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Monday, July 20, 2015

Single Malt Report: Bowmore 12 year old 2001 Hepburn's Choice (K&L exclusive)

Today's generalization: With two exceptions, every independently bottled non-FWP Bowmore I've had has been very good.  Now, let me clear away all of the qualifiers in the previous sentence: Independently bottled Bowmores are very reliable.

(Those two mentioned exceptions were reviewed here and here.  Though they were both by David Stirk's Exclusive Malts/Casks, that same company also released an excellent Bowmore when Stirk first brought his whiskies to The States.)

Over the past few years, K&L Wine Merchants have gotten into the indie Bowmore game by picking five or six single casks to sell exclusively through their stores.  Though my previous run-in with one of those exclusive Bowmores wasn't entirely positive, I was still willing to give the others a try.  Luckily two of my whisky pals gave me samples from their bottles of current K&L exclusive Bowmores.

Despite having the same age, vintage, cask size, and price, these two Bowmores are very different from each other.  I'll be reviewing the first one today, the second one tomorrow.

Distillery: Bowmore
Independent Bottler: Hunter Laing
Retailer: K&L Wines
Age: at least 12 years (2001-2014)
Maturation: ex-bourbon refill hogshead
Cask number: ?
Bottle #:  ??? of 266
Region: Islay, Scotland
Alcohol by Volume: 58.4%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
(Thanks to SmokyPeat for the sample!)

Hepburn's Choice is one of Hunter Laing's smaller brands, one that they don't tout on their site.  Their releases are often bottled at 46%abv, uncolored and unchillfiltered.  But the single casks that K&L picked up are bottled at full strength.

Its color is Five Beer Piss, my favorite whisky color!  The nose begins with young, though buttery, malt.  There's vinyl, peat (bog as opposed to smoke), lemons, and fruity Ceylon cinnamon.  Give it some time and find some VapoRub-style menthol.  Then comes an herbal note somewhere between rosemary and thyme.  Perhaps a hint of elephant cage.  The palate is hot and raw, but in a good way.  Lots of smoldering peat; the PPMs feel much larger here than in the nose.  Vanilla, cinnamon, brown sugar, salt, and peppercorns.  It finishes with burnt leaves, burnt pages, and the nose's menthol note.  It gradually picks up some sweetness, salt, very green grassiness, and hint of bitterness.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
This pretties the nose up a little.  More lemons, some orange blossoms and mint.  Less menthol, though the peat bog stays strong.  The palate is softer though saltier.  Still smoky, still sweet.  Gets sweeter with time.  A nice wormwood bitterness floats below.  The finish gets sugarier.  The bitterness and smoke mellow a bit.

More Katherine than Audrey Hepburn, this one.  Though K&L says this was a second-fill hogshead, it feels like a fourth or fifth-fill hoggie.  It seems half its age.  I mean we're almost in Talisker "Speakeasy" territory here.  But like the Speakeasy, it's really solid strong spirit.  One could reasonably argue that it's one-note, but a good note it is.  I'm going to score it a couple points higher than the Speakeasy because it's less of a novelty and more of a whisky one would want to consume on multiple occasions.

I'd say this was a brave pick by the Davids because it isn't exactly a crowd pleaser.  But peatheads should find that it delivers.  As is the case with many indie Bowmores, this one's peat levels feel far larger than those of the official bottlings.  In fact this one's peat strength is reminiscent of the Islay distilleries to the south.  This could be due, again, to the cask's restraint.  The whisky swims very well, so if you find it too booming at full strength, watering it down will help.  But it'll read as a young bold Bowmore no matter what.

Availability - K&L Wines only
Pricing - $79.99
Rating - 86