Bowmore 18yo “Deep & Complex” (43%, OB, for Travel Retail, Oloroso & Pedro Ximénez Sherry Casks, 2017)

Lets start this review with a confession. I’m a faulty human, and I admit to having prejudices. I don’t know where they come from, I didn’t invite them into my mind, but still they are there and I am battling them. The prejudice I have is that I have a more than healthy suspicion towards travel retail bottlings. Compared to this, my feelings towards NAS-bottlings are pretty mild, since there are enough good NAS bottlings around. Bowmore travel retail bottlings are an excellent example why I have this prejudice. A few years back I wrote a review about the Bowmore “Black Rock“, and it is travel retail at its finest. First it comes in a big litre bottle and second, it was almost reduced to death by bottling it at 40% ABV. So to celebrate your trip you bring back a souvenir of a weak Whisky and a lot of it. When tasting bottles like this, I just knew I had to stay away from such bottles, and I still will steer clear of litre bottles bottled at 40% ABV.

In comes Nico. Nico is one of the founding fathers of the Whisky club I am a member of, and he invited me over to bathe in the excellence of one of the latest batches of The Balvenie “Doublewood“. Taking about ruining a perfectly good Whisky! Since we both are very keen on Whisky, obviously the evening didn’t end with several Balvenies. We had plenty more adventures in Whisky. Funny enough, the surprise of the evening (for me) was a Bowmore travel retail bottling! Nope not this 18yo Deep & Complex but the 17yo “White Sands” of the previous travel retail series.

In 2014, Bowmore released a trio called “Black Rock” (litre, 40% ABV), “Gold Reef” (litre, 40% ABV) and “White Sands” (70 cl, 43% ABV) and I should have known better. “White Sands” wasn’t a litre bottle, was the only one of the three with an age statement (17yo), and the ABV was slightly higher as well. Tell-tale signs that there was a possibility it would be a good one. Good? I loved it! I have met (the wonderful) Eddie MacAffer (voted Whisky distillery manager of the year at Whisky Magazine’s 2013 Icons of Whisky Awards) and “White Sands” is a favorite of his, so I definitely should have known better!

So why isn’t this review about “White Sands” then? Relax, I’ll get to that shortly. Probably in the next post. When I found out how good “White Sands” was, I ordered a few of those. At the same time, I got a pretty good deal on this “Deep & Complex” (What’s in a name), and knowing now that the top offering in Bowmore’s travel retail series might be quite good, I ordered it as well. So, let’s do this new one first and we’ll get to the old one later…

Color: Copper.

Nose: Sherry all right. I would say the PX is upfront. It smells sweet and dessert-like. Caramel. Cherries on syrup. Candied orange skins. Sweet alright. Raisins and dates (freshly dried). Fresh macadamia nuts. A nice typical smokiness (birch) I get from “White Sands”as well, although that is an entirely different bottling. Garden bonfire. Wood smoke. Lovely smoke aroma’s all over. Charred wood. Nice ripe black and red fruits and definitely more smoke than peat. Excellent balance. Vanilla and dust. Islay in the summer. Tar with hints of peppermint and menthol.

Taste: Sweet and fruity. Round, they call it. Half-sweet Cherries and only some wood and peat. It has an even deeper lying smoky bit, but again a nice smoky bit. A bit thinner (and fruitier) than expected. Burning newspaper. Nice warming quality though. Warm wet earth and the fresh macadamia’s are here as well. Not too bitter dark chocolate, wood and toffee. Tar and coal. Licorice. Surprisingly short to medium finish and not a lengthy aftertaste as well. What happened over those 18 years? I’m trying this before breakfast so I have a fresh and eager palate, but still the Whisky is too weak. It’s lovely, but too weak, so don’t drink this in small sips, it won’t work as well that way.

It is somehow suggested and assumed this was matured solely in Oloroso and PX-casks, but I do have my doubts. In a way it’s almost like a “White Sands” with a Oloroso and PX-finish. Wonderful stuff, but like the 40% ABV travel retail versions. It’s a bit too thin. Even at 43% ABV, it doesn’t quite cut the mustard. It has the potential of being a wonderful Malt (scoring in the lower 90’s). It is actually a wonderful malt as is, but it could do so much better if it had some more oomph, something more to carry it. Now its like (white) sand running through my fingers…

Points: 87

P.S. In a head to head (H2H) with the 1995 Lagavulin its easy to see what I mean. The Lagavulin has only 5% ABV more, but it does so much more for the Malt. It gives it power and length. It even brings out the aroma’s more. I’m not afraid to say that this Bowmore, if it was 46 or 48% ABV like the Lagavulin, would even be better than it. Now, the Lagavulin beats it (just). Nevertheless both are damn good drams and easily worth your money. I’m enjoying them both.

Highland Park Week – Day 2: Highland Park 18yo (43%, OB, 2014)

What are you doing Master Quill? Not too long ago you already reviewed one of those “newer” Highland Park 18yo‘s, did you forget? Are you drinking too much, making your memory slide? Nope not really, but with this one I want to tell you a short story…

A long time ago, the wide necks were replaced by the more feminine bottles, which in turn, in 2007, got replaced by this more manly look they have got today, well… Back in that day I felt Highland Park were a bit suffering from batch variation, something the industry is afraid of because it may put-off loyal drinkers of a particular expression. It must look, smell and taste the same every time around. It is a sort of mantra throughout the industry. Unless you are called Springbank and make exactly thát your strength. By “thát” I mean: batch variation. Just look at the success of the 12yo “Cask Strength” expressions. You see a lot of comparisons between batches on the internet. In the end everything at Springbank is released in batches that vary from one to the other. “Hello, I’d like a Springbank 18yo, released in 2016, no not the 2015, the 2016 please…”

I loved the old, wide neck, 18yo Highland Park to death and when that got replaced by the feminine looking 18yo I bought me a few of those, expecting more of the same. Well, the new one was pretty disappointing in comparison. I was sad the whole time drinking the bottle, and when I finished it, I sold the rest of the bottles, I bought, not buying the 18yo for a long, long time. Recently I got hold of a sample of the “new” 18yo (bottled in 2012) and was nicely surprised. Not as good as the wide neck, but certainly worth your time, effort and money. I liked the 2012 so I bought a few bottles of the “new” 18yo when it was on offer, and ended up with a batch that was bottled in 2014. (L0405S L4 16:09 14:53) (S=2014).

This is a story about batch variation, and something about a donkey hitting its head on a stone, so lets compare this 2014 with the 2012 I reviewed earlier.

Highland Park 18yoColor: Full gold (slightly lighter than the 2012).

Nose: Barley and pleasantly fruity. Definitely more fruity than the 2012 batch. Waxy, warming, heather, vanilla and honey, so it’s a Highland Park alright. Dusty and when smelled more intensely, some smoke emerges. Peat, not so much. Influences of dull smelling Sherry (as in not fruity), and even hints of a compound containing the element of S (Sulphur). Cookie dough and charred pencil shavings. However right from the start it also smells a bit thin. Watery. It’s also lacking some depth and I would almost say that it smells younger than the 2012 batch. Next, some paper-like and vegetal notes. More smoke and a fresher note of Belgian style Beer. Slightly less balanced as well, but also somewhat more complex. If I dare say so, this one has even some exotic notes reminding me of Amrut (matured in Bourbon casks).

Taste: Hmmm, the first thing I notice is definitely a discrepancy in the balance of this 18yo and an obvious weakness. Tiny notes of paper and cardboard. Warming. Hints of the Belgian Beer-notes are right there from the start. Cream and a hint of cold fresh butter. Sherry and hints of vanilla and cardboard. Not as complex as the nose. Watered down wax and heather and an unpleasant edge of bitterness, which has some staying power. After letting it breathe for a while, quite unexpectedly, some hints of red fruits pass by. Short to medium finish, with again a Beer-like quality to it. I was taken aback a bit by this when it was just opened, now the bottle is half full, got some time to breathe and it still isn’t getting any better. Change, yes, better, no. So this one really got several chances to redeem itself, but alas. It isn’t to be.

Where the nose was still good and complex, this definitely is a lesser batch of the “new” 18yo. The 2012 batch is way better than this 2014, and its an obvious difference as well. (I have them both before me). So it happened to me again. Donkey. I taste a 18yo Highland Park, like it, go out and buy several bottles at once, and I end up with a different batch, most definitely less good than the one I tasted before. Disappointing and annoying. Luckily I keep samples and can do proper H2H’s, proving to myself, I’m not going slightly mad. I still have some unopened bottles of this batch, bugger. Now I have to sell 18yo Highland Park bottles again.

Just to be sure I brought this bottle with me on an evening with my Whisky club, a seasoned bunch of experienced older fellows (I hope they don’t read this). I said nothing, just observed people drinking it and listen to their reactions and comments. Well people, it turns out it wasn’t only me…

This hurts. I have been a big, big fan of Highland Park since my beginnings in Single Malt Whisky, and that will never die, because I know it is a good distillate. However, the amount of mediocre bottlings put out by Highland Park today are scaring me (as does the emphasis on marketing). Bugger.

Points: 82

The New Zealand Whisky Collection 18yo 1993/2012 (51.9%, The New Zealand Whisky Company, Cask #21)

After one blend and three reduced bottlings from their standard range, here is finally the first example of an “untouched” New Zealand Whisky. A 1993 expression bottled at cask strength and from single cask #21. That’s more like it. This way we can finally find out what the distiller intended. How did the spirit interact with the wood from the cask. No information about the cask itself has been given so we aren’t handicapped with information this time, and can just dig in…

The New Zealand Whisky Collection 18yo 19932012 (51.9%, The New Zealand Whisky Company, Cask #21)Color: Light gold.

Nose: Fruity and dusty, carried with an undertone of fresh wood. I would say this came from a Bourbon cask. Not hard to tell since the wood impaired quite a lot of vanilla-flavours. One with green fingers too, since it has more traits from the kingdom of plants, than the wood alone. It’s easy to admit, this one is driven by wood. Even the spices are wood related, and what about the whiff of pencil-shavings and the aroma of freshly broken off twig? Does this mean this one is dominated by wood? Not at all. The wood gave of various elements of itself, without overpowering it. All in good measure. It has a promise of sweetness (toffee) and the big wood-vanilla synergy makes this a fruity and creamy nose with some backbone and character given by the wood. Slightly oriental (Indian) and floral. Restrained, elegant and wonderful.

Taste: Nice spicy, prickly and woody entry. It starts out with fresh oak and a quite big, nice vegetal sweetness. Tiny hint of bitterness. Right from the start it is obvious this one is carried by the cask strength. Good this wasn’t reduced. It doesn’t seem to have as many woody traits as the nose. Definitely simpler in design than the nose. The fruity bit I taste is a bit peculiar. To me it seems, the mixture of yellow and red fruits don’t combine perfectly here. More cereals and bread tones towards the end. The finish is shorter than expected and it’s the grainy, bread-like and slightly bitter bit that has the biggest influence on the finish.

The strength of this malt is the wonderful nose, as well as well on entry in the mouth. From there it goes a bit downhill. The body sort of disintegrated in my mouth and although the cask strength is noticeable, it doesn’t carry the aroma’s into the finish in a big way. This is a Malt that needs to be tasted, taking big sips. Good stuff nevertheless, easy drinking Whisky, but probably not the best single cask bottled by the NZWC. We’ll see because I have two more hidden away somewhere.

Points: 85

Glenfiddich 18yo “Ancient Reserve” (40%, OB, Circa 2003)

Glenfiddich. Often scoffed at, but never really disappoints. I’ve tried quite a few and all are decent daily drinkers. Older expressions (expensive!) can be really stellar. Sure, Glenfiddich is often reduced to the max, 40% ABV, but sometimes, some more alcohol is possible too, like the Distillery Edition that was bottled at 51% ABV. The higher alcohol, transports the flavours well, so I’m a firm believer in upping te ABV with Glenfiddich to show people with a prejudice against Glenfiddich, that it actually is not that bad. Sure, often not a super-duper malt as well, but surely nothing to scoff at. Today we’ll be looking at an 18yo that is no longer with us, but should still be available if you look closely enough. The 18yo “Ancient Reserve” is blended from Whiskies from Sherry and Bourbon casks, but in this case also from virgin oak casks. The tree are married in a large Solera Vat, using the Solera system.

Glenfiddich 18yo Ancient ReserveColor: Full Gold.

Nose: Waxy and extremely creamy, with definitely quite some Oloroso Sherry influence. Smells quite good. Traits of all casks are clearly noticeable. Vanilla and creamy Bourbon wood and some thick Sherry. Candied apples. I can’t say if the Sherry is from European oak or not. Not a lot of tannins happening on the nose. Sweet peach yoghurt. All aromas are nice and creamy and integrate very well. Waxy fruit. Candied fruit mixed with a hint of yoghurt like acidity and some fresh air. A mere hint of toasted cask in the background and even a tiny hint of waxy apple skins. With air it becomes more dusty and dry. Creamy vanilla holding it’s ground. Not the most complex of noses, but very pleasing nevertheless.

Taste: Very smooth and waxy again, but that dissipates quickly. Well even before I can write down what else I taste, it’s already gone, as is the finish as is the aftertaste. Wow, quickest Malt I have ever tasted, and no it’s not a bad sample. Will this be another story about reduction? Well let’s take another sip, and another, better keep focussed now before it’s all gone. Waxy, nutty and woody. The wood is slightly acidic. Sherry influence, and … Wait a minute, it’s gone again, will have to take another sip. Bare with me. Creamy Sherry and an instant of sugar. Sweetish, Sherried and fruity. The wax carries a woody bitterness towards the end. Smells better than it tastes, although the taste isn’t bad, mind you. Vanilla powder, candied fruit, dried apricots. Nice development. But very weak going into its finish. Funny enough, in the aftertaste some bitterness appears. New wood?

40% ABV is to low for this profile. For the US market this was bottled at 43% ABV. Still quite nice, and better than the current 18yo. Alas this Ancient Reserve was discontinued in 2008. If I could find it for a decent price, I would get it, but I fear it would also be quickly gone. A real shame this got discontinued, especially since the current 18yo is no match for this one.

Points: 85

Linkwood 18yo 1991/2010 (52.9%, Bladnoch Forum, Hogshead #10346, 252 bottles)

Another Linkwood then. Linkwood is quite a difficult distillery for me. Somehow I don’t seem to like Linkwood that much, and I don’t buy any of Linkwood without tasting it first. This one I did buy blind. First of all I like Raymond Armstrong (the former owner of Bladnoch Distillery) and just like Dutch independent bottlers The Ultimate were/are able to bottle some great Whisky at very fair prices. Luckily a lot of my tasting is done blind, so it’s not the name that makes for a lower score. Don’t get me wrong, I did come across some good Linkwoods as well. So with an open mind let’s have a got at this 18yo Linkwood.

Linkwood 18yo 19912010 (52.9%, Bladnoch Forum, Hogshead #10346, 252 bottles)Color: Light gold.

Nose: Acetone, unmistakable. Nail polish remover. Lots of sappy leaves too. Quite nutty as well. Well not dull isn’t it. This spirit jumps right out of my glass. The acetone seems to “remove” itself, but it’s just me not smelling it anymore since it tries to anesthetize me. Put it away for a minute and smell it again, and you’ll be hit in the head again. Even though some might like it, it most definitely is flawed. Nice wood underneath it all. Coffee, cloves and some mocha-cream. Hazelnut pastry. Vanilla, hints of lemon and even a bit perfumy after a while. If you factor out the solvent, this is quite a bold body from a highly active and spicy cask. Quite nice but with a rather unusual defect. No I don’t hate it. Maybe this needs to oxidize a bit?

Taste: For a brief moment there is a solvent. It is quite hot, but the solvent (not ethanol) is quickly replaced by a more woody and leafy aroma. Woody and nutty. Sweet, with a lot of vanilla. Even though the solvent part seems to dissipate for a while, the whole stays quite hot and overpowering, just as it did with the nose. Freshly painted wood and freshly sawn, not entirely dry, oak. The feeling something other than Whisky is going down my throat. Medium finish.

In a way this was difficult to score (but not really). First of all I liked it maybe a bit more than I scored it, but I don’t think this isn’t one to finish quickly. Quality wise this couldn’t score very high since it has some obvious flaws, not exactly from the middle cut maybe? (although hard to imagine).

Points: 79

The Benriach 18yo “Dunder” (46%, OB, Limited Production, Peated, Dark Rum Finish. 1880 bottles)

After the Irish Teeling Blend and the Old Malt Cask Clynelish, why not make it a trio and try this new release from Benriach, wich was also finished in Rum casks. Out of the closet it came and onto my lectern, where I popped the cork of this Benriach “Dunder”. Dunder is the name of the residue left behind in the still after distilling Rum in Jamaica. The Dark Rum finish was done in casks that once held Jamaican Rum. I love Jamaican Rum, so I’m very interested what the Rum casks did for this peated Whisky! Yes you’ve read this right, peated Benriach, finished in dark Rum.

This is the second release in Benriachs new series called “Limited Production”. The first release was another peated 18yo, finished in PX casks, which was called “Albariza”.

Benriach DunderColor: Full gold with a slight green tint.

Nose: Nicely vegetal, soft and peat, reminding me of black coal. Niiiiice. Good peat. Lots of depth and quite juicy. Smoke, earthy and full of spices. Meaty smoke and a minty/menthol note. Not a lot of Dark Rum is noticeable though. The peat is simply the main marker here. If anything, the Rum brings balance to the nose. The peat aroma is quite strong without being hit in the face with it. Its strong and laid back at the same time. Balanced. Behind the peat is a sweeter, more creamy note that acts as a vehicle for the peat. Big peat, small vehicle. Like an elephant on the roof of a mini (the original mini, not the BMW giant mini). This needs a lot of air, and I just opened the bottle. This will get better over time. Over time the peat retreats a bit, letting through more smoke and a more buttery, creamy smell as well as some fruity acidity. Citrus (but not the skins). This is getting better and better (but still no high ester Jamaican dark Rum).

Taste: Estery sweetness, thick, you can cut it with a knife, but it’s not as sweet as those sugary Rums, since the overall taste is pretty dry and smoky. Spicy. Hints of paper. Lots of smoke, licorice and a not completely integrated acidity (like drops of lemon juice on fresh butter). All of this is combined with hints of banana. Intriguing. Extremely well-balanced. Warming. The right amount of time was used for finishing this, although it may have benefitted from a little bit more Jamaican Rum (and sweetness) in the mix. Maybe it should have aged a little while longer. Vanilla and Demerara sugar are present, still not very sweet. The Rum does show itself, especially in the finish, without it being typically Jamaican, apart from the high ester entry mentioned above. Hints of red berries with vanilla and smoked almonds (without the salt). What a nice surprise this is.

Points: 88

Rum Nation Panama 18yo (40%, Single Domaine Rum, Release 2010, Panama)

All four Ron Abuelo’s have been reviewed now, but there is still one ace up my sleeve. An independent release of an Abuelo Rum. Lance (The Lone Caner) reviewed this very same Rum and mentions this is an Abuelo Rum, so let’s go with that. Rum Nation is the Rum brand of Italia’s one and only Fabio Rossi, most of us also know from the Independent Whisky bottler Wilson & Morgan. Fabio also has a passion for Rum and is able to source some very special Rums for his own label. Besides this 18yo, Rum nation also has a 21yo Panamanian Rum, which according to Lance, even surpasses the Centuria in quality. I have the 21yo in storage somewhere, so I’ll probably review that one too in the near future.

Rum Nation Panama 18yoColor: Reddish orange brown.

Nose: Powdery and dusty. Radish (Rettich). Cold gravy and leather. Laid back, and yes, still middle of the roadish. Soft old oak. Soaked oak. Lots of toffee and custard. Some sulphur and a meaty note come flying by after a while in the glass. Next some smoky honey, white pepper and candied lemon skins and bitter oranges.

Taste: Half sweet toffee and some wood. Sweetish and the typical Abuelo red fruity acidity is in this one too. Better integrated than in the 12yo. The body has quite some wood and spicy wood, licorice. but the wood is still soft. The end of the body and the finish tell you more. The wood stays on and becomes more spicy, the Rum gets a bit hot for a while, finally some action! Red peppers, and somehow it lacks a bit of complexity. The finish itself is rather short. When I come to think of it, the spicy bite seems to be a bit sulphury. But the finish is about wood and its light walnut skin bitterness.

Quite soft and well-behaved for a 18yo Rum, and quite inexpensive to boot. You know Rums in the hot Caribbean age quite quickly, so when a Rum is still so smooth and easily drinkable after 18 years is quite a feat. I have made quite a dent in this bottle already, and I’m still trying to figure out what it’s all about. It is in part similar to the 7yo and 12yo Abuelo offerings. The heritage is apparent, but it is all a bit to anonymous for me, it doesn’t bring a smile to my face, as in great, I love this, I need more of this. I can easily live without the Añejo, the 7yo and the 12yo, heck, even the 18yo I can do without. The Centuria, however, is from another Panamanian planet and is the proof great Rums can also be made in Panama. I’m wondering about the Rum Nation 21yo now…

Points: 81