My earlier tasting of the Octarine took place in poor conditions (hot, outdoors, single dram) and my experience with malts was much more limited— for example, I had not tasted, or heard of, Glendronach before that. I decided it was time to revisit this one after hunggar’s recent review, so I return to this malt now armed with a full bottle (well, not anymore…).
Nose: The overall impression is of grape skin, salty shortbread, and apricot / raw pumpkin. It is complex and full, and it opens up nicely after some time. The first breath gives grape-skins (tannic/floral/grassy/leathery) and vanilla’d-marzipan. (I’d earlier written raw coconut milk and apricot, and I still think these apply). A second slow breath (or built-up vapors, or a warmed dram) is more vegetal: salted butter, melted on a raw pumpkin slice with coriander seed.
Palate: Syrupy caramel/vegetal/grape entrance, with a good dose of oak building. The lasting impression is a sweet and savory development: raisiny, to apricot + savory spices, to a white pepper peak, and then more sweet vegetal: grapes and apricot/ pumpkin-flesh again.
Finish: Grape skins and vague caramel are forward; less white pepper, but that pumpkiny sensation remains and fades in the back.
I know that I can be turned off when I read “vegetal” in other reviews, but we’re not talking broccoli here, but rather a pleasant pumpkin flesh, similar to apricot. Similar but different from that of the Jura 10; it works really well here and is smoothed over by sweet-and-salty accents. I could also think of persimmons with olive oil, or stewed salty watermelon. I get more tempered oakiness rather than “huge spices”, except for that peaking of white pepper. The nose is lovely, especially after opening up. Compared with my earlier tasting, I would say I can still understand my earlier perspective, but the leather/citrus/salt are now much less apparent; perhaps these had been brought out by the heat. Instead, I find this fruitier and even smoother than I remembered.
Overall, the Octarine is rather good and interesting: smooth and full of character. It is worth trying as a somewhat exotic any-day dram (certainly at its previous price before being discontinued). I would say I can’t fall in love with it because it is not my favorite flavor set, but I have to admit that it is exceptionally smooth for an 8yo, and the bottle keeps calling to me. The fresh bottle was closed, but each time I return, it seems more well-rounded and enjoyable. In the end, I was not disappointed that I'd picked up a bottle, so this gets a pretty high mark for me, above average. I think its character will be especially well suited to early autumn.
Compared with the 12yo, this is less cereal/hay and more grape/pumpkin. I prefer the Octarine, because it seems (strangely) less young and hay/grassy, and the vegetal tones seem more palatable.
The closest non-Glendronach malt, for me, is Glenfarclas’ 10yo: the same salted butter and grape tones, along with a savory background and interesting spices. The Oban 14 is really different, but I could imagine attracting the same people. For a less vegetal and more apple-y experience, I would direct you to the Arran 10yo. I could also recommend Old Pulteneys (12/17/21) as a good connection to other interesting, spicy, and briny malts; however, those again exhibit a very different set of fruit flavors. There is furthermore a range of “double cask” or “triple cask” expressions I could connect to, mentioned in my last review of the Auchentoshan Three Wood.
Glad to see that your opinion of this has improved! "Exotic every day dram" fits this stuff perfectly. It's understandably not to everyone's liking. But for a budget malt there isn't much youngness and there's a lot of flavour and complexity. Great review! Really gotta find a bottle of 'Farclas 10 now...