Bowmore 17yo “White Sands” (43%, OB, for Travel Retail, Bourbon Casks, 2014)

As announced in the previous post about the Bowmore “Deep & Complex”, here is the review for the Bowmore “White Sands”, the top offering from the previous travel retail trio. Where “Deep & Complex” has something to do with Sherry casks, this one is said to have been matured only in Bourbon casks. This 2014 travel retail release is somewhat odd though. Of the three, it is the only one not in a litre bottle, the only one bottled at the higher strength of 43% ABV, and the only one with an age statement. 17yo is also an unusual age, although there used to be a oficial 17yo that was replaced by the 18yo.

Color: Full gold.

Nose: Sweet, syrupy and some very nice, medium strength, smoke. Slightly vegetal, but mostly fruity with sweet orange oil mixed in with sweet, soft peat. Papaya and mango are noticeable too. Hints of cardboard and earwax. Cold black tea. Very accessible. Creamy vanilla and hints of soft oak. It’s almost like sugar-coated oak. I fear caramel coloring is at work here. I’m already getting slightly annoyed, and I haven’t even tasted it yet. I have tasted this bottling before, and on that occasion I found the smoke to be more up-front. That’s important for this bottling since the smoke-bit is really delicious and defining this Whisky (for me). That bottle was half full, by the way, so I’m hoping this only needs some more breathing. (I just opened this bottle). It may very well be from a different batch as well. Letting it breathe right now, already brings out some more wonderful notes from the smoke-department, so I’m confident that if you work this a bit, all will be fine in the end. This will turn out to be a hidden gem, I’m sure. Just let it breathe. Leave the stopper off for a while.

Taste: On entry; sweet (Rum) and waxy. Oak and fruit. Definitely a tad simpler than the nose and most definitely lacking some oomph. This needs at least 46% ABV. Please Bowmore, please. Cereals, soft wood and caramel. Almonds and mango chutney. Milk-chocolate powder. Nesquick. Hints of smoke and some sweet peat. A tiny hint of bitterness from the peat and oak, but not much, not much of that at all. Vanilla, vanilla ice-cream. Soft and creamy. Custard and pudding. You get the picture don’t you? It isn’t hard to taste, this suffers a bit from caramel coloring. Its aromas are glued together, a property of caramel coloring. I wonder what the chill filtration did to this expression? Is the complexity of the nose over the taste a sign of this?

Dangerously drinkable. Talisker Neist Point (a NAS bottling), is another of those peated, dangerously drinkable, travel retail Whiskies. I would love to hate both, since they are obviously flawed, but somehow they turn out better than expected. Never stellar, but good and likeable.

Although this is a good one, it still is one, I feel, has been tampered with. Chill filtered and colored, and as with the other Bowmore, reduced too much. Again a potentially stellar Whisky ruined, (at least in part it is), for the sake of how it looks on the shelves, and how money can be made, at airports. What kind of heartless, soulless people make these kinds of decisions? Do marketeers have so much to say, or are people, like us, who truly like their Whiskies, actually the odd ones out, complaining when we shouldn’t?

I can confidently recommend this Bowmore, I will give you another recommendation as well. Seek out an independent bottling of Bowmore, to find out how Bowmore actually tastes like without the tampering I mentioned.

Points: 86

Highland Park Week – Day 6: Highland Park 17yo 1984/2001 (50%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, 786 bottles)

Two more to go, so alas, we are near the end of yet another Master Quill Week. As we have seen the past few days, here is another independently bottled Highland Park, this time by Douglas Laing. Near the end of the nineties, Douglas Laing started bottling single cask Single Malts, with enormous success. It may very well have been the most successful independent bottler with stellar releases, time after time. Heaps of Brora and Port Ellen come to mind. I guess back then, they were a bigger name, temporarily, than Gordon & MacPhail and maybe Signatory Vintage. If the cask had enough ooomph, the Whisky was reduced to their preferred drinking strength of 50% ABV. It is a good strength. Nobody back then complained about reduction, or that it should have been cask strength only. I loved a lot of their bottlings and bought quite a few of them. Even though the bottle itself is pretty simple, I am a sucker for Whisky in green glass (remember Laphroaig?).

Here we have a 17yo Highland Park with hardly any color. The cask yielded a lot of bottles, so I’m guessing the original Whisky was pretty high in ABV, and came out of a Fino Sherry puncheon (or butt). I’ve tried quite a few Douglas Laing bottlings from Fino Sherry casks, so it shouldn’t be too hard to recognize.

Color: White Wine.

Nose: Very restrained, but right from the start the unmistakable aroma’s of Fino Sherry maturation. As I said, if you had a few, it isn’t too hard to recognize. Fresh sea-spray with a laid back nuttiness. The more it breathes, the nuttier it becomes. Wonderfully elegant and not as big or raw, as Oloroso and PX sherry casks can be, especially in more recent bottlings. This Fino cask didn’t impair a lot of color to the Whisky, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t give off a lot of aroma as well. Well, one thing is for sure, this doesn’t smell like a Whisky from a Bourbon or even some other tired cask. So don’t be fooled. Added to the fresh sea-spray, are some lemony notes. Zesty lemon skins. Perfumy, and ever so slightly floral. Cookie dough. Almond cookies. Hints of toasted cask. Scorched heather maybe? Vegetal, with hints of garden bonfire (but not the smoke). Slightly dusty as well. Extremely balanced, but not hugely complex. Lovely.

Taste: Yeah. Sweet, much sweeter than expected. Lots of Vanilla and nicely creamy and vibrant. Lemons and the flesh of sweet apples, so not thick nor cloying. Where the nose was quite restrained, this isn’t, but on the other hand, the nose had more “Fino” to it. Ice-cream and hardly any wood. For a short while, towards the finish, it has aroma’s from a Belgian Trappist Triple Beer. Also a bit soapy, floral with a tad of bitterness. These three are kept in check rather well, so don’t be disturbed. High quality stuff, and tasting it now it is much nicer and better than I remembered. Last time I tasted this, I still had not acquired the taste for Fino Whiskies, but now I have and I love it! Long finish, as all Whiskies should have and a very nice and warming aftertaste. If I’m honest, this isn’t the most complex stuff around, even though there is enough development in the glass. It is, however, extremely balanced, and I consider this to be high quality stuff, but I might have said that before already.

When I smell this and my mind wanders off, I feel Whiskies today rarely ever have this profile anymore, so it seems Fino casks often end up somewhere else than in Independent bottlings. Maybe the Whisky is different because Sherry casks themselves are more often made from American oak (more vanilla aromas) than European oak (more tannins). American oak makes Sherry creamier and more accessible, friendlier, aiming at a larger consumer base.

I have said it before, and I will say it again. Whiskies from Fino casks maybe are an acquired taste, as it was for me. I wasn’t too fond of the particularities of Fino cask maturation for a long time, but I got it in the end, and I have to say it works wonders with Whisky. I love it. Its like Bourbon cask matured Whisky with a twist, and sometimes quite a large twist, also the difference between Fino bottlings can be enormous.

A nice contrast to yesterdays Signatory offering. The differences couldn’t be greater, even though both come from a “Sherry-cask”. So now you know if you see: “Matured in a Sherry cask” on a label, you still know nothing and have no clue of what to expect…

Points: 87

The Benriach 17yo “Septendecim” (46%, OB, Peated, 2013)

Last summer I already reviewed The 18yo Benriach “Dunder”. A peated Benriach finished in high ester Rum casks. This “Septendecim” is a 17 year old peated Whisky. Well, I may be wrong, but maybe this “Septendecim” is the basis for all those 18yo Limited production’s of late? Up untill now there are already three releases in this series. It started with “Albariza” which was finished in PX Sherry casks, the second was the aforementioned “Dunder” and last month the Benriach “Latada” was released. Again a peated Whisky finished this time in Madeira casks.

The Benriach SeptendecimColor: Gold.

Nose: Fatty, fatty, thick peat. The peat is instantly recognizable from the Dunder I reviewed earlier. Bonfire in the woods. Tiny hints of electrical fire and molten plastic. Sounds terrible, but it doesn’t harm the overall smell, so easy yourself back into your chair. Quite clean and smoky. Kippers, salty and tarry. But it’s not Islay I’m getting. I still get a secondary feeling of a forest. Clairvoyant? Who knows. After some air, the whole gets even more cleaner, smokier and shows hints of citrus. Lemon, not lime. Quite nice. I would have never given this 17 years if I had tasted it blind. Hints of coffee, but not dark roasted stuff, more Cappuccino. Last one to show itself is the wood. Fresh oak.

Taste: Sure, fatty, a bit fruity and obviously peaty, but also much lighter on aromatics. Cold chocolate milk and coffee again. It has some sweetness too, but that is more hidden. Just like the nose, I wouldn’t have given this 17 years. Even at 46% ABV. it doesn’t seem to be heavy on the alcohol, I’m actually amazed how light this actually is. The lightness (and the coffee with milk) makes this dangerously drinkable for a richly peated Malt. I keep wanting more, and want to sip it more. Having said that, It would have been nice to try this one at 50% ABV and see a bit more complexity at this age. Medium finish with a buttery, vanilla and smoky aftertaste.

The “lightness” in the taste made me believe this is the Whisky they use as a basis for the “Limited Production Series”, especially when its 17 years old and that leaves some room for finishing.

Points: 85

Hampden 17yo 1990/2007 (46%, Berry Brothers & Rudd, Jamaica)

Quite nice trying some Rums in a row, something I haven’t done in a while, and I have to admit it, it’s quite a lot of fun. After the white Plantation, and the brown Cockspur 12, let’s try a super premium high ester Rum from Jamaica, bottled by the old Wine and Whisky traders, Berry Brothers & Rudd.

Hampden Distillery from Jamaica is known for heavy pot still Rums a.k.a. high ester Rums. A lot of effort is made in the workings of yeast in the production process using century old fermentors, and of course, they use their own cultured yeasts. Hampden has a reputation to uphold when it comes to this kind of high ester Rum.

Hampden 1990 BBRColor: White wine.

Nose: Highly aromatic. Lots of esters. Extremely funky and dense. I really love Jamaican Rum, and this is exactly why. I recognize the typical Jamaican smell from the Plantation Jamaican Rums. Its thick and chewy. Rum with raisins or raisins full of Rum. It reminds me of a lot of things but I can’t put my finger on it what it exactly is. Christmas cake. Vanilla Ice cream with raisins in it. Reminds me of Napolitanean cassata ice-cream. That’s it. Loads of vanilla and new (bicycle) tires, where do you get that! Great funkiness. After a while a bit dusty. This is reggae in a bottle. Excellent stuff, I need it.

Taste: Sweet (just right for me) and lots of fruity acidity. Which is a great addition that prevents this Rum from becoming too heavy or cloying, what is even worse. So it has a lot of the Jamaican funk, but it is also super fruity. Unbelievable. Heaviness I can deal with, I love it actually, but overly and sugary sweet, nope, not my cup of tea. This Hampden ís my cup of tea. Give me the whole pot! Clean (no, not clean actually) and funky, slightly Industrial. But I like Industrial notes in Rum. You can find it in Caroni from Trinidad, but also in Rum Agricole. Good drinkability at 46% ABV. Lovely stuff. Sipping away at this, the added acidity stand out in the finish, defining it, and sometimes can be too much.

I don’t want to add too much to what I’ve already written above. This is great Rum and I really like this style. For a Jamaican, it could have been dirtier even, and bottled at a higher strength even, but I’m not complaining. this is wonderful stuff, with more than usual fruitiness, and a nice fresh acidity. All that after 17yo! Wow. I can almost cry this isn’t available anymore.

Points: 89

The Balvenie 17yo “Peated Cask” (43%, OB)

Time for another Balvenie, excuse me, “The” Balvenie. Some say it is some kind of middle of the road dram, and yes there may not be a true cask strength version around. Some say you’re foolish for sometimes spending a lot of hard-earned cash on a Whisky that is in no way full of aroma and almost always diluted. Yes sir, we’ll add the water for you and charge you more for it. They might be right but they also might not get it at all, or at least some of the time. Most statements might be true, but that doesn’t mean The Balvenie is a bad Whisky. Far from it. The Balvenie is about delicacies. It is some sort of homeopathic Whisky. Just a tad of wood here, a tad of wood spice there. A splash of Rum wood for that one and let use a spoonful of Sherry wood there. This time we do not get a peated Balvenie, but we get a Balvenie with a pinch of peat, subtle difference. This version was launched in 2010 and replaces the Islay Cask version which was made with ex-Laphroaig casks, and this one is said to be made with casks that once held peated…Balvenie! Wow.

The Balvenie 17yo Peated CaskColor: Sparkling light gold

Nose: Clay, lightly peated and malty. Sweet vanilla and a breath of fresh air. Licorice and more hefty vegetal and meaty notes. Marmite. All aroma’s seem to fit pretty good together. A distinguished gentleman in an excellently cut Savile Row suit. Cheers!

Taste: At 43% it is hardly too light, and it is a warming Whisky. Suits the bad weather outside. A nicely balanced liquid that pours down gently into ones throat. Smoky sweet vanilla, definitely American oak, with notes of peat and tar on top. Not woody at all. Sweet vanilla, but also hard candy sweetness, but not the fruitiness of those sweets mind you. Sugared apricots and honey drops. Cold black tea. Quite a long finish. Lots of staying power. Not really a peated Whisky but a peat flavoured Whisky. Nicely done. Definitely a step up, and sideways (for the variation), from the 15yo Single Barrel and probably my favorite Balvenie with the 21yo Port Wood. Ok, some of the 25yo’s and the thirty are pretty good as well.

This version is bottled at 43% ABV but there is also a higher strength version around. Cask strength, you ask? No, not quite, 48.7% ABV. Batch code on the reviewed bottle: L9097OK.

Points: 88

This one is for Colin and Krzysztof, sorry I couldn’t make it guys.

Longmorn 17yo 1996/2013 (60.8%, The Ultimate, Sherry Butt #105091, 588 bottles)

Another year is almost over so this here is already the last post of 2014. What to review I asked myself? Maybe something incredibly special, something super premium or something outrageously expensive? Nothing like that. In the end I choose this Longmorn. Why? It seems like a good idea, to do none of the above, and I happened to have only one  open bottle left om my lectern that I hadn’t reviewed yet. Tying up loose ends. I hope this last year was a nice one and of course that the next one will be even better! Hope to see you back in the new year!

Dutch outfit Van Wees bottled eight heavy Sherry Longmorn’s distilled in 1996. These bottlings were rather popular, to put it mildly, since all didn’t need a lot of time to sell out. Highly collectible, but also good drinking Whiskies. Earlier, I already reviewed two casks from this series #72315 (the first release) and #72319 (the third release). Both were similar yet different, and both scored 88 points. This third review will focus on Sherry Butt #105091 (the seventh release). The first five were all sister casks #72315, #72318, #72319, #72323 and #72324 distilled on the first of May 1996. After that, three more Butts were bottled: #105092, #105091 and finally #105084. The latter was released during the Pot Still Festival 2014 in the Netherlands, making it the only one to be bottled in 2014, yet still at 17 years of age. Those last three butts were distilled on the 25th of June 1996 and yielded less bottles than the earlier butts but are higher in alcohol. There have been more butts bottled from the 723xx and 1050xx series, but those were bottled by Signatory Vintage for their own brand. Lets see if this will be another 88 points for Longmorn…

Longmorn 17yo 1996/2013 (60.8%, The Ultimate, Sherry Butt #105091, 588 bottles)Color: Copper brown.

Nose: Honey and quite vegetal. Especially the wood and honey make this Whisky not very distant from a very good Bourbon, although both Whiskies couldn’t be more different. Dry wood, old saw dust and dusty altogether. Burnt caramel and lots of sugared red fruits. Deep brooding and syrupy Sherry. Dark stuff from the gas light era. Elegant but more mysterious than the earlier bottlings.

Taste: Hot wood. Lots of wood and a sour note from fruit and Sherry. Coffee and dark chocolate with just the right amount of bitterness. Small hint of a sulphur compound, but the rest of the aroma’s are so powerful, Sulphur doesn’t stand a chance in dominating this Whisky. This Whisky also has a lighter side to it with paper and fern. Dark mahogany furniture with layers and layers of wax put on in its history to form this brittle woody and waxy nose.

Although I own both earlier reviewed Ultimate Longmorn’s, I haven’t opened the bottles. Both reviews were done from 6 cl samples. This bottle however, is one from my own collection I dared to open (curiosity killed the cat). The bottle is luckily still more than half full, but I had a fair chance in trying this without having to analyze it. In comparison, I do believe this #105091 is very drinkable and always leaves a good impression, but this time I won’t be giving another 88 points. The earlier releases, if memory serves me correctly, seemed to be more balanced, less dry and more fruity, than this one does. This time the added paper and fruity acidity do meddle with the balance of this Whisky, still good and I will not have any problem finishing this, but just not as good as the earlier one’s I have tried.

When compared to the Gordon & MacPhail Highland Park that also scored 87 points, the Highland Park has more raisins (dominant), coal and seems to be more accessible. It is less dry and sweeter on the palate. It is similar in quality, not higher in sulphur and actually quite nice. It is seems to me they are made for one another. I will only have to try them now in reversed order…

Points: 87

This one is for Cyril, great to hear you’re doing well!

Strathmill 17yo 1992/2010 (43%, Signatory Vintage, Refill Butt #40711, 873 bottles)

Strathmill 17yo 1992/2010 (43%, Signatory Vintage, Refill Butt #40711, 873 bottles)Strathmill was founded in 1891 in an old mill, that dates back to 1823. At first is was called Glenisla but when the distillery was sold to W&A Gilbey in 1895 they changed its name to Strathmill. Through some mergers along the way finally Strathmill becomes one of many distilleries in the Diageo portfolio. Strathmill is a big component in the J&B Blended Whisky. Not a lot of Strathmill was officially bottled by its owners. Best known of course, are the 12yo Flora & Fauna bottling, The Managers’ Dram and the Managers’ Choice that was released in 2009. This year Strathmill features in the highly priced annual releases from Diageo. A 25yo was released just recently…

Color: Full gold

Nose: Musty Sherry. Peanut oil and stale water. A little bit of old wood and almonds. Not sure this smells pleasant. Citrus oil from warm and soft tangerines. When the mustiness dissipates, a fresher apple skin note appears. Light apple compote. Still a sort of sidewalk after the rain smell stays. Maybe a trace of sulphur.

Taste: Sweet with a strange kind of sourness added to it. Pencil shavings, cardboard and dabs of licorice. Slightly waxy. Not quite balanced, but the sourness works refreshing and quite nice in its strangeness. Very malty later on with sugary sweetness and grassy and hay like notes. Not heavy on the sweets but it definitely tastes like sugar. Uncomplex.

Funky stuff, but its strangeness is interesting. Probably full of faults and to sweet to make it your daily drinker. I’m guessing this is a bottle that will stay open for a long time, but once in a while you take a sip and it becomes surprising and nice (for one glass only). To be enjoyed for a long time, although not the best stuff around. As I said, interesting.

Points: 80