. Its a little woody at times but not to its detriment. Theres a savoury feeling here, very tannic and dark. Similar in nature to the sherry finish but with an increase in fruit and a slight upturn in the amount of wood. Perhaps a touch peppery at the end.
Arran,(AD Rattray),6y.o,PX Sherry finish, 55.4%abv, official sample, available here.
There are elements of polish, soft wood, leather, almonds here. There is also a good undertone of slightly musty sherry (in a good way). After a while there seems to be a slight soapy note. Minimal though.
The palate starts with Orange, ginger, and gratings of dark chocolate. Its nicely spiced, with a touch of maple syrup. There are also some flaked, toasted almonds, and a feeling evocative of rum n raisin ice cream.
The finish is big on the spice, most notably cinnamon and allspice. There are some very soft tannins, much more restrained than the Rioja or Oloroso. Right at the end theres an element of Milka Swiss chocolate,
Arran,(AD Rattray), 6y.o, Rum finish, 55.4%abv, official sample, available here.
The nose is still vanilla led but theres a slight shift towards a darker note. Slight touches of Demerara sugar mingle with a more accentuated perfume note. Theres a whiff of balsa and a slight savoury note too, perhaps even a faint touch of freshly cut grass. After a while theres another sweet note appearing akin to refresher sweets or perhaps love hearts.
The palate does feel a mildly hotter than the bourbon cask. Still feels quite fresh and clean but the rum has left an unmistakable sweetness here. There is a feeling of fresh melon and some soft caramel notes. There is a very faint chocolate note here too but it is a faint one and quite milky.
The finish feels a little pricklier than the original, tangy though. Perhaps a with a touch of orange and a little leathery. Theres a prominent oak note here and a fair punch of pepper too. This one certainly needs a little water which tames it massively but not impressively. There are a few extra fruity tones popping up but there is little on the finish when diluted.
All in all its been a massive amount of fun to sit, compare, contrast and enjoy these experimental expressions. There has undoubtedly been a lot of flavour imparted in the spirit in a short time, the process enhanced by the smaller Octave casks.
Who says education can’t be fun?
Yes, there are signs of youth here and there, most notably in the rum cask for some reason, but it doesn’t spoilt the fun or the drams.
If I had to pick a favourite it would most definitely be the Rioja cask. There was just something a little different but incredibly satisfying about it. Perhaps a little woody for some but I very much enjoyed the extra width and depth the unique cask finish had given it.
This is coming from the man who isn’t generally a fan of young Arran or wine finishes…
All three tasting kits as well as limited quantities of 700ml bottles of each finish are currently still available on the A.D Rattray website.
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