Bowmore 1996/2014 “Aniseed Pastille” (46%, Wemyss Malts, Single Cask Release, Hogshead, 344 bottles)

This is not the first Wemyss bottling on Master Quill, but it is definitely the second and most certainly not the last. In the previous review I mentioned something about William Wemyss, so I won’t repeat that here.

Wemyss Malts (Edinburgh) was established in 2005 by William, who previously made a name for the Wemyss family in the wine business, producing Fonty’s Pool (Western Australia) and Rimauresq (Provence, France). Wemyss is Scottish and owns land where in the early 19th century John Haig’s first distillery, Cameronbridge, was built. Wemyss also grows barley there, that is used by several Scottish Malt Whisky distilleries, so historically the interest in Whisky has always been there.

Wemyss Malts releases vintage single cask Whiskies from many different distilleries as well as a few Blended Malts (since 2005), a Blended Whisky called Lord Elcho (since 2012) and through another company, a Gin (Darnley’s View, since 2010). The single cask bottlings are reduced to 46% and get a “name” in a similar way SMWS uses a flavour descriptor on their Whiskies. In 2013 William entered a new phase in their Whisky-adventure by purchasing the Kingsbarns distillery project at East Newhall Farm in Fife from Douglas Clement, who had problems raising money to fund the building of the distillery. The distillery is managed under Wemyss Distillery Ltd. which is a separate company from Wemyss Malts. Kingsbarns produces spirit since January 2015, so maybe we can expect their first Single Malt very soon. Since it is supposed to be a light and fruity Whisky, I expect it during summer. At first Douglas stayed on as founding director and as manager of the visitor centre. However, Douglas eventually left the distillery by the end of 2016 to ‘pursue other projects’.

Color: Light citrussy gold.

Nose: Big and fresh. This jumps out of my glass, like a young dog, full of life, wanting to lick you in the face. I hope this makes you understand, that this doesn’t smell like a heavy hitting Islay Malt, but a more friendly one. Nice soft peat, with a spiral of smoke rising from our bonfire. Fresh almonds, but it’s not a nutty Whisky. Apart from that, it’s quite citrussy, fresh and thus fruity, hence the friendliness of this Malt. Salty smoked fish with hints of sea-spray. Yes a bit of creamy vanilla, but no real woody notes. Only a tiny bit of wood and an even tinier hint of liquorice. Cigarette ashes? Proper refill hogshead. If smelled longer and more vigorously, I also get some more soft red fruits, ripe raspberry’s come to mind mixed in with some mud and a black pepper edge. Dirty friendly stuff. Smells excellent!

Taste: Sweet on entry. Toffee and runny caramel. Here comes sticky sweetness. Waxy and quite some soft peat. Ashes and slightly tarry. Already suffers a bit from reduction. Orange skins (bitter) and a bit of paper. Nutty notes again, not much though, followed by more smoky notes embedded in the sticky sweetness, giving some sharpness. Paper-like note keeps coming back to me. On the sides of my tongue there is this slight bitter note of aniseed. The power of suggestion? Yes I do get aniseed, but the sweetness is different. Not the dry, hard sugar of the pastilles, but rather soft toffee. Otherwise, I find this Bowmore a wee bit too simple in the taste department. Lacks development as well. It doesn’t have a long finish, nor a lot of aftertaste, which is built around sweetness and smoke (and secretly some black fruits I love in Bowmore), but where is the wood? Again, easy to drink, but a bit too simple. Depending on your day, because you, the taster, are far from being objective, the bitterness shifts in or out of focus. The second time around I tasted this for this review, on another day, I found it to be more bitter than the first time around (more fruity). Isn’t that complexity?

Comparing this Wemyss version of Bowmore, to Bowmore’s own take on Bowmore, I decided to do a head-2-head with “White Sands” an official 17yo travel retail Bowmore reduced to an even more un-modern 43% ABV. This bottling comes with the special recommendation of Eddie MacAffer, and yes, the “White Sands” is a bit more special, read: different. First of all it has development on the nose and more depth. More industrial, oily, smoky and burning notes. Brooding and more woody. However, if I had both bottles open at the same time, the Wemyss would be finished sooner…

Points: 85

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Clynelish 1997/2014 “Cayenne Cocoa Bean” (46%, Wemyss Malts, Hogshead, 373 bottles)

You get only one chance to make a first impression, and that is what he did, William Wemyss. Carrying around my bottle of Strathisla I ran into William in London and I offered him a dram. Talking about the Whisky Business in general and Wemyss in particular, he sniffed it for a while, and sniffed it some more, talked a bit, and then…chucked the whole stuff in a spittoon claiming that it was great stuff. He probably had to drive home later or was late for a meeting or something. People around me were shocked a bit, but I know this is how memories are made. Maybe just not right away!

Wemyss is known for naming their Whiskies. The Clynelish I’ll be reviewing today is called Cayenne Cocoa Bean, since it reveals bittersweet cocoa beans mingled with cayenne pepper.

Cayenne Cocoa BeanColor: Somewhere in between white Wine and light gold.

Nose: Sweetish and fruity. Definitely some barley, but also a dry grassy note. The color gave it away a bit, this is from a refill hogshead, so it lacks the in your face vanilla and toasted cask aroma’s. It’s more refined. It has a creamy and fatty element. Vanilla pudding, but it is all very restrained and well-balanced. Fatty not waxy, what it usually the marker for Clynelish. Dusty oak. Dry old vanilla powder. Dried peach and pineapple. Semi sweet black tea. Leavy and hints of a dying out small garden bonfire. Burning off old branches. The sweetness throughout is toffee not sugar. Lovely stuff.

Taste: Nice thick fruit with toffee. The toffee substituting the wax you’d expect to find in a Clynelish. It starts out almost chewy. The whole it held up by a toasted wood note, with the faintest hint of bitterness and tree sap. On entry very good, from the start a lot is happening. After that a mixture of mint, sugar and a small amount of licorice. It is big and holds up. Finish starts prickly, and swiftly whiffs away, only the toffee stays behind as well as some warmth. Medium finish with a warming aftertaste. A good Clynelish and I’m guessing for those of you who didn’t like it as much, the leafy quality is a bit off, and the finish is a bit too short. So it has its flaws and weaknesses. But it has its big aroma and the start is almost spectacular. The body starts well, but breaks down too soon. The finish should be better and the aftertaste has some pineapple but not much more. It is reduced to 46%, and maybe that’s the culprit for the finish and aftertaste. The beginning is great, and for that part of the experience the 46% ABV seems just about right.

I’ve encountered quite a lot of people on festivals who say they don’t like these names. They say it creates a certain expectation and with that they can’t taste it objectively anymore. A very anorak-y statement from people lacking humor? I for one, like the names, it gives them an identity, even though I might not encounter the aroma’s from the name in the Whisky. Everyone tastes differently, depending on time of day, upbringing and associations with tastes. Clynelish is an excellent example. I like Clynelishes just as the next guy, but I always seem to like different Clynelishes. When I was a member of the Malt Maniacs, I really liked a 12yo Clynelish bottled by Adelphi. I didn’t know it was a Clynelish, since it was part of a blind competition we know as the Malt Maniacs Awards. At another blind tasting session, at least a year later, I tasted another wonderful Clynelish, which turned out to be the sister cask of the first Adelphi Clynelish. I mention those since, a lot of people didn’t care for those two Clynelishes. Same with this Wemyss expression. I first encountered it at a Wemyss tasting, led by Ginny, and I absolutely loved it, where most of the public preferred other Wemyss expressions. So never take anyone’s word for it, make up your own mind, although I have to say that all the Clynelishes I mentioned above, were casks picked by Charles MacLean, even this Wemyss one…

I managed to forget the name during the writing process. I did get the bittersweet part, but couldn’t say if it’s from cocoa beans. Definitely didn’t get the cayenne though, but I still like the name. It’s only a name, nothing more.

Points: 85