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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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

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.

Bowmore 12yo 2000/2012 (46%, The Whisky Mercenary, 42 bottles)

What time is it? It’s Jürgen time! Those of you who regularly read my reviews will have come across Jürgen quite a few times by now. Click here for a round-up of all Whisky Mercenary bottlings I reviewed up untill now. Today we’ll have a look at one of the first Whiskies Jürgen picked, maybe even thé first. Alas, this will be a review for your reading pleasure only, since only 42 bottles of this were made in 2012 (and by now most of the were consumed). Jürgen got some help from fellow Belgian independent Whiskybottler The Maltman. Usually this means that a cask was shared, and looking at the releases of The Maltman we can find another quite small release of only 65 bottles (done with Whiskysite.nl). That one is bottled at cask strength at 57.1% ABV. Now we have a total of about a 100 bottles, so probably even more bottles were filled from that particular cask by yet another party.

Bowmore 12yo The Whisky MercenaryColor: Light gold, vibrant.

Nose: Sweet peat with hints of smoke. Very appetizing. Refreshing citrus. Clay and toffee. Malty. Green and black tea. Cold fresh (and untreated) almonds and dried meat (not salty nor spicy). Light rubbery peat and subtly smoked. Toast and sweet malt again. Slightly burnt cable of an electrical appliance. Tiny hint of sawdust. Very nice nose, especially when inhaled vigorously. Chalk. Fresh, friendly and fruity.

Taste: Malty and smoky. Earwax with its typical bitterness. Late sweet attack with ashes. Cold black tea. Lemonade fruitiness. Licorice root. Waxy again. Paper and half-dry leaves in the forest including the odd crushed beetle. Tastes reduced, a bit too thin, with nothing left which made the nose and the plethora of tastes when the Whisky enters your mouth so great. BUMMER!

Although 46% ABV is not a bad strength, this seems to me like a perfect example of a Whisky that should have remained at cask strength. The nose shows lots of potential as do the entry into the mouth (excellent!) and the start of the body (niiiice!). Quickly, the body becomes a tad simple and thin. Especially the finish shows the fault of reduction in this one. It really needed some oomph. Very nice Whisky. Reminds me of old Islay Whiskies that are usually around 25yo, (Caol Ila). I didn’t care for the reduction though. Stellar stuff that has been ruined by the second half and the weak finish.

Points: 84

Bowmore “Black Rock” (40%, OB, for Travel Retail, 1 Litre)

This year Bowmore introduced, just like Macallan actually, a series of three bottles for travel Retail, without age statements but with names, and not any name, but names based on colors. Macallan tried it with the following nouns: Gold, Amber, Sienna (is that a color?) and Ruby. Bowmore are using the colors more as an adjective: Black Rock, Gold Reef and White Sands. The first two being also litre bottles. Non of the bottles have a great reputation and in case of some of these Macallan’s I have found out first hand that…well not that great. Now here is one of the three Bowmores, the most affordable of the three.

Bowmore 'Black Rock' (40%, OB, for Travel Retail, 1 Litre)Color: Red orange gold, cognac

Nose: Nice peat and maritime smoke, rubber and tires, but mixed with some strong acidic fruitiness. lots of earwax too. Salty, tarry and smoked dried fish. Vanilla. The longer the glass breathes the more pronounced and likeable the fruit notes get. Starting with your typical red sour berries and moving into the black fruits Bowmores have long been known for. That can still be done Excellent nose if you ask me.

Taste: Ashes and watery. Oh no, it’s too thin! Brief dry Sherry attack, which quickly dissipates and transforms in paper and ashes. Actually behind this is a (burnt) caramel note, and quite a lot of it. The back label states that is has been “treated” with E150, but I get a lot of this. Damn shame. Bowmore have become so good they don’t need that! The taste is very simple and the Sherry didn’t handle all the water used for reduction too well. It shows potential but driven by the decision to bottle this at 40% ABV (Economics I guess), they somewhat ruined it. A little bit of Rochefort under my tongue.

Easily drinkable due to the strength, but ruined a bit by reduction. Still underneath (and the nose still shows it), this was a good Bowmore.

Points: 81

Bowmore Small Batch (40%, OB, 30.000 bottles, 2014)

Benefitting from the success of the Tempest (Small Batch) series and especially from the instant hit The Devils Cask (Small Batch) was. Here comes a new Small Batch release from Bowmore. One without an age statement and considering the usage of first fill and second fill casks, this should be very akin to the tempest series. This Small Batch however, is reduced to 40%, has no age statement and costs next to nothing, so what to expect from this new-born release?

I’m still expecting quite a lot since I really like how the newer 12yo’s are turning out to be. The only beef I have with that one is the reduction to 40%, whereas I believe 43% or maybe 46% would have made this already great Whisky into something more stunning. However, the 12yo is very nice and this Small Batch fits nicely besides the 12yo and several other expressions from Bowmore in the group of entry-level Islay malts without overpowering peat. They leave that to Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Lagavulin, although I feel even some of these are churning out more and more, less hefty Whiskies too…

Bowmore Small BatchColor: Light gold

Nose: Fatty, vanilla, citrus fresh. Barley foremost, but also some forest plants like fern and warm earth. Forrest floor again without the wetness or mushroom components, yes a bit dusty. Smoke and hidden (behind the smoke) peat. Vanilla again, with tree sap and soft fresh-cut wood. Also yellow fruits play a big role in this whisky, like dried apricot. Smells nice and all components of the nose fit nicely together. Well crafted again, as I’ve come to expect from Bowmore’s Rachel.

Taste: Sweet, and some prickly smoke. Fresh wood. Did I mention it was sweet? Licorice and again forest plants. Black and white powder (licorice) and sugar-water. Absolutely not complex, but extremely nice to drink, too easy maybe, and well made. Shortish finish, with nothing in particular to mention, just take another sip. Keep in mind when you are buying a bottle of this, you’re probably going to finish it quickly. This one can stay as it is, but like the 12yo, I wouldn’t have minded this being some points higher in alcohol.

Easy, lovely, well made Whisky, not stong in any way and not your typical Islay Whisky too. Dirt cheap, often on sale and lots of quality to boot. Probably sells well so now its time for the new Big Batch series!

Points 84

Thanks go out (yet again) to Laura!

Bowmore Week – Day 7: Bowmore 21yo (43%, OB, Red Stripe, 750 ml)

Bowmore WeekAnd we’ve come already to the last day of the Bowmore Week. Up untill now we’ve had some pretty good new Bowmores and two Indie Bowmores from Cadenheads that were pretty good too, albeit somewhat different. What to pick to finish off this week. Yes why not, why not get an old bottle of Bowmore to have a small glimpse of what Bowmore was about in the old days. Pre FWP if I may say so.

Bowmore 21yo (43%, OB, Red Stripe, 750 ml)Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Fat, creamy peat. Even if you put the glass away across the table. this aroma will find your nose. Very well balanced, and has a great sweetish underlying sweetness to it. Hints of paper and cardboard. No problem here. Sweat and most definitely some old bottle effect. Smallest hint of smoke and an even smaller hint of ashes. Most definitely no FWP nor is it perfumy. Clay and raspberry jam. No heavy or in your face peat but candy sweet, elegantly peated Bowmore. Compared to newer expressions, this is more about fruit, less about the flowers.

Taste: Peat with a little bite. Dryer than expected and less balanced than the nose. It’s about (old) peat and estery, fruity, sweetness. The clay emerges here too, and even some putty. Finishes even a bit bitter on wood (and earwax).

The sample I tasted here came from an almost empty bottle, and maybe this Whisky doesn’t take air so well, because if memory serves me well I found this one better earlier (more fruit on the palate), or maybe this Whisky is a victim of batch variation. Still this is a good Bowmore and I guess, a fresh-er bottle would score higher.

And the Bowmore week is now (almost) over. What conclusions can we make? First of all there are a lot of Bowmores out there, with lots of different profiles, ages and strengths, so the seven I tasted here are far from representative, but we could conclude that Bowmore is getting pretty good again. The standard 12yo is very good and an easy pick for any bang-for-you-buck list. The Tempest range is looking good, and the same goes for the Devil’s Casks. Let’s finish off, that I’m glad to see a late nineties Sherry Butt destined to be hand filled at the distillery (#1215) only shows, even more than the notorious Devil’s Casks, how good Bowmore on Sherry can get. More please!

Points: 87

Thanks Andre (Forrest) for bringing this bottle to my Tomatin (& Bowmore) tasting event.