...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Bowmore 14 year old 2001 Hepburn's Choice for K&L Wine Merchants

(Bowmore cluster homepage)

As you can see in the pic below, this is one of those "refill butts" that produced a whisky darker than many first-fill sherry butts. It's magic, I guess. This whisky has the tough job of following Wednesday's excellent sherry cask Maltbarn release from the same vintage. Good luck, whisky!

Distillery: Bowmore
Owner: Beam Suntory
Region: Islay
Independent Bottler: Hunter Laing
Label: Hepburn's Choice
Exclusive to: K&L Wine Merchants
Age: 14 years (2001 - 2016)
Maturation: refill butt
Outturn: 420 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 54.4%
(from a bottle split)


The nose shows more salt and minerals than actual peat. Plenty of fresh sage too. But it's the blend of blueberry jam, clover honey, demerara syrup and orange peel that tends to dominate. It gets funkier and peatier once reduced to 46%abv. Its mix of ocean side and boat dock reads like Port Ellen Lite, which is not the worst thing. Mild notes of baked apples and toasted oak provide some depth.

The palate begins very herbal with lots of fresh sage and rosemary, with strawberry jam and honey sitting in the background. It takes 20-30 minutes for the peat to show up, arriving then as wood smoke. A hint of bitterness appears with time, then improves once the whisky is diluted to 46%abv. It's still plenty sweet, but balanced by lots of salt and heavier smoke.

Curiously, the peat appears first in the finish, all ash and kiln. It has the palate's strawberry jam and a pinch of tannin. At 46%abv, the whisky finishes saltier and less sweet, with sage smudge in the background.


Another very good 2001 Bowmore, though this one has its own style, and improves significantly with air and dilution. This would have been a fun bottle to have. 60mL changed so much in a Glencairn in one hour, who knows how it would have transformed in a bottle over a few months. Trying to track the characteristics of all these Bowmores will likely turn out to be foolish, but Foolish is my middle name. Or at least I think that's what the F stands for.

One more 2001 Bowmore on Monday...

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - $82.99 back in 2016/2017
Rating - 88 (with water)

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Bowmore 11 year old 2001 Maltbarn, No. 09

(Bowmore cluster homepage)

According to my records, I tried this whisky already and gave it a score of 86. But as you know, if something isn't shared publicly then it never happened. THANKFULLY, Mr. Opinions shared a sample of the bottle he opened for his recent twenty-first birthday (congrats, Kiddo!). He liked the whisky way more than 91-points-worth. So it's time to find out how wrong I was, publicly.

Distillery: Bowmore
Owner: Beam Suntory
Region: Islay
Independent Bottler: Maltbarn
Age: 11 years old (2001 - 2012)
Maturation: sherry butt
Cask numberNo. 09
Outturn: 175 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 53.6%
(thank you to My Annoying Opinions for the sample!)


The nose starts out with seaweedy peat, candied pecans and nutmeg, while nectarines and green plums float through the background. Its seaweed character strengthens with time, while new notes of sandalwood and manuka honey arise. Once the whisky is reduced to 46%abv, the peat and fruit (key limes and yuzu) expand, with hints of iodine and band-aids lingering in the back.

The palate begins a bit sweeter than expected, loaded with clover honey. The sweetness recedes into a mix of coastal peat, industrial smoke, cayenne pepper and limes. At 46%abv it's full of ultra tart citrus and salty peat, and just a little bit of dates.

It finishes with a subtle honeyed pastry note, limes, coal smoke and ocean brine. The coal smoke remains at 46%abv, while clementines replace the limes.


This is indeed great whisky, and it makes me miss my retired bottle of 2001 Bowmore from Cadenhead. They're different whiskies but both of high quality. This Bowmore's sherry cask had very little influence on the whisky, which works in its favor, letting the Bowmore goodness thrive. I hope more of this cluster's numerous sherry casks play as nicely. It'd be a shame to cover up this style.

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 89

Monday, November 22, 2021

Bowmore 10 year old 2002 AD Rattray, cask 20102

(Bowmore cluster homepage)

Ah, look at the color of that whisky below! 💛 That hue announces, "This is the perfect place to start the main part of the Bowmore Cluster." In so many words. And it marks a good contrast to Friday's Bowmore.

I'm also a really big fan of AD Rattray's Bowmore casks, and more of their Bowmores will appear in this cluster. Cask 20102 interests me because it has received a handful of Whiskybase scores that are lower than I'd expect for a Rattray Bowmore. When I first started this blog, I found AD Rattray (aka A. Dewar Rattray) to be one of the most reliable indie bottlers. That feeling has been reversed over the past four years. So, could they have messed up a Bowmore?!?!?!

Distillery: Bowmore
Owner: Beam Suntory
Region: Islay
Independent Bottler: A.D. Rattray
Series: Spirits of the Sea
Exclusive to: Ambrosius Whisky Club
Age: 10 years old (March 2002 - August 2012)
Maturation: ???
Cask number: 20102
Outturn: 116 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 60.7%
(from a purchased sample)


The nose takes a while to wake up. The phenolics register first: machine shop, mild coastal peat and next-day joint ash. Confectioner's sugar, angel food cake and a hint of vanilla appear later. We get even closer to the spirit, once the abv is dropped to 46%, with oats, shredded wheat, mild peat and smoked salmon.

Closer to new make here on the palate. It starts with pears, grass, grassy peat and a tiny bit of sweetness. It's plenty tart (lots of limes), and gains a salty coastal note with time. Sweet apples, green grapes and mint appear at 46%abv. The grassy, leafy peat note builds gradually.

It finishes sweet, tart and mildly peaty, becoming more metallic and briny in later sips. Sweet pears, tart apples and salty peat arrive when the whisky is diluted to 46%abv.


Unless surprises await later on down the cluster, this 2002 will be the closest I'll ever get to trying Bowmore's new make. So I like it much more than did the Whiskybase members. Unlike so many current single-digit-age single malts, this is a whisky I'd actually want to consume semi-regularly. One could enjoy it at the beach, in the forest, in the shower -- he says, pretending like he drinks anywhere other than on The Whisky Chair. The whisky color told the truth, and Rattray didn't screw this one up.

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 85

Friday, November 19, 2021

Bowmore The Devil's Casks, Release III

(Bowmore cluster homepage)

My memories of pre-parenthood life are either slippery, fading or false, but I remember very clearly the release of the first batch of The Devil's Casks back in 2013. All the bloggers were rushing to review it, and I was in my #SherrySux phase. That had to have been the first and last time a non-ancient official Bowmore release lit up whisky geekdom.

Both Release I and II came from first-fill unspecified sherry casks, and were 10 years old. The second batch didn't receive as much digital ink in 2014 but it did sell through swiftly. Release III arrived right in the middle of the NAS Age, in 2015. Though it did indeed drop its age statement, it gained this description on its label, "A marriage of first fill Oloroso & Pedro Ximénez sherry casks."

Though I exited my #SherrySux phase more than a half decade ago, I have never tried any of the Devil's Casks releases until right now. So I enter this experience with a comfy lack of perspective.

I filtered the devil out of (or into) this pic

Distillery: Bowmore
Owner: Beam Suntory
Region: Islay
Series: The Devil's Casks
Age: probably less than 10 years old
Maturation: first fill Oloroso & Pedro Ximénez sherry casks
Release: III (2015)
Outturn: "Limited"
Alcohol by Volume: 56.7%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? Maybe
(from a bottle split)


The nose wallops. First up: seaweed, tar, burnt plastic and cherry jam. Then orange oil, black licorice and a whiff of steel wool. All those elements feel well-married once the whisky is reduced to 46%abv, possibly even better than at full strength, at first. Gradually the smoke recedes and the sugary notes — now bolstered by honey — move forward.

The palate begins with lots of heat, wood smoke, raisins and cassis. Burlap and charcoal appear by the third sip, followed by a ripple of cayenne pepper. It gets earthier with time. At 46%abv, the smoke moves to the fore, unlike the nose. A bit of an industrial note shows up too. There's also more bitterness, which is partially cask driven, but it kind of works with the overall violence.

It finishes very peppery (think pink peppercorns and cayenne), with a mix of coal smoke and cassis. Some mint leaf and bitterness, too. Eventually it's all smoke. The peat and casks get dirtier when the whisky's at 46%abv. Maybe a bit of orange zest around the edges.


Bowmore went for power over nuance here. Subtlety and complexity have been traded in for BOOM. In fact this could have been an interesting competitor to contemporary Ardbeg Uigeadail, had Bowmore made this an annual release.

But there was no Release IV, which is kind of a shame. Yeah, the distillery released an "Inspired by the Devil’s Casks" thingamabob for a couple of years, but that was diluted. A regular thunderous sherry cask release would have only helped their official range. Extra-dark cask-driven whiskies are all the rage with the newbs nowadays (or always?), so The Devil's Casks would continue to separate people from their money. Plus Bowmore had the sexy name all queued up.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - no, you really don't want to know
Rating - 86

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Bowmore 17 year old (bottled ~2007)

(Bowmore cluster homepage)

2007 appears to have been the end of the road for Bowmore's official 17 year old, as it was replaced by the 18yo that same year. The 17yo seems to have had broad batch variation, with Serge giving the 1995 a score of 84, and the 2000 edition a 65. The LAWS dudes rated it everywhere from F to B+. Could the Hatey Eighties be the culprit?

With this particular bottling, with the then-new label style, likely occurring in early 2007, there may be plenty of '80s spirit in the bottle. But using The Maths, I calculate 1990 being present in the mix. I've found neither soap nor perfume in the 1990 Bowmores I've tried. So perhaps it'll be better than yesterday's 1982?

Distillery: Bowmore
Owner: Beam Suntory
Region: Islay
Age: at least 17 years
Maturation: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? Yes
Caramel Colorant? Yes, it is very orange
(from a bottle split)


The nose ping-pongs all over the place. Charred beef, Worcestershire sauce, roses, weed, white chocolate, brown butter, and a hell of an alcohol burn for 43%abv. It does pick up a cleaner coastal / seaweed note after 45 minutes.

The palate is......Ash and violet liqueur. Apple cider vinegar, lemon candy and notebook paper. At the same time the nose improves, the palate descends into chemicals, metals and burnt hair.

It finishes even ashier than the palate. The vinegar note is more generic white than apple cider. If the bitter metallic foreground and saccharine midground weren't bad enough, there's some dish detergent in the background.


Was this just the dregs in the bottom of the 17yo vat? I can't picture any blender with tastebuds saying, "Yeah that's exactly what we're going for," after sipping this stuff. There's no through line, no cohesion, no thought in the whisky. It's just a variety of reject casks dumped into a dirty bin, and suck siphoned into bottles that were laying around, because money. I hope this is the worst of the cluster.

Availability - No
Pricing - No
Rating - 67

Monday, November 15, 2021

The Bowmore Cluster

Welcome to the final cluster of 2021! Before you get all excited by the prospect of me drinking 1960s Bowmore, I will not be drinking 1960s Bowmore. Or even 1970s Bowmore. Instead, this grouping will mostly contain post-1990 Bowmore distillate. Not only is this era more relevant to the whisky world, but it's all I have!

Bowmore was the most-reviewed single malt on this site during my first three years of whisky posts. At the time, their West Coast distributor rep was (and still is) a great fellow to chat and drink with. He held lots of local events and I probably attended them all. The single malt scene was much more fun in those days, and the whisky was cheaper! So even if an event's distillery wasn't my favorite, I went anyway. (Psst, I even went to one official Macallan event. But don't tell anyone.)

Official Bowmore was my gateway to independent Bowmore. But once I went indie Bow, I never went back. The gap in quality and style between Bowmore's official and independent releases is wider than any other distillery, in my experience. Official Bowmore is filtered, colored and aggressively diluted, resulting in a thin, light Islay whisky. There are many ways to produce a flavorful peated single malt without turning it into "Laphroaig" or "Ardbeg", but Bowmore distillery and its various master distillers/blenders have chosen not to do so, which is something I do not understand.

from Barnard's The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom

Only five of this cluster's 19 whiskies will be official bottlings. The rest are from independent companies. The first three Bowmores are a little out of place from the rest of the group, which is why I'm squeezing them into this first week. After that, I'll start with 2002 distillate and then move backwards until reaching 1991. I'll try to keep track of the various styles I come across to see what, if anything, ties the whiskies together.

So get comfy, I'm about to drink a lot of Bowmores. You're always welcome to do the same, responsibly!


1. Bowmore 21 year old 1982 Prime Malt Selection - A nice lack of oak, but soapy.
2. Bowmore 17 year old, bottled around 2007 - "...no through line, no cohesion, no thought......just a variety of reject casks dumped into a dirty bin..."
3. Bowmore The Devil's Casks, Release III - "Subtlety and complexity have been traded in for BOOM."
4. Bowmore 10 year old 2002 AD Rattray, cask 20102 - "...the closest I'll ever get to trying Bowmore's new make."
5. Bowmore 11 year old 2001 Maltbarn, No. 09 - "...sherry cask had very little influence on the whisky, which works in its favor, letting the Bowmore goodness thrive."
Cluster midpoint
Cluster conclusion

Bowmore 21 year old 1982 Prime Malt Selection (re-review)

(Bowmore cluster homepage)

As mentioned in the Bowmore cluster introduction, the group's first three whiskies don't quite fit in with the rest of the theme. Batting leadoff...

I first reviewed today's whisky eight(!) years ago. Looking at those notes, I can't help but feel like I was being exceedingly kind about a flawed whisky. This whisky was distilled during Bowmore's most problematic decade, a period about which a certain epithet has been often assigned. It's time to find out if soap or perfume (or both!) live in this bottle, or perhaps just whisky.

Owner: Beam Suntory
Region: Islay
Independent Bottler: Duncan Taylor
Range: Prime Malt Selection
Age: at least 21 years (1982 - ????)
Maturation: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
(from a bottle split)


It has a bright, colorful nose, with citronella, cucumber, and fresh herbs like rosemary and thyme. One can also find pine sap and a peated white chocolate. And, yes, there is plenty of Dove soap to go around.

The palate is (per my written notes), "sweet, bitter, peaty, weird and vaguely fruity" at first. The peat gets sootier and the fruit becomes tarter with time. There are some hints of butterscotch in the background. But there's so much detergent in the mix, and it doesn't fade away after an hour. Though violets start to grow.

The finish matches the palate for the most part, with more focus on bitterness and tartness. It gets sweeter with time, and the soap note becomes slightly less intense.


I can take lavender and violets in my whisky. Maybe even a shpritz of gaudy perfume. But I do not enjoy soap in my mouth. I am not a bad boy. Today. And this whisky has soap. I avoided adding water because my more upbeat review from 2013 says this stuff gets "sudsy" when diluted. That is not a sign of a successfully-produced spirit.

Though the nose is not a "top 20" as it was back in 2013, and isn't even a Top 200, it is unique and very enjoyable. With its palate's bitterness leaning towards the herbal side, the whisky shows a nice lack of oak. Having a bunch of tannins collide with dish detergent would not have helped matters. Still, I don't need to try this a third time.

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 76 (neat only)