...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Bowmore 18 year old, Feis Ile 2020

(Bowmore cluster homepage)

Monday's glorious Feis Ile Bowmore may be this cluster's Whisky to Beat. Like that one, this Bowmore lived in sherry casks for some time, then spent an extra year in bottles when the 2020 festival was cancelled. Its outturn was four times the size of the 2012's thanks to Feis Ile's swelling attendance.

I'm just assuming I'll never attend Feis Ile. That's not due to the crowd of international taters nor the public drunkenness. Rather my 2012 Whisky FOMO developed into Whisky TOMO ("T" = "Thrill") before 2020. Now I get to try things years or decades late!

Anyway, here's some first fill sherry cask Bowmore. Let's see if it can compete with the 2012 release.


Distillery: Bowmore
Owner: Beam Suntory
Region: Islay
Age: at least 18 years
Bottled: 2020
Sold: 2021
Maturation: first-fill Oloroso sherry casks
Outturn: 3000 bottles
Bottled for: Feis Ile 2020
Alcohol by Volume: 51.2%
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

A very different whisky than Monday's 15yo. Peat doesn't take the lead in the nose, instead it starts with anise, butter and Luxardo cherry syrup. Then comes a mineral-like peat, which then takes 20+ minutes to get earthier. Elmer's glue and dates fill in the gaps. Diluting it to 46%abv, makes the nose peatier and more herbal. Chocolate and mint join the dates.

The palate is darker, smokier and pepperier than the nose. Some veg and grass, burnt and unburnt in the midground. Milk chocolate and salt. Fortified wine in the background. Smoke and sweetness are better balanced once the whisky is reduced to 46%abv. It also picks up limes, hay and fennel seed.

Lots of pepper and ash in the finish, with smaller notes of salt and dried berries around the edges. At 46%abv, the finish matches the palate.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

I wasn't shocked to discover that the casks in the 2020 bottling were much more active than those in the 2012. So it goes. Dilution helps this whisky out, putting things in balance, perhaps merging the blend better. There's a chance this would have fared better had it not been paired with Monday's whisky, but perspective is part of the cluster package.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - £300-£500
Rating - 86 (with dilution)

Monday, December 6, 2021

Bowmore 15 year old, Feis Ile 2012

(Bowmore cluster homepage)

This week brings a pair of official Feis Ile limited bottlings to the Bowmore cluster. Neither has a listed vintage but complex maths tell me that they fit into this part of the cluster. Both are of a very dark due, and from sherry casks, so I'm pairing them off against each other. After these, the remainder of the cluster belongs to the indies.

First up, Feis Ile 2012. For that hardy party, Bowmore rolled out two bottlings. One was a 26 year old. I have a sample of the other:

Distillery: Bowmore
Owner: Beam Suntory
Region: Islay
Age: at least 15 years
Bottled: 2012
Maturation: sherry cask(s)
Outturn: 750 bottles
Bottled for: Feis Ile 2012
Alcohol by Volume: 55.4%
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

I could tell you about the nose's nocino and fig notes, but they're far in the background. The real story here is how this Islay whisky smells like 1980s Brooklyn. Hot tar, bus exhaust, tennis balls, tire fires and some odd dumpster funk. I am strangely moved by this sense memory. It loses no power once reduced to 46%abv, but shifts styles a bit. More chalk and earth appear, as so dried stone fruits. Industrial smoke stacks loom largest.

The palate starts with big savory peat, charred beef and charred bell pepper skins. Cruciferous veg and chile oil in the middle, figs and limes in the back. It gets sweeter and figgier at 46%abv. The tart limes remain, as does a little bit chile oil. Plenty of kiln smoke surrounds it.

Peat, salt and savory fill the massive finish. Bits of lime zest, mint leaf and basil leaf add color. Once the whisky is dropped to 46%abv, the finish gets sweeter, simpler and friendlier.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

This whisky stole my heart. Even leaving aside the personal connections, I adore this colossal style that could easily take on the southern Islay trio. Yeah there are sherry casks involved, but they cannot keep up with the powerful spirit. Please Bowmore, lie to me and tell me you have not been drowning casks like this in the 15yo "Darkest" for the past decade and a half.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 91

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Bowmore 18 year old Manzanilla Cask, The Vintner's Trilogy

(Bowmore cluster homepage)

Bowmore's The Vintner's Trilogy was an interesting secondary maturation experiment that started before the single malt market got hot. All three whiskies spent their first 13 years (why 13?) in bourbon barrels before getting re-casked into grapey vessels. The 27 year old, released in 2018, spent 14 years in port casks, and I sincerely hope no '80s distillate made its way into that parcel. The 26 year old, released in 2017, may have been distilled around the same time as the 27, and had a second 13 year experience in French wine barriques. The baby of the bunch was today's 18 year old, which spent five years in Manzanilla casks.

More things:

1. I don't know its actual distillation vintage, but basic math tells me 1999-ish.
2. This is the only one of the trio I wanted to try.
3. This is the only one of the trio I was able to source.

Distillery: Bowmore
Owner: Beam Suntory
Region: Islay
Age: at least 18 years
Bottled: 2017
Maturation: 13 years in bourbon barrels + 5 years in Manzanilla casks
Outturn: ?????
Alcohol by Volume: 52.5%
(from a bottle split)

NOTES

The nose begins well, with pistachios, walnuts and green plums up front, brown sugar and dried apricots in the back. Maybe some anise-loaded digestif as well. It reads more metallic than smoky. Once the whisky is reduced to 46%abv, the brown sugar and fruit move forward, while the nuts back off a smidge. Still, not much peat to be found.

The palate reads much sweeter than Manzanilla. Candied pecans, mint candy and ginger beer start things off. A light, dusty smoke appears next, followed by hints of toffee and toasted oak. At 46%abv, it's all almond brittle, lemons and vanilla bean.

It finishes with lemon and ginger sodas, toasted oak, woodier smoke and marzipan. When diluted to 46%abv, it matches the reduced palate with a hint of ash at the tail.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

Two things were immediately apparent with this Bowmore. Firstly, it was a very easy (though simple) drinker. Secondly, it may be the least peaty Bowmore I've ever tried. The palate was a bit too sweet for my lips, which is weird because Manzanilla ain't no sweetie. Perhaps the casks were heavily charred? The nose was much more interesting and complex, and left me wishing that palate had matched it better. I have a feeling those casks buried some of this whisky's character, including its Islay heart.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - $127.99 back in 2017
Rating - 84

Monday, November 29, 2021

Bowmore 15 year old 2001 Old Particular, cask DL 11658 for K&L Wine Merchants

(Bowmore cluster homepage)

After two great sherry cask 2001 Bowmores, I now present a 2001 Bowmore from a bourbon cask. Though I wish I could do another half dozen of these 2001s, this will indeed be the last one for this cluster. It's another K&L exclusive, bottled by the other half of the Laing family, and it rumbles in at 58.5%abv. I'm game.

Distillery: Bowmore
Owner: Beam Suntory
Region: Islay
Bottler: Douglas Laing
Range: Old Particular
Exclusive to: K&L Wine Merchants
Age: 15 years (October 2001 - April 2017)
Maturation: bourbon barrel
Cask #: DL 11658
Outturn: 185 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 58.5%
(from a bottle split)

Note: Because of the multiple dilutions, these notes will be listed via my old school method. 

NEAT

Whew, the nose comes in raw and vegetal, with lots of grass and weed (ha!). Grain, hot coals and a whiff of citronella candle follow next. It picks up some mild beach and butterscotch notes with time.

The palate begins hot, ashy and bitter. And there's lots of grass and burlap. Meanwhile, lychee and kiwi juices float beneath it all.

Oof, super bitter finish too. Wormwood, lemongrass, eucalyptus and ash. The fruit goes bitterer as well.

DILUTED TO 50%abv

A clearer, richer peat enters the nose, followed by oats, citronella candles and ganja. Hints of tree bark and vanilla bean stay in the background.

The palate reads more pulled together. Less bitter, more zesty tart citrus (or tart citrus zest?). Mild peat and cinnamon syrup fill in the midground.

It finishes with lemon candy, smoke and a hint of lychee.

DILUTED TO 46%abv

The nose shifts back to a rawer style of grains, grasses, kiln and peanuts.

The palate reads very faint for 46%abv, with mild notes of citrus, pepper, lychee, toasted oak and vanilla.

Tarter and bitterer than the palate, the finish still holds onto some vanilla and lemon.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

My nose and palate prefer this at 50%abv. It still reads about half its age, but it's a better focused winter pour at that strength. Though some vanilla snuck into the whisky, the barrel still feels multi-refill-ish. That's no sin, but the other five 2001 Bowmores (three of which were K&L's) I've reviewed here were all pretty damned good. This is merely, "yeah it's good for a couple drinks." I consumed my two pours, and now I'm going to assign a number to a fluid that people worked hard to produce.

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - $89.99 back in 2017
Rating - 83

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)

NOTES

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.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

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!)

NOTES

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.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

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