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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Single Malt Report: Bowmore 20 year old 1991 AD Rattray (Cask 2061)

On Tuesday, I wrote about FWP-era Bowmore and took a brief look at two single malts from that period.  On Wednesday, I explored a third malt a little deeper.  Today, I'll present a fourth malt.  This time it's from the nebulous borderlands of FWP and the so-called improved era that followed.

This whisky was distilled when the Morrison family still held majority ownership of the Bowmore distillery.  After Suntory bought them out, the Morrisons formed the independent bottling company, A.D. Rattray.  Thanks to their connection with the distillery they've been able to secure some casks in the years since.  The A.D. Rattray Bowmores tend to have a good reputation, so I wouldn't doubt the Morrisons knew which were the good casks to pull.

This sample came from a whisky swap I did with Florin almost a year ago.  I was waiting for a good opportunity to spring it, and here it was.

Distillery: Bowmore
Ownership: Suntory (Morrison Bowmore Distillers Ltd. at time of distillation)
Bottler: A.D. Rattray
Age: 20 years (15 July 1991 to 15 September 2011)
Maturation: Sherry cask
Cask: #2061
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 56.2%

The color is reddish mahogany.  After a 25 minute rest, the whisky's nose is full of ripe dark berries and a berry syrup.  There are pencils, golden raisins, and something in the molasses-rum arena.  There's also a peated sherried lavender note that remains in the mid-ground throughout.  There's also a little bit of coastal Islay in there, a salty seaside and band-aid-like phenols.  And far in the distance is a manured lawn.  After about 50 minutes, notes of cologne and menthol arise.  The palate leads with black pepper, burnt seaweed, and barbecued dog hair (sorry, no link Ghostbusters video).  And someone rolled up that lavender and smoked it.  There's some raw horseradish, sweet sherry, and just a whisper of soap.  A lot of char in the finish, like charred sherry if that was a thing.  That soap hint vanishes, leaving ashes of all kinds (wood, paper, peat moss) to linger long.  It's immense.  Sweet sherry and a spliff.

On the nose there's a nice merging of sherry and sweet peat, reminiscent of Uigeadail.  GOOD note of struck matches.  Mint and menthol compliment a bright floral note.  A big brick of peat moss floating in brown sugar syrup.  More char and sherry in the palate.  There's a little (pleasant) bitterness.  The lavender and soap characteristics seem to grow again with added water.  Lots of sherry in the finish.  Flower blossoms (something between lavender and violets). Mild peat char.

This is my favorite of the four.  It's the biggest boldest sherriest Bowmore I've had so far.  The smoke is marbled nicely throughout the palate and finish.  The nose is great again, though very different from yesterday's Bowmore.  Comparatively, there's more Islay aggression here with different fruits and fewer candies.

Now, about that light soap note......Is 1991 still within the FWP-era?  It's a close one.  Originally, I thought that FWP continued into the early '90s, right up until ownership changes in 1993.  Though Serge Valentin shouldn't have the only word on whiskies (remember, we all have our own sensory realities), his site does have the most extensive and detailed (and un-paid) whisky reviews online and I concur with his notes more often than not.  For instance, he has 318 Bowmore reviews at the moment.  Around 115 of those reviews are for 1980-1992 distillations.  Almost all of the '89s have references to perfume and/or soap.  Only 5%-10% of the '90/'91s have such references.  None of the '92s have them.  So, to Serge's refined nostrils and palate, nearly all of the 1990 and 1991 Bowmores were free of the FWP notes.

Did my pre-existing assumptions of FWP dates influence my experience of the soap note?  I don't think so.  I'm not 100% certain, but maybe 99%.  I'll leave that 1% to psychological factors.  The good news is that on a soap scale of 0-9, the note was 2 on the palate and 0 on the finish, while served neatly.

Again, I recommend leaving water out of this one.  Though the whisky is intense when neat, adding water doesn't seem to improve the experience.

Tomorrow I'll do a brief recap -- with fewer words! -- to conclude this FWP voyage.

Availability - This cask is mostly sold out, but can still be found with some snooping
Pricing - was $110-$120, probably a little higher now
Rating - 88


  1. I love this whisky! On analysis I identified most of the notes that you mentioned (but with fewer well chosen words). I love the interplay between the big sherry and the dry, peppery peat - "coastal Islay", I like that! And I love the faint farmy note too! It's not as sweet tonight as I remembered it. This is a big, powerful whisky, yet at the same time the elements play well together and offer themselves for analysis. It hits you like a big wave, not like a big rock, if you will. 4* in my book. Soap not an issue, unless you're looking for it. I'd get another bottle if I could.

    1. This one caught me surprise, in a good way. More of a brute than I expected. I hope Rattray has more good 'uns in their warehouses. Not to play the devil or anything, but if you are tempted to get another one of these I can point you in the right direction. :)

    2. Do tempt me in an email. Although I'm sure it will be more than the $80 or $90 I paid for it a year ago. Binny's used to have it but it seems now extinct.

      The glory of a vague but suggestive construction like "coastal Islay" is that everyone can picture it the way they want! Of course almost all Islay distilleries are coastal, and that includes the generally unpeated Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich. But I was imaging indeed one of the sandy West-coast Islay beaches in the vicinity of Bowmore, roamed by wooly clouds and fluffy sheep...

    3. Oh yes it's definitely more than you'd paid for it last year! I'll email you today.

      That is true, all Islays are basically coastal. My free floating sensory references definitely aimed for what you pictured. Maybe a little seaweed on the shore, some rocks, and an occasional boat. Lots of those fluffy sheep, sharply contrasted against the green grass, watching the wooly clouds float by all day every day.