Dec 232020
 

In 2013, a good bunch of folks, led by our revered pied piper, Andrew Ferguson of Kensington Wine Market infamy, stole away to the foothills of the Canadian Rocky Mountains for a weekend of absolutely next level whisky tastings. The apex event of the weekend was a tasting of some of the most legendary 1964 Bowmores known to man- (and woman-) kind.

In a completely unexpected (though gratefully accepted) bit of generosity, a wee set of samples was brought back for yours truly. Obviously, whiskies like this require pristine conditions in order to really be able to properly assess ’em, so…seven years after these priceless vials landed in my lap, on an afternoon when the palate was clean, my personal desire was sky high, and the interruptions were kept to a bare minimum, I finally sat down with these precious drops of Islay’s greatest distillate and took a bit of a journey. My couch sipping session may have lacked the elegance and atmosphere of the initial event, but the malts are transportive, to say the least.

Listen. I wanted this post to be a poem of such epic proportion Yeats himself would have wept, but there’s simply no way I can throw commonplace nouns and verbs at these malts and have them ring true to just how special they are. Man’s limitations are pretty glaring most times. Fortunately, the whisky gods are verbose and have said all that needs to be said via the glass. I know that doesn’t really help here, but if you’ve ever had the chance to taste these drams, you’ll understand what I mean. And I happen to know that a rather substantial portion of you have actually tasted at least one of these drams. For those that haven’t, bear with me as I do my best to articulate just what these Bowmores are all about.

Before we dive into tasting notes, however, let me just say: tropical, tropical, tropical. Get used to hearing it. I’ll be throwing that word around a lot over the next few paragraphs. When we speak of those legendary vintages – the ones that make whisky folk weak-kneed and starry-eyed – 1964 Bowmore has to be right up at the top of the pyramid. There is something utterly magical about them. And I have to say, they are also some of the very best drams I’ve ever had the pleasure to taste.

Y’already know how I feel about the Black Bowmore (42 y.o.), aye? I think at the time I reviewed it, I scored it at 97 points, the highest mark I’ve ever assigned. I opted not to simply repost those notes and scores, but instead to revisit and reassess even that old favorite. So, without saying any more…let’s just dive in, shall we?

Black Bowmore 1964 42 y.o.

Five oloroso sherry casks. 827 bottles. 40.5% abv. Released 2007.

Nose: Beautiful clean chariness. Five Alive fruit juice infused with the cleanest and most elegant of smoke. Now we’re into a stunning mix of fresh and dried tropical fruits. A bit of peach with all those other to-be-expected notes of guava, mango, passionfruit, pineapple and more. A beautifully dark and rich cherry tang. Black currents. Pink grapefruit. A hint of cold coffee. Vintage sherry. Faint echoes of peat. Old oiled machinery. Ancient polished wood. This just reeks of majesty and age.

Palate: Slightly medicinal. More smoke than either the White or Gold Bowmore, and more earthy peat to boot. Hugely tropical. Sticky, oily dried mango, apricot, pineapple, peach. More orange. More pineapple. Brine and a much more profound Islay-ness than the nose suggests. Seared seafood. Charred grapefruit. Baked ham. Griotines. Cherry cough syrup. Figgy pudding.

Finish: Some decent tannins, but it’s that deep, dark oily, and rather bittering finish that steal the show. Just wow.

Thoughts: Does it get better? Honestly?

96/100

White Bowmore 1964 43 y.o.

Six bourbon barrels. 732 bottles. 42.8% abv. Released 2008.

Nose: Tropical heaven. Sweet pineapple. Mango, orange, papaya, grapefruit, passion fruit. Man…the parade of fruits is endless. Dunnage. A touch of marzipan and sugar cookies. Tropical fruit pie. Honey. Marmalade. Fruit flan. White chocolate. Truly stunning cask notes; almost hard to believe wood can do this.

Palate: Oh, dear God. Grapefruit, mango, passionfruit, papaya. Grilled pineapple rings. What a stunning sweet/sour tang. Can’t stop the flood of saliva. Oily. Only faintly smoky, but there’s a definite coastal element to it. This is all fruits, spritzed with citrus juice (lemon, lime, orange and grapefruit). Such clean, but rather indistinguishable, spice tones.

Finish: Those tropical tangy notes linger forever. Maybe longer.

Thoughts: Utterly incomparable.

95/100

Gold Bowmore 1964 44 y.o.

Three bourbon barrels and one oloroso sherry cask. 701 bottles. 42.4% abv. Released 2009.

Nose: Toastier than the White. I can only assume that’s the toasty, nutty influence of the sherry butt. Crème caramel. Still unbelievably tropical, of course. Tame those pineapple and orange notes just a wee notch (though they’re still huge!), and add some kiwi. Vanilla. Warm honey. A hint of fruitcake (made with ancient cognac). And yeah…maybe a hint of old Armagnac. Faint peat.

Palate: Slow to develop, then wham! Cold espresso. Twiglets. Grapefruit. Guava and passion fruit. Mango. Mandarin. A beautiful subtle smokiness. Glazed ham and pineapple. Prosciutto. Raspberry.

Finish: Deeper than the White, but maybe a tick less endearing. Still bittering and tropically tart.

Thoughts: Nose is more muted than expected, but the palate more than makes up for the whispered beginnings.

93.5/100

Black Bowmore 1964 31y.o.

Sherry butts. 1812 bottles. 49% abv. Released 1995.

Nose: Toasted marshmallow. Saville orange. Molasses. More smoke here. Oily and syrupy. The tropical notes are here, but not as monolithic as they appear in the trilogy releases. Polish. Old wet oak. Cherry, raspberry and strawberry with passion fruit, peach, pineapple, guava, etc. Tobacco pouch or snuff bag. Oiled leather.

Palate: Whoa. Syrupy, syrupy, syrupy. More of those reduced dark fruits – like a smoked cherry and raspberry reduction. That sweet/sour balance is incredible. Pink grapefruit. Passion fruit. Mango. Cold espresso. Tobacco. Seared duck. Seaspray. A stronger flinty minerality.

Finish: More tannic than the others, by far. But that bittering finish is, once again, to die for.

Thoughts: Denser, darker, somehow more syrupy than the 42 y.o. Stronger tannins, and less tropical notes. Though I’m sure it goes without saying…utterly stunning.

94/100

Bowmore 1964 Fino 46 y.o.

One fino sherry butt. 72 bottles 42.9% abv. Released 2012.

Nose: Candied sweetness. All those tropical notes smash head on in to a confectioner’s shop. Bubble gum. Salt water. More tropical juices (yes, yes…you’re getting sick of the word ‘tropical’). Scones. Heavy cream. Mandarins. Kiwi. Sour cherries. Key lime and blood orange. A hint of fill.

Palate: Oh, wow. Kiwi and guava. Lemon pie. A squeeze of lime. Grapefruit pith. Green curry. Dill. What the hell?! The tropical notes keep expanding as it develops. Love that gorgeous medicinal note that toes up against the tangy fruits. Oily and salty. Mango. Tiramisu. Honey.

Finish: Long and slightly drying. Cherry cordials. Tropical fruit skins.

Thoughts: This one shattered any expectations I had. Simply mindboggling.

95/100

 Posted by at 8:25 am
Aug 072019
 

One of those reviews I parked a while back. Time to let ‘er fly…

We have Sukhinder Singh, the fine gent behind The Whisky Exchange, to thank for this nifty little range of malts. The Elements of Islay series is a bit goofy and irreverent on the surface, but make no mistake, these are serious drams where it counts. And where it counts is in the glass, of course. But hey, what can I say…I prefer a little austerity in packaging over quirky attempts to stand out from the herd. Maybe that’s just me. Either way, Sukhinder is probably one of the most knowledgeable and devoted whisky folks out there, so why would we expect anything less from him than expressions offered up small batch, cask strength, non-chill-filtered and uncolored? Easy answer: We wouldn’t.

In the Elements range, each brand has its own code that roughly translates to the distillery it represents. Bw=Bowmore, Ar=Ardbeg, Lp=Laphroaig, etc. And each distillery code is appended with a number that signifies the particular batch. Not too far off what the SMWS has been doing for a few decades now, when you think about it.

So, yes…this one is a Bowmore. A monster of a Bowmore, at that. Kinda Jekyll and Hyde-like, in a way. It’s massive, tingly and uber-rich in deep jammy sherry notes, macerated fruit, old potpourri, but it also comes bearing a nasty symbiotic co-host: sulphur. Sigh. Yup. And not only sulphur but also a slightly moist cardboardy note that hints at TCA (cork taint). In a somewhat paradoxical way of explaining, this malt is both lively and bright…and dead and muted. Tough to reconcile. And, if I’m being totally honest, I really don’t understand how whiskies like this get bottled. This kind of sulphur is a flaw. Period.

It has only been over the last couple years that these Elements expressions have made their way into Canada, hence my being a little late to the party on the review front (not to mention I sat on this review for the last year or so). And though I can’t be too kind to this particular release, I should note here that all of the other expressions that I’ve tried from Elements have definitely been worth having a run at.  Having said that, I’ll go on record as saying Bw7 is maybe one to avoid blowing your dough on.  ‘Less you like the smell of struck matches, that is.

53.2% abv

Tasting Notes

Nose: Blech. Sulphur. Sulphur and what almost seems like cork taint. Putty. Muted jam. Slightly weedy. Kinda like a Laimrig gone wrong. Old marzipan. Some floral tones too. In spite of these…less that flattering notes, this one is actually not awful, but it’s also not a great malt. With time it softens a bit, but doesn’t ever really get better.

Palate: Better than the nose lets on, but barely. Arrives okay, then immediately becomes flat. Dull almond notes. Cardboard or damp paper. Some salt licorice.  Brine. Rubber. Smoke, of course. Pulled pork with a very generic sauce. Some more fruit, but it’s all muddy and muffled.

Finish: Better than expected. Long and rather fruity. The matchsticks, fortunately, are largely forgotten.

Thoughts: A lot of wasted potential here. I know these are small batch vattings, but it seems like a bad butt ended up in here. Should have been left out.

74/100

 Posted by at 9:32 am
Oct 122017
 

No. 1 Vaults of Bowmore

No trip to Islay could possibly be complete without a visit to Bowmore.  I’m not speaking about the village, though the distillery is nestled right along the coastline of the beautiful little settlement, but of the distillery that has perched on this hallowed ground since at least 1779.  It is Islay’s oldest distillery and one of the oldest in Scotland.  Of course, that all rests on the presumption that you buy into the marketing hype.  As we know, we only have to look as far as Bushmills a few dozen miles across the water to recognize that a claim of longevity does not necessarily make it so.  The records from these times are maddeningly vague.  Especially for a malt geek.

But let’s not spend too much time on the whos and wheres and whens of history.  The point here is simply to share a bit about a place that has become synonymous with the legendary malts from this iconic Islay distillery.  The birthplace of drams like the Gold, White and Black Bowmore (in each of its iterations) and several stunning examples of whiskies from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.  Y’know…before the low road led us to that bumpy stretch of time wherein the distillery was more renowned for its lavender and lilac influence than the deep, tropical fruits that helped define what the world’s greatest whiskies really were.

A visit to the No. 1 Vaults is only possible through the highest ended Bowmore tours.  You’ll pay for the privilege, but you’ll also experience something few others will.  The warehouse sits down at the water’s edge where the waves kiss the walls and share their oceanic influence with every ebb and flow and gust of sea-sprayed wind.  Inside the walls are moldy and spongy, dank with black growth fed by the fumes of aging barrels.  The ceilings are low…the aisles are narrow and the smells are…well…let’s just say you need to experience it for yourself.

There is an element of disillusion that comes into play though nowadays.  A stroll through the casks slumbering herein shows that the warehouse is home to malt not much older than its teen years.  Unless, of course, the best of the best is squirrelled away in the darkest and dankest of nooks and crannies.  Who knows?  I think we all like to imagine this mecca teeming with stunning casks stenciled with distillation dates from the ’60s and ’70s.  Alas…none that I saw.

I visited the distillery in September of both 2016 and 2017.  The 1998 bourbon barrel (Cask #514) below was there both times, and stunning in each of its tastings (at 18 and 19 years of age respectively).  The sherry butt that we contrasted with in 2016 was an absolute fireworks show.  Deep and rich, redolent of jammy fruit and just the right amount of smoke.  The kind of malt I could have seen developing into a new incarnation of the Black Bowmore in another 25 years or so.  Sadly, that butt was peeled out for bottling sometime between visits and has now been replaced by the one fro which I’m sharing notes here (Cask #2071).  This latter is a stunner too, but not in the same league.

To be honest, I was just fortunate to be there in back to back years.  If you can make the journey over, do so.  And if you get to taste these barrels as they evolve, please share your thoughts.

Slainte.

Bowmore 1998 19 y.o. Cask #514 (Bourbon Barrel)

ABV:  unknown

Score:  92/100

Nose:  An absolute soft fruit bomb.  Peat as an afterthought here, really.  Pear.  Vanilla.  Creamy custard.  Soft sugar cookies.  Roman nougat.  Crème brulee.  Soft spices, moving on medium.  Apple.

Palate:  Easy white fruits again.  Soft threads of vanilla and syrupy fruit cocktail.  Orange and cherry notes are bold and forefront.  Soft oak.  White cake.  Scones.

Thoughts:  Stunning bourbon barrel.  Again…if left for a few more years…wow.  Of course, the price would have been reflective, but I shudder to imagine what this could have been, considering what it already is.

Bowmore 2002 15 y.o. Cask #2071 (Sherry Butt)

ABV:  unknown

Score:  92/100

Nose:  Big, bold sherry meets peat a la Laimrig or Devils Cask.  Hints of eucalyptus.  Licorice.  Rich jammy fruits.  Faint coffee notes.  Dark chocolate (and maybe milk chocolate too).  Cherry cordial.  Dunnage warehouses (of course).  Minerally.  Salty.

Palate:  Creamy fruit notes (jammy, but think fresh cream on top of it).  Compote or coulis.  Sweet smokiness and a very appealing oiliness.  Chocolate.  More jams.  Dried fruits.  A hint of tea.

Thoughts:  Brilliant barrel.  Not as brilliant as the last, but still exceptional.  This one plays to everything I love about Bowmore.

 

 – Images & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:54 am
Jul 102016
 

Bowmore 19 y.o. (Adelphi)IMG_2353

57.2% abv

Score:  89/100

 

This is from a wee sample gifted to me by my mate, Cam.  An utterly unexpected surprise, both due to its unsolicited handover and the oddball nose here that seems miles from a typical Bowmore.  This is a malt that shows why the independent game is arguably so much more exciting than just picking up the distillery releases.

An Adelphi bottling, this 19 year old was distilled in ’96, yielding up 214 bottles.  Elementary deduction (olfactory profile, small outturn, pale gold shade, etc) tells us this one was either a bourbon barrel or a hoggy.  I’d think maybe the latter.  Either way…it’s naked and lovely – though out of character in some respects.  The downhome farmyard notes are much more reminiscent of moderately peated Bruichladdich (sans the butyric note) or, from the mainland, BenRiach’s mature peated offerings.  Neato.

Fun one to try.  Not sure where you can find this one (if at all anymore), but I would recommend.

Thanks again, Cam.  Appreciate the kind share!

Nose:  Peppery and barnyard-ish.  Dry and dusty.  Seafood platters.  Oceanside.  Aromas of walking through long dry grass.  Or maybe hayfields.  A tangy BBQ note develops over time, but it’s quite timid.  Quite faint on the Bowmore-ness I was expecting (and hoping for).  Black current cough sweets.  A touch of rubber.  Yeah…peat and smoke.  But faint.

Palate:  There we go.  More Bowmore now.  Still farmy.  Dry, ashy notes.  Salt water.  Dried berries.  Jammy notes.  Rubber and anise.  Smoke.  Very juicy here.  Nowhere near as dry as the nose seems.  Gooey toffee.  Some chocolate or fudge.  Or chocolate fudge.  Grape juice.

Thoughts:  May be the farmiest Bowmore I’ve ever nosed.  Great palate.  A grower and changer.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:40 am
Mar 152016
 

Bowmore The Devil’s Casks Small Batch Release II 10 y.o.IMG_1205

56.3% abv

Score: 89/100

 

We probably all know the story of Islay’s ’round church’ by now, aye?  Also known as the Kilarrow Parish Church, this place of worship was designed to a circular footprint, theoretically leaving no corner in which the devil could hide.  Hmmm.  Ok then.

The marketing people behind Bowmore couldn’t possibly leave a tale this rich unexploited (and let’s face it…nor would I).  They expounded upon this fragmentary bit of lore, insisting that the devil had indeed been discovered in the church, from whence he was driven by the native Ileachs, running directly down the hill and through the gates of the Bowmore distillery, before sealing himself in a cask of single malt whisky bound for the mainland.

Clever gimmickry aside – and this is certainly that – I have to admit that the story isn’t the only great thing about this whisky.  The malt is actually quite spectacular.  If I’d have gotten ’round to tackling this review sooner, I’d also have lauded the brand for pairing their pitch with an age statement.  The first and second releases of the Devil’s Casks were 10 year olds.  Unfortunately – knuckling under to exactly what NAS opponents fear-  after establishing a brand with a rabid following Suntory yanked the numbers off the bottle, jacked the prices sky high and hope we’ll simply accept this expression as yet another entry in the parade of NAS deceivers that continue marching past in this age of immediate financial gratification over long term reputation tarnishing.

Needless to say, I’m now on record as saying grab the first or second if you can find them, skip the third.  On principle, if nothing else.

But let’s get back on topic.  This particular 10 year old heavily-sherried beast is a monster.  A beautiful monster.  Sweet jammy fruit notes smash headlong into the oceanic peatiness we crave from Islay’s shores.  The result is intoxicating (beyond the physical effects).  This and the Laimrig (great bedfellows for side-by-side sipping sessions, I might add) should be the distillery’s focal point going forward.  Hey, if Ardbeg can pitch Uigeadail and Corryvreckan as core range stalwarts, why can’t Bowmore do likewise with hefty cask-strength offerings?

As I’ve said before, Bowmore is killing it with their current run of releases.  Perhaps the talents of Ms. Rachel Barrie at work?  Who knows.  Lovin’ it either way.

Nose: Lots and lots of sherry.  Wow.  Raspberry, strawberry, mint, pepper and smoke.  Immediately enamouring.  Damp hay and ocean breeze.  Milk chocolate.   A fair bit of iodine.  Both meaty and spicy.  Dark and oily.  Wet soil.

Palate:  Big, big arrival.  And very sweet.  Smoky and ashy.  Mixed berry jam on burnt toast.  Salty and coastal.  Dries a little, letting the barley step forward a bit from behind the peat and sherry.  Black Forest cake.  Tea.  Some licorice and plum. Leaves behind big smoky, tarry ropes of apple and barley sweetness.

Thoughts:  This is one of the best contemporary 10 year old malts I’ve ever encountered.  Vibrant and full of life.

Thanks to my mate, Mike M, for sharing this one.  Enjoyed the hell out of it.  Cheers, Mike!

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:01 am
Mar 072016
 

Bowmore Laimrig 15 y.o. (2014)135

54.1% abv

Score: 90/100

 

Oops.  Just discovered that I’d somehow missed publishing this one.  Thankfully I had saved a hefty sample from one of the bottles that got drained ’round here.  Yes, bottles.  This is a great malt for sharing and showing off the incredible strides Bowmore has made in recent years.

Longtime readers will know that in earlier years I had a bit of a ‘hit and miss’ (read: mostly miss) relationship with Bowmore.  Too many floral notes.  Happy to report, as I have before, that Bowmore seems to have sorted all that out and moved more into fruits than flowers.  Their recent sherried expressions are absolutely top notch.

I should note before diving into tasting notes that Laimrig seems to be a little drier and richer in spice and chocolate now than earlier batches, which were all jams and macerated fruits.  Don’t get me wrong, this is still a sweetie of a malt, but if you had a chance to try the earliest edition or two…wow.  I wouldn’t call this slippage; just a slightly different cask composition.  And the age statement remains, which we love.

I’ll be buying this indefinitely.  Great malt from Islay’s oldest distillery.

Nose: Chocolate and deep dark caramel.  Jammy, rich fruit notes.  Smoke.  Deep on the spice, nicely integrated though.  Smoky grape juice.  There’s something a little softer and creamier here than expected too.  Some sort of candy.  Chocolate cake.

Palate: Good.  Really good.  Not as great as earlier editions, but unquestionably top 5 for me in terms of 15 year olds.  Arrives rather dry, but turns mouthwatering.  Lots of smoke.  Fisherman’s Friend cough drops.  Rubber and earthy notes.  Finishes on smoked apple skins.

Thoughts:  Brilliant smoky and sweet collision.  Bottled at a great age.  One of my favorite affordable standard releases going.

 

– Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:14 am
Apr 152015
 

Bowmore 25 y.o. Small Batch Release044

43% abv

Score:  83/100

 

It’s disheartening to find a 25 year old with so little character and soul.  A quarter century malt from an iconic distillery should be teeming with personality and have a niche all its own.  Sadly that’s not really the case here.  This is Bowmore without really being Bowmore.  Hard to believe an Islay distillery can be so utterly tame (without being named Bunnahabhain, that is).

Let’s pause a sec, though, and talk about expectations.  While I try to score a whisky based solely on an ‘as objective as possible’ basis, I can’t help but assess a whisky by holding it up against other expressions produced by the distillery.  This is where experience comes into play.  At the time of writing I have tried just shy of 50 different Bowmores that I know of (probably even more that I haven’t kept track of).  These run the gambit from new make spirit through the stunning old ’60s releases.  I’ve tried it straight from the cask and drunk it right at the source.  I like to think I know Bowmore from the earlier fruit bombs to the later perfumes.  Interesting enough…this whisky is not only neither of those; it’s almost unrecognizable as Bowmore.

Ok…so long as the whisky is good.  And good enough to justify that multi-hundred dollar price tag.  But here’s the rub; it’s not, really.  This is merely an ok outing for Bowmore.  Seems like it was matured in maybe third fill barrels (though I’m sure that wouldn’t really be the case).  Very little real distillery character.  And as for living up to the cost?  No way.

Hit up the 18.  I think at this point it’s a bit more of a safe bet.  Or better yet…the 15 year old Laimrig.  Now there’s a stunner.

Nose:  Flinty nip of wet rock.  Wine gums.  Smoke and peat.  Seawater.  Grape and a touch of grapefruit.  A tangy green note.  Some caramel.  Grains are still pretty prevalent.  A faint whiff of that lavendar aroma we’ve sorta come to (unfortunately) expect.  Slightly disappointing, to be honest.

Palate:  Dry smoke.  Wine-y.  Citrus pith.  Grains.  Wow…where is all of the fruitiness that should be bursting out of a 25 year old peat-er?  Dry.  Almost industrial.  A faint seafood note too.

Thoughts:  No bad whisky. No FWP.  No overwhelming lavendar.  But also none of what made older Bowmore so special.  Just a so-so malt.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:24 am
Mar 032015
 

Bowmore 18 y.o.034

43% abv

Score:  88/100

 

Well, well, well. This was a pleasant surprise, to say the least. The past few bottles of Bowmore 18 I’ve bumped heads with have been grossly underwhelming. And no, sorry…I’ve not kept track of bottle codes, batches or years of those particular incarnations. Suffice it to say that this bottle is definitely much more in my wheelhouse. Much more harmonious and multi-dimensional.

The biggest criticisms I’ve levied at Bowmore have been reserved for the period of production that encapsulated most of the 1980s and 90s and which seemed to carry an overwhelming floral edge to it. I’ve heard it referred to as a hint of lavender or lilac, but either way…it was a departure from the smoked fruits that once made Bowmore so magical in the eyes of many of my mates and I. Fortunately, recent iterations seem to be veering back towards those less perfumed profiles that balance a sweet tang and deep, smoky complexity.

I think it might actually be worth digging a little deeper into this Bowmore phenomenon of fruit versus floral, but that’s a piece for another day. For now let’s be content just curling up with a seductive and smoky whisky from Islay’s oldest distillery.

Bowmore sits pretty much middle of the pack in terms of peating levels of the island’s malts; much bolder than Bunna or Laddie (standard releases at least), but lacking the bombast of others such as Ardbeg, Laphroaig or Lagavulin. I believe the oft-quoted phenol levels for Bowmore are around 25 ppm. It should be noted that when we talk about peaty ppm, we’re almost always referring to the phenolic levels in the malted barley prior to distillation. Phenols are rarely measured in the glass after distillation and maturation.

Bowmore 18 boasts pretty much what I’d expect in terms of profile for a mature Islay malt (well…this bottling does anyway). And by that I mean a receding – yet omnipresent and held-in-check – smokiness and an abundance of emerging sweet fruity notes. This is oceanside campfires, seaspray and grape juice. I’m guessing this is a marriage of bourbon and sherry barrels. Nice blending here. If only it were stronger in terms of bottling strength.

Overall, a much improved Bowmore 18, and more in line with the jammy fruits that characterize recent sherried Bowmore releases like Laimrig and the Maltman’s Selection. And to say it again…thankfully a departure from the florals. Nice to see this one coming back to something like its former glory. A ‘most improved’ candidate, to be sure.

Nose:  Smoky grape juice.  A sweet citrus note.  The tiniest hint of sweet BBQ sauce.  A hint of licorice and coffee.  Somewhat jammy (raspberry-ish?).  A nice rising fruitiness and ebbing peat.  Good balance, and better than I remember this one being.  How ’bout a concoction of cola with a drop or two of both cherry and vanilla and a light dusting of pepper.  Yep.

Palate:  A great smoky, jammy note right up front.  A hefty dollop of peat (more than expected and more than the nose belies).  Some orange.  Anise.  Slightly medicinal.  Leaves a drying, wet rock feeling.  Nice mix of fruit and smoke.

Thoughts:  A little closer to the Bowmore of old, and I like that.  A LOT.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 3:12 pm
Dec 242014
 

Secret Spirits Advent Calendar Day 24 – December 24th103

1999 Bowmore 14 y.o. (A.D. Rattray)

Cask #2261 Sherry

58.3% abv

Score:  88.5/100

 

A whisky from the Secret Spirits Advent Calendar First Edition.

We’ve had some approximation of Islay whisky in a couple of the calendar’s cubbies, but until now we’ve not yet tackled a true ‘named’ Islay distillery.  Seeing as how A.D. Rattray is one of the independent bottlers behind the Secret Spirits advent calendar, Bowmore is actually a very logical jumping off point. Logical, that is, if you’re aware that the current owner of A.D. Rattray is Tim Morrison, formerly top dawg of Morrison Bowmore.  Tim’s stash of casks (likely largely built of gracefully maturing Bowmore, I’d guess) is supposedly a thing of legend.

Bowmore itself is arguably Islay’s most iconic distillery.  It sits along the shores of Loch Indaal, where the Atlantic waves batter the whitewashed walls of the warehouses (apologies for the unintentional alliteration).  This distillery is responsible for some of my favorite and most coveted whiskies of all time.  The more I investigate the depth and breadth of Bowmore, the further I fall in love with it.  Much magic happened here in ages past, and I sort of think we’re heading back in that direction, if recent releases are any indication.  Hopefully they’re hoarding away some glorious old stocks for future years.

For those that may be new(ish) to Bowmore, don’t expect the profile of this A.D. Rattray expression to carry through in most of their distillery bottlings.  This is a bit of a one-off.  Sure, the fingerprints may give hints that lead us to Bowmore if we’re up to spending some time sussing out the nuances in here, but the whisky at a glance could be mistaken for almost any one of the other producers on the island.

That doesn’t even matter though.  All that does matter is that we have another bruising beauty of a malt to curl up with on Christmas eve.  This is unquestionably a ‘fireplace dram’.

Nose:  Dusty.  Ash, peat and smoke.  Caramel.  Flinty or slate-like.  Medicinal, iodine smells.  Sweetened and softened by sherry, but not overpowered at all.  Peat is still driving.  Lemon juice on shellfish.  Saltwater.  Wet hay.  Quite sweet, oily and syrupy.

Palate:  Salt and peppery.  A lot of smoke.  Like whole oysters thrown on an open fire.  Some tar and caramel apples.  Oceanic seaside notes.  Smoldering hay.  Granny Smith apples.  Vague reminders of Port Charlotte (without the butyric note) and Laphroaig (without the overly earthy medicinal note).

Thoughts:  Tough one to reconcile as a Bowmore, but a hell of a whisky.  This had to have been second or third fill casking.

Bonus:  My mate, Jonathan, and I are gonna blog on these drams side by side through the season.  Here’s a link to his notes on the same whisky at SingleMalting.com.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 4:19 pm
Nov 242014
 

Islay2 443Bowmore Springtide

54.9% abv

Score:  88/100

 

Another whisky I tried for the first time on Islay around two years ago, give or take. 

A handful of sodden reprobates and I had just finished an unforgettable experience down in the No. 1 vaults beneath the distillery.  We were wrapping up the ‘Craftsman’s Tour’ with a couple bonus drams up in the Bowmore lounge overlooking the shores of Loch Indaal.  It was a sort of ‘pick your poison, boys’ kind of affair led by our wonderful guide Heather.  Among many other malts sampled that afternoon, this was foremost among my choices.  Not gonna lie…we were already more than a couple drams deep – a few of which were drunk directly from the cask – so I can’t promise that my senses were in any condition to properly assess the inherent quality of the malt at the time, but do I recall not being willing to drop the ~£100-150 (or whatever it was) to bring home a bottle.  That tells me I didn’t think it was all that exceptional.

And to be honest with you…I still don’t.  It is, however, an awful lot better than I recall from that intense dramming session.  That may sound like damning with faint praise, but that would be selling the whisky short.  This is actually very good stuff.  When the opportunity presented itself to revisit this oddball limited edition Bowmore (via the generous offer of a couple of friends of mine*) I leapt at it.  Sitting down with the glass once again was like being yanked back to that moment in time.  A tired group of friends…our last day on Islay…our last distillery tour on the island…and an unforgettable piece of my ‘whisky life’. 

Springtide was so named for the period when the earth, sun and moon are aligned.  Apparently that is the window in which this whisky was distilled.  I’m not sure what significance we’re supposed to believe that that concept has for this NAS Oloroso sherry cask-matured malt, but I guess we’ll concede points for originality (if not clarity and forthcomingness in marketing.  Ahem…age statement, anyone?).   

All gimmicky and shit, for sure, but still tasty.  Worth trying if you can find it.

Nose:  Sweet smoked dry fruit.  Grapes.  Sunflower seeds.  Oily.  A wee bit of tar, ash and rubber.  A tangy meatiness.  Stirfry sauce.  Citrus.  Tobacco and dried cherries.  Eucalyptus.  Some chocolate and salt taffee.  Florals emerge late and almost ghost-like.

Palate:  Spiced chocolate sauce and lapsang souchong tea.  Rum-soaked fruitcake.  Leaves quite a taste of smoke and grape skins in the mouth.  Or maybe plum skins.  Medicinal in a fruity cough syrup kinda way.  This is heavy sherry and moderate smoke.  Neat.

Thoughts:  May not be to everyone’s liking, but it works a treat for me.

*Thanks to Greg and Jarka Winters for the opportunity to try this one again.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 4:00 pm