...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Single Malt Report: Sailing with Bowmore

On Saturday, I sailed the Pacific with Bowmore.  Or rather, we cruised around the Marina (del Rey) while enjoying plentiful pours of Scotch.

We boarded at 1:45pm, departed at 2:15pm, and docked around 5:00pm.  The boat, Zumbrota, was originally built for Charles Ringling (of circus fame), was later owned by Mae West, then spent four years in the Navy.  (Insert here: Naval seamen and Mae West joke)

So anyway, Scotch.

Here's the heart of Bowmore's lineup.
They actually started us with a spin on the Old Fashioned.  To make an old school Old Fashioned, first you muddle sugar, water, and bitters with an orange peel.  Then you hit it with a shot or two of bourbon and (often) some ice.  They made us an Old Fashioned with Bowmore Legend and a considerable amount of Port.

Legend is their youngest, and lowest priced, US release.  It has no official age statement but is a blend of different years of malts.  By itself, it's pleasantly sweet and peaty.

In the drink, the peat and the port mixed nicely.  It tasted mostly of the vegetal peat, dry grapes, cough syrup, and was very bitters-forward.

We were then welcomed by the esteemed Johnnie Mundell, our Bowmore guide for the afternoon.  Johnnie is great, I've been to three of Scotch outings that he's led.  If there's an official Scotch outing for Glen Grant, Glenrothes, or Bowmore, chances are he'll be the ambassador.

Potential! Anticipation! Clean, empty glasses!
You can click here for my original report on the tastings for some of these bottlings.  I'll make note where my notes have changed.

Our tasting kicked into action with Bowmore 12 years old.

It may be due to the fresh air and the ocean, but it tasted brighter and grassier than it had before.  I tasted more wet peat than peat smoke this time.  It was a good pour so I had some time to puzzle over this.  It's a decent mild dram...

It gets an upgrade to 77.

Johnnie gave me the privilege of lighting a large peat nugget, while he showed off the new make spirit (see below).  This is the moonshine-level spirit distilled from the barley before it goes in the barrels.  As you can see from the label, it's almost 70% alcohol.

I did not drink this.
Next they brought out the 15 years old single malt, known as Bowmore Darkest.  It does a minimum of 12 years in bourbon casks, then three years in Oloroso sherry casks.  This long period in the sherry gives it its maple syrup hue.

It has a nice balance of brown sugar and peat fire when appreciated neat.  Maybe some molasses and sherry in the background.  I put some water in it, lowering the ABV to the 32-34% range.  Curiously, the water brought out the smoke notes on the nose and it felt a little drier on the palate.  It finished strong with a lot of creamy sherry.

A bunch of us got into a discussion about flavor preference.  Some folks really prefer the sherry-finished whiskies.  I like them a bit, but my palate seems to be developing a bourbon-finish predilection.  Again this is personal preference, but the sherry seems to work best in combination with a peaty Islay and/or a powerful cask strength.  Makes for a multi-dimensional experience.

The Bowmore Darkest keeps my original 80 rating.

With the tasting rounds, servers brought around some eats: Ahi Sushi in sesame cones, artichoke hearts with lemon aioli, and chicken satay with peanut sauce.  These were all quite good, but their strong flavors could potentially throw off my tasting experience.  So I hit the veggie bar for cucumbers, cauliflower, and pita to keep my palate clear.

Ah, the 18 year.

There's an adjective popular around the British Isles that we never hear in the States.  Moreish.  It means, causing a desire for more.  This 18 year's palate was quite moreish.  It was like the 12 year, but more moreish.  In color it's lighter than the 15 year because it doesn't do all that time in the sherry cask. I likey.  Why?

It smells of cupcakes.  Frosting and cake.  Its palate is full of dried fruits, especially cherries and berries.  The finish was intense, curling light treacle around the senses.

How do I rate this?  It's not a cheap bottle of whisky.  It'll set you back about $100.  Considering that Macallan 18yr is running $130-$150 -- and I'm sure I'll get knived in a dark alley for saying this -- but the Bowmore of similar age is a better dollar-for-whisky deal.  But if Bowmore were to raise the price to $130, I don't know if I'd keep the same stance.  They're very different whiskies:  Speyside vs Islay, Sherry vs Bourbon.  So, I'll give Bowmore 18yr a 84.

Now let's pause for a breath of fresh air:

The boat

The wharf
Sea lions swam with the boat for the entire trip.  FACT: It's because of the whisky.

Now back to our regularly scheduled whisky.

Time for the capper:

The empty bottle.
Yes. I was excited about this.  A 25 years old Islay.  They kept this one hidden from view until the very end.  I made sure I was sobered up when this came along.

DISCLAIMER:  In case Johnnie or anyone else connected to Bowmore looks at the picture below and wonders if the image in front represents four separate 25-year pours consolidated into one glass, all I can say is...

You are imagining things.
I'm never getting invited back, am I?

But I'm going to trumpet this one anyway.  It's like every fruit in existence.  But most intensely, it tastes of fresh cherries just picked from the tree in late May.  The finish is a little nutty, a little dark chocolate, and wonderfully smooth.  It earns its 91 rating.  The burden of this age and quality is the price tag.  If you can find it for under $350, count yourself lucky.

As the sun sets on the whisky, the sun sets on the water.

This was a great experience.  Everyone on board was in good spirits (sorry, having a great time?).  The presentation was fun, the food was good, the price was right, and the whisky worked.  I can't wait until the next one!