AD Rattray – The Octave Project

AD Rattray Octave Project Old Pulteney Header

You see them all the time on Instagram, these ‘before’ and ‘after’ pics with the obligatory #MondayMotivation or #TransformationTuesday hashtag. You’ll know the ones I mean – they’re usually to do with people shedding loads of weight since January 1st, or gaining a chiselled six pack after an intense four week fitness program. In a whisky context, the same ‘before and after’ analogy can be applied to AD Rattray’s ‘The Octave Project’. This rather exciting, and largely overlooked idea, allows you to taste a whisky, in this case a 9yo Pulteney from a bourbon barrel, and compare and contrast it to the same whisky which has been finished in one of several different octaves. Confused? The below diagram should clear things up.

Essentially, the liquid from a 9yo Pulteney bourbon barrel was divided into five equal parts. The first part was bottled at cask strength as a straight up, no-monkeying-around bourbon barrel-matured whisky. The other four parts were further matured in four separate octaves (tiny little 50 litre casks) for five months. The difference being that each octave had previous held something different; PX sherry, oloroso sherry, rum or rioja wine. That way, I (or you should you choose to purchase one of these nifty Octave Project ‘Little Drams’ sets) can look at the impact of finishing the liquid in various cask types, all the while being able to compare it to the original un-tampered-with whisky. Pretty cool, eh?

I think the only other time I’ve been able to do something along these lines was when Mark Thomson allowed me to taste the Glenfiddich 21yo before and after it had spent time being finished in a rum cask. That was a real eye opener. Back to these Pulteney’s, and we’ll start with the bourbon barrel before delving into the finished liquids.

Pulteney 9yo
Bourbon Barrel
58.9% ABV
Only available as part of the Little Drams Set here

Nose: Very classic Pulteney from a bourbon cask – briney with lemon, white pepper, vanilla oils, a wee bit fatty, some marshmallows, green bananas, mango, Seville orange, barley water and dusty cereals.

Palate: Loads of citrus – lemon rind, lime pith, a clean acidity (7 Up lemonade?), apple core, pear skins, more bananas and a bit of vanilla custard.

Finish: Quite drying, with firm oak, vanilla, lemon and a ginger spice.

Pulteney 10yo
Pedro Ximinex Octave Finish
57.5% ABV
£70 here

Nose: Quite a subtle sherry influence. It’s still fruity and coastal but with a bit more depth; overripe banana, passionfruit, red currants, wet sand, driftwood and charred twigs).

Palate: Now the PX exerts itself; plum jam, dates, poached apples dried apricot, lime peel, cinnamon, coffee liqueur and some dark chocolate.

Finish: Red fruits and dried fruits dominate with some firm oak.

Pulteney 10yo
Oloroso Octave Finish
56% ABV
£70 here

Nose: Quite syrupy, with malt loaf, dark treacle, cherry cake, some raisins, a little blackcurrant, honey and a bit of heavy oak.

Palate: Significantly sherried – quite drying with raisins, cask stave, cinnamon, clove, chewy toffee, hot cross buns and some liquorice.

Finish: Drying, with chewy oak and dried fruit mix.

Pulteney 10yo
Rioja Octave Finish
57.1% ABV
£70 here

Nose: Campino sweets, red currants and berries, a little solventy too. Then Dairy Milk Fruit & Nut, mulled wine spices and some Turkish Delight.

Palate: Much more rounded – plums, apricots, banana flakes, papaya and even a bit of lychee. Some lime cordial and a faint apple/pear note – that original OP character remains here. Some firm wood tannins, mixed fruit compote and sherry trifle come through towards the end.

Finish: Firm tannins, cinnamon, blackcurrant, some leather and a bit of dark chocolate.

Pulteney 10yo
Rum Octave Finish
55.8% ABV
£70 here

Nose: Oh so very rummy! Some molasses, golden syrup, milk chocolate, a juicy oakiness, vanilla slices and floral honey.

Palate: Strangely the saltiness is enhanced initially, with a weird industrial note; metal filings, oily rags, and engine oil. There’s a sweet earthiness too; forest floor, green stems, and a faint herbal note. Underneath there’s Morello cherries, treacle toffee and muscovado.

Finish: More sticky fruits, some drying oak and an earthy woodspice.

Overall: From a geek’s point of view (and that’s certainly me) this is a fantastic exercise into the process of ‘finishing’ a whisky. To have the naked whisky alongside its finished counterparts is a real treat, and gives fantastic insight into this particular whisky’s behaviour once it’s been finished in one of several different cask types. The speed of the process may be turned up to eleven, what with the use of octaves rather than the full size casks you’d normally find in the vast majority of commercial products, but it really is a lesson in how a whisky can be tweaked in a particular way due to it spending time in different types of wood. It really shows how blunt an instrument a ‘finish’ can be, especially in the case of the rum cask here. The octaves show dominance in some areas, and complementary notes in others, but all in all, it’s a refreshing experiment which whisky lovers can explore for just £30. If Pulteney isn’t your thing, this experiment has also been done with a 2002 Bunnahabhain and a 2011 Arran should those tickle your fancy instead. A novel concept and one which I really applaude.



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