WHISKY enthusiasts love stories about the people and places behind Scotland’s national drink.
Farmer, James Brown’s father was awarded the tenancy of Octomore on the Rhinns of Islay in 1960 and James remembers walking the family’s cattle from the farm at Carn where he was born, through the village of Port Charlotte and up the hill to their new pasture.
Then aged eight, James could never have dreamed how the name, ‘Octomore’, would come to resonate throughout the whisky world, although he soon learned that his new home had once housed a distillery.
The tumble down ruins of the old buildings were still there as part of the farmyard.
James became a farmer like his father and now raises top-quality Angus and Highland cattle in the beautiful, rugged landscape.
His beef is much sought-after, but his friendship with the whisky men behind the renaissance of neighbouring Bruichladdich was to have far reaching consequences.
Following a late night ‘what If?’ session, it was decided to use the name, ‘Octomore’, to represent what would become the most heavily-peated whisky series in the world.
The cult that grew up around the extraordinary new spirit would mean that life for the Brown family would never be quite the same again.
Then, in 2008, James was also persuaded to begin growing malting barley at Octomore. The dream was that, one day, there would be Octomore of Octomore, single malts distilled only from barley grown on the Islay farm, soaked in the maritime climate of the Hebrides.
This was always going to be difficult – the weather is fierce, the wild deer and geese a constant threat.
A huge amount of work had to be done, the old field drains repaired and the big boulders that threatened to break the combine harvester removed.
The yield of grain per hectare was eventually around half what most mainland barley barons might have expected, but this was never about yield, this was about connection to a place, and its people.
Each vintage of these uber-provenance whiskies varies with the climate, the barley variety and the location.
This latest Octomore of Octomore, grown on Lorgba field but obscurely designated, ‘07.3’, was distilled from the harvest of 2009.
It was peated to a colossal 169ppm but the spirit is satin smooth despite the awesome power delivered by 63% abv.
Whisky connoisseurs will immediately recognise the deceptive subtlety so characteristic of these single malts when they are in the glass, but there is also another subliminal dimension; an understanding of why these spirits are so different and why people feel so connected to them.
This is their dreams delivered – land and drams united.
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