Duncan Taylor Octaves; Dalmunach, Dailuaine & Glen Keith

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The use of octaves has become more and more widespread in the industry over the last few years, with a number of new distilleries and independent bottlers using this type of cask to give an interesting twist to a whisky. Unfamiliar with an octave? It’s a 60-70 litre cask, which is approximately one eighth of the volume of a sherry butt (hence its name), and which is used to ’speed up’ the maturation rate of a whisky. Such a small cask means there’s a higher ratio of wood surface area to volume of liquid, thus allowing the spirit more wood interaction over a shorter period of time. They may sound like a bit of a blunt instrument, and they definitely can be, but when used appropriately, octaves can add a lovely depth of flavour to a whisky.

The folks at Duncan Taylor have been doing it for over forty years, with their octaves being created from dismantled European oak ex-oloroso butts. A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of sampling a handful of whiskies from their Octave range. Each of the whiskies had been matured in an ex-bourbon cask before being finished for a few months in these aforementioned ex-oloroso octaves. As an academic exercise in maturation and wood influence, it was a real eye opener; being able to taste the ‘naked’ whisky, and the exact same liquid once it had been finished in an octave, is exactly the kind of geeky whisky shit which floats my boat.

Earlier this year, Duncan Taylor bottled another trio of whiskies which had each been finished in an octave; a Dalmunach 2016 3yo, a Dailuaine 2009 11yo, and a Glen Keith 1993 26yo. Below are my notes on each liquid both pre- and post- ‘octivation’, but be aware that only the post-octave liquid has been bottled for general sale.

Dailuaine 2009 11yo
Duncan Taylor – The Octave Collection
3 month finish in octave #10926803
78 bottles
53.9% ABV
£67.50 here

Pre-Octave Nose: Very green, with crunchy apple, pear skin, unripe banana, with some light, herbal smoke.
Post-Octave Nose: Those fruits are now stewed, along red berries, some sultanas, and a lick of oak.

Pre-Octave Palate: Vanilla, white chocolate, smoked lemons, coconut husk, and apple core.
Post-Octave Palate: Those citrus notes remain, along with kiwi and grapefruit, as well as some muscovado sugar, cinnamon, and a touch of aromatic bitters.

Pre-Octave Finish: Short and citrusy, with lemon, keylime pie, and a zingy root ginger spice.
Post-Octave Finish: Much more chewy, with rum and raisin ice cream and cask char.

Glen Keith 1993 26yo
Duncan Taylor – The Octave Collection
3 month finish in octave #10224236
72 bottles
53% ABV
£229.99 here

Pre-Octave Nose: Incredibly light, with candyfloss, watermelon, a delicate floral note, and a touch of tinned fruit salad.
Post-Octave Nose: Much richer, with some mahogany, cinder toffee, and clove. More tropical too – pineapple, lychee, and mango.

Pre-Octave Palate: Much the same as the nose, with some Juicy Fruit gum, custard creams, and lemon bon bons.
Post-Octave Palate: Sultana loaf, Jamaica cake, more clove, sweet vermouth, manuka honey, and thick oak.

Pre-Octave Finish: Creamy citrus notes, nutmeg, crystallised pineapple, and light oak.
Post-Octave Finish: Moves into coffee grounds, dark chocolate, and dried fruit mix.

Dalmunach 2016 3yo
Duncan Taylor – The Octave Collection
3 month finish in octave #10825885
102 bottles
54% ABV
£46.50 SOLD OUT

Pre-Octave Nose: Unsurprisingly spirit driven, with barley sugars, lots of esters, some lemon peel, lavender, violet, and green banana.
Post-Octave Nose: The floral notes are accentuated, with lots of honey, toffee, and caramel shortbread. Some sweet breakfast cereals too.

Pre-Octave Palate: Clean and new make-y, with candysticks, lime zest, marshmallows, and vanilla Angel Delight.
Post-Octave Palate: Really juicy, with red currants, cranberry, perhaps even strawberry? Dusty potpourri and baking spices too.

Pre-Octave Finish: Raw cereals, ripe citrus, and a touch of polish.
Post-Octave Finish: Quite nutty – pecans and toasted almonds – with unlit cigar and dry twigs.

Overall: Phew, what a tasting session that was! I prefer each of the three whiskies after octivation as the Dailuaine, and especially the Glen Keith, were on the light side prior to finishing – the octaves have added good depth to those drams. The Dalmunach was a real surprise though. Although shows good promise in its ‘naked’ state, the octave worked really well. I thought it might have been a bit of a clumsy whisky, but the aromas and flavours to be found in the finished whisky are very pleasing, and all the more remarkable given that it’s only three years old. For that reason it has to be my pick of the bunch. If you don’t want to dive in feet first and buy a whole 70cl bottle, The Spirits Embassy are hosting a tasting on August 23rd which consists of these three post-octivation whiskies, as well as an Aultmore 10yo and Strathmill 26yo which come from Duncan Taylor’s Dimensions range. Tasting kits are only £20 and you can get them here. Talk about value!




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