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.

Glendronach 13yo 2003/2016 (55.2%, OB, for TasTToe & Drankenshop Broekmans, Oloroso Sherry Butt #5489, 705 bottles)

To my amazement, after all those years of writing Single Malt reviews, this is the first Glendronach on these pages. How did that happen? I’ll have to conduct a formal inquiry into this matter. Heads will roll. Lets hope this young Glendronach is a worthy expression of the distillery. Glendronach was founded in 1826, and has changed hands some nine times if I count correctly. In recent history the distillery was mothballed in 1996. Production resumed for a short while in 2002. In 2005 the distillery abandoned coal firing in favour of indirect firing with steam. After the change the distillery reopened in the portfolio of yet another owner, when Chivas Brothers (Pernod Ricard) acquires Allied Domecq. Almost there. In 2008 Pernod Ricard sells the distillery to a small consortium lead by Billy Walker, the owners of the Benriach distillery. Billy revamped the core range and started releasing Single Cask bottlings with the now common brown labels, as the one I’m about to taste. After Glendronach, Billy and his mates bought Glenglassaugh in 2013, but sold all three to Brown Forman in 2016 for a heft sum of money…

By the way, the picture below is wrong. I couldn’t find a proper picture of the bottle I tasted, and the picture I took of the label with my phone, well lets say it wouldn’t look professional. The picture below is for another Glendronach 13yo from 2003. In fact it is of a bottle filled from the cask filled in 2003 right after the one I tasted. Same distillate, same sort of cask, but still another single cask. The picture I used is for cask #5490 whereas I tasted cask #5489. Both were bottled for different customers from the same country: Belgium, so close enough, wouldn’t you say? Enough of the dry stuff, let’s get wet now!

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Oloroso Sherry alright. Thick but right from the start some nice dusty woody notes and do I detect a hint of the S-element? Sweet raisins, fresh and pretty modern.  (which need some time to breathe to show themselves). Black and white licorice powder. Remember the 9yo Highland Park I recently reviewed? Well that is old style Sherry maturation, where the wood is softer, whereas this is more modern. Clean and sharp. Woodshop with oriental spices. Hints of fresh new oak and a wonderful floral and woody perfume, fragrant soap even, very nice. Very faintly meaty, like cold gravy. Great balance but not very complex. More wood notes in the form of pencil shavings. So, excellent wood, with less Sherry than expected. Wonderful nose.

Taste: Yep big wood alright, but again not in a bad way. Oriental Spicy wood with thin cherry liqueur. Reminds me a bit of Amrut. I really love the wood in this. Remember, someone is saying that the wood makes the Whisky, so wood should be a contributing factor. Again the wood has more to say than the Sherry. Starts half-sweet at best, where wood and Sherry share the attention, but quickly the wood demands center-stage for itself and dominates, without overpowering it though. Both contribute the right amount of aroma’s to make for a wonderful Malt. Hints of Italian laurel licorice and hard coffee candy. The body is even less sweet and for a moment turns in to an oaky acidity. Again, not bad. Medium finish and more of the same into the aftertaste, which after a while is gone completely.

This is well-balanced, not very complex, but very nice to drink. I feel no need to add water. It seems to be good to go as it is. Nice and likeable. A bottle you’ll like and finish quite quickly since it will be the one you’ll want to start the evening with. Unless you insist on starting with something at 40 or 43% ABV.

Points: 87

 

Thanx Nico!

Dutch Jenever Week – Day 6: Zuidam Korenwijn 14yo 1999/2013 Oloroso Sherry (38%, Special #3, Cask #1649 & 1650, 491 bottles)

Jenever Week Logo

On the sixth day, God created… This actually is the last review I’m writing for this series of Dutch Jenevers. To be honest, I almost never write reviews in the order of publication. Especially with the Master Quill Weeks. At some point in time, I find a “logical” progression in which to order the seven days of the Master Quill Week, not necessarily by ascending scores, mind you.

This is the fourth (!) offering by Zuidam in this week, another Korenwijn, and I promise you, it’s the last in this series. Tomorrow we’ll see another offering from Rutte (again). Now don’t start thinking now that Rutte and Zuidam are the only distilleries in The Netherlands producing Jenever. There actually is a long list of companies around, many of which are several centuries old.

The history of Jenever started in the Dutch cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam, both port towns. Other cities like Groningen and Leeuwarden (in the north) also have a Jenever history. Making Jenever turned out to be a smelly business, so with time the production of Jenever moved into neighbouring cities with some more room. Weesp (near Amsterdam) and Schiedam (near Rotterdam).

From Amsterdam I’d like to mention Lucas Bols (1575), Wynand Fockink (1679) and Van Wees (1782). From Rotterdam I’d like to mention Onder De Boompjes (1658), Nolet (1691), De Kuyper (1695), Wenneker (1693), Herman Jansen (1777) and Dirkzwager (1879). Most of them produce Jenever under different brand names.

Rutte was never located in Rotterdam itself. Rutte has always been from Dordrecht. Finally Zuidam itself is more recent. It started doing business since 1975 in the town of Baarle-Nassau near the Belgian border.

Zuidam Korenwijn 1999Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Closed at first. Some wine related notes, fruity. Needs to move around in my glass some more. Yeah development commences quickly. A deep thick aroma, countered by sharp woody dry notes. Some ground white pepper and clear glue which dissipates quickly never to return again. Also a slightly burnt and tarry cask note. Sawdust and toffee for short. The whole smells rather laid-back and calm. Subdued yet big. Happy about itself. Sawdust and pencil shavings and underneath some hints of new wood. All very spicy but well in check. It has a very specific fresh and fruity acidity to it, I also got from tomorrows offering, although not in such a big way, and way more balanced as well. Here it must be from the Sherry cask. The nose is an amalgamation of Jenever, the Sherry cask and oak, and I must say the Sherry cask really did its work here.

Taste: Creamy, buttery and very fruity. Very nice and very appealing. It starts out sweet. Toffee, mocha and runny caramel. When that subsides, and it does that quite quickly, it makes room for a very nice fruity aroma. You could almost call it a “special effect”. Nice wood as well, sometimes bordering on cardboard and old paper, but it works quite well. However, I feel it is hardly recognizable as a Korenwijn. At least when I compare it to it younger Brother, the Korenwijn 5yo I reviewed earlier. it almost seems like a hybrid with Whisky, Cognac and other distillates. Taste this blind and try to find out what this is. Again an entirely different product from Zuidam. Nice. The finish has medium length and finishes with the warmth of the Toffee/Caramel and some sharpness of wood. Chewy. This is definitely after dinner. It’s a dessert all by itself. Nicely soft and lively, even though the basis is quite sweet, as all Zuidams seem to have. Likable and dangerously drinkable.

Quite a small outturn, considering this came from two Sherry casks ánd the Korenwijn being reduced to 38% ABV. Nice expression from Zuidam though, and its clear to me why it was chosen as a special release. This one is quite expensive. Its more than twice the price of the Korenwijn 5yo, but when compared to the Korenwijn 10yo and 20yo, Zuidam also produces, the price seems to fit right in.

Points: 85

Tomatin 12yo 2002/2014 “Oloroso Sherry” (46%, OB, Cuatro Series #3, 3 years Oloroso Sherry Finish, 1.500 bottles)

Number three is the Oloroso finished one. Hands down the most popular Sherry in the Whisky industry. Somehow casks that once held Oloroso Sherries produce the best Whiskies that (once) graced the face of the earth, even though the Sherry itself isn’t seen as the best there is in the (fortified) Wine world. Oloroso Sherry is produced by oxidative ageing, meaning, there is more contact with air than the previous two expressions that age under flor. The forming of flor is suppressed by adding alcohol from distilled Wine, thus prohibiting flor to form. This oxidative ageing produces a darker more nutty Sherry which is not sweet. Dark sweet Sherry will be the topic of the next Sherry finished Tomatin. Let’s see if our precious Oloroso finish also manages to fetch the best results in the cuatro series. Up untill now the “Fino” expression managed to get the highest score so, 85 is the score to beat.

Tomatin Cuatro OlorosoColor: Gold, but slightly darker than the previous two.

Nose: Funky and dusty. Slightly acidic. New wood and raisins. Yes its nutty. Quite complex and lovely. New wood and toasted wood, slightly tarry. Spicy wood and slightly herbal. Vanilla, creamy and fruity, although new, fresh oak is always right up front. Very aromatic. Loose, unlit cigarette tobacco mixed in with the new wood aroma and licorice. Actually this smells like coming from a red wine cask. It’s sharply defined, fresh and slightly acidic. Tannins and spicy. Slightly dusty and smoky. Very nice stuff if you give it time to develop in your glass. Mocha and tar (again). Nice.

Taste: Sweet and funky on entry. Nutty with a fruity acidity, and very aromatic. If you ask me, easily recognizable as a true Oloroso. Tasting the nuttiness brings out the nuttiness in the nose as well. Milk chocolate and a sharp spiciness. Wait a minute. Where is the Tomatin in this? Where are my tropical fruits? Quite the finish ‘eh? Yup, a bit overpowering. Heaps of fruity acidity now. Red wine (finish). The new (peppery) wood from the nose comes to the fore right before the finish. Luckily it doesn’t dominate it. Breaks down a bit in the finish, which is a shame really. A hot sensation stays behind, with wood and the acidity with the longest staying power. Big and raw, but also lacking a bit in complexity as well as in elegance both the Fino and the Manzanilla expressions showed.

This one is big, but not the best balanced one. This one has its moments, but also has its flaws. Its nice, but not the best one up ’till now. Maybe the Oloroso Sherries and/or the casks they were matured in aren’t what they used to be? On the other hand, what still is…

Points: 83

Glenmorangie 25yo “Quarter Century” (43%, OB, Circa 2012)

And here is another entry-level malt. Anyhow, it is when you give your wife a Luis Vuitton bag very month. If you’re more middle class, or like me, no class at all, you might want to get the 18yo “Extremely Rare” which isn’t actually extremely rare but compared to this 25yo is extremely affordable and quite nice. The 18yo scored a quite nice 87 Points. The 18yo has spent all of it’s time in Bourbon casks, save for 30% of the Whisky which was transferred into Oloroso Butts (or Puncheons) after 15 years, to get a three-year Oloroso finish. This 25yo is a blend of Whisky from Bourbon and Oloroso casks, but also contains Whisky from casks that once held Burgundy Wine. Pinot Noir (red) and/or Chardonnay (white). It is unclear if the Burgundy part is a full maturation or only a finish, well the same goes for the Oloroso Sherry as well.

Glenmorangie 25yoColor: Orange gold.

Nose: Waxy, dusty with old wood. Old bottle. Well if anything, this does show its age.  A sharpish winey note. Burnt oak and a distinct sweetish toffee note. Very creamy mocha and milk chocolate with hints of creamy latex paint. Duo Penotti. Hints of oak, cigarette smoke and wine acidity. paper dust. The aroma’s seem to weaken with time. Fragile.

Taste: Strong sweet entry. Red sweet and sugared cherries, so quite some wine influence. Toffee is in here too. Liquid candy. Light, slightly too low in ABV if you ask me. Similar burnt note to the nose. Old wood. Easily recognizable is the American oak ageing. Creamy vanilla and mocha coffee. Slight hint of oaken bitterness. Easily drinkable. Seems simpler that I initially thought and the finish has medium length.

This proves is for me. If you want a Glenmorangie from the current range, I prefer the ones with an age statement, the older ones that is, over the ones that are named after Hyundai cars. The secret here is that the 18yo is maybe a better and definitely much affordable Whisky than this 25yo. Sure, this 25yo is a great piece of work and compared to the 18yo is slightly more complex, but the 18yo seems to be the better balanced Whisky of the two. Did I mention the humongous price difference between the two?

Points: 86

The Glenlivet “Nàdurra Oloroso Matured” (60.7%, OB, First Fill Oloroso Sherry Casks, Batch OL0614)

Back in the lion’s den. Purely by coincidence, I recently reviewed some independent bottlings of Whiskies produced by distilleries of Pernod Ricard, like Braeval and Glenallachie, but also some official bottlings like Strathisla 12yo, Aberlour 16yo and The NAS Glenlivet “Founders Reserve”, but also the nice AS Glenlivet from 1983. Now another Glenlivet, and yet another new NAS bottling. I promise you, I’m not sponsored!

The Glenlivet Founders’ Reserve is the new entry-level Glenlivet that replaces the 12yo in Western European and some other markets except Asia and the US. This NAS Oloroso Nàdurra replaces the nice AS 16yo Nàdurra. I know, that one came from Bourbon casks only. However, the 16yo Nàdurra will be replaced by three new versions that will be called…Nàdurra. The first one of these is this NAS Oloroso version, soon to be followed by a NAS Bourbon version and later a NAS Peated version. Since both Aberlour and The Glenlivet have the same owner, everybody will be comparing this one to the Aberlour A’bunadh.

Glenlivet Nàdurra Oloroso Matured (60.7%, OB, First Fill Oloroso Sherry Casks, Batch OL0614)Color: Dark gold, copper gold. Quite light for first fill Oloroso.

Nose: Lots of vanilla, new wood and a bit sharp on first sniff. A breath of fresh air. Spicy wood and pencil shavings. I get a lot of pencil shavings recently, maybe its me. I don’t get a lot of A’bunadh like first fill Sherry though. Considering the color and also the way this smells, my guess would be that this Oloroso Nàdurra is younger than its sister from Aberlour. A’bunadh is pretty up front dark first fill Oloroso, and this Nàdurra is not. It really does smell like a young whisky with nice notes of wood without being overpowered. Nice, but not complex. The wood also gives off light chocolaty notes and some sweetish vegetal bits. Old bar of soap (from the eighties) and some licorice. For me a lot of these aroma’s come from wood and obviously from the Sherry used, but for me they aren’t typical Oloroso aroma’s you get from an A’bunadh. Wood it is then.

Taste: Sweetish and a bit hot. New wood, tree sap with its light bitterness. Coffee and licorice, a nice combination. Hints of glue. Prior to swallowing a hint of, and here it comes again, pencil shavings. We all have chewed on a pencil some time during our lives haven’t we? Italian laurel licorice. When the wood, a slight hint of bitterness, and the high strength pass, not a very big finish remains. Youth?

A young Whisky that by itself is a study of wood and not of Sherry. It isn’t complex, slightly underdeveloped, and it surely does have its moments. I guess the choice is right to think of this Whisky a bit as a Whisky for…well, not entry-level, by bottling this with a high ABV. Another good decision is probably that it is made to another profile from the A’bunadh which is more about the Sherry itself, whereas this is more about the wooden cask itself. Nice stuff, helped along by the high strength and spicy wood. Younger and really no match for A’bunadh in my opinion, but those who like higher strength Whisky, but found the A’bunadh too much, will disagree. (maybe a comparison to Benromach 10yo 100 proof would have been a better angle…)

Points: 83

Aberlour ‘A’bunadh’ (59.8%, OB, Batch No. 13, 2005)

By now, batch no. 50 is the latest A’Bunadh released and when you are reading this, the number will be even higher. Saying that the A’Bunadh is a pretty popular bottling. Whisky always was intended to age in Oloroso Sherry butts. Today however, in general, there seem to be more Sherry butts available than the consumption of Sherry seems to warrant. Saying? There are some nice NAS Sherried Whiskies around, Glendronach, Benromach, The new Tomatin, but none of those are so heavy as this powerhouse from Aberlour. On average around 4 batches of A’Bunadh are released every year. Furthermore what makes A’Bunadh exiting, from my anoraks point of view, is the batch variation. Most batches are great and definitely worth the money. Sometimes something less interesting pops up like the notorious batch no. 40 from 2012. A few others from the 40’s range, were slightly less than perfect. I hope that’s not a trend. To be sure not to encounter another dud, let’s try an older version of A’Bunadh, with this lucky batch no. 13.

Aberlour ‘A’bunadh’ (59.8%, OB, Batch No. 13, 2005)Color: Copper gold. Not extremely dark.

Nose: Creamy raisins and vanilla. Creamy with a little backbone provided by toasted oak and maybe from the Sherry. Some more wood, typical oak, and some dust. A lot friendlier than I remember batch no. 33 was. pencil shavings. This is a tale about wood, just without the rawness of batch no. 33 (which actually came from the Sherry, not the wood). Creamy, raisiny and sweetish. With wood. That’s it. Not a lot of complexity, but also lacking some red fruits, Oloroso butts can give off. Nevertheless a very nice smelling dram.

Taste: Chocolate, Ferrero Rocher cherries, than wood, fresh oak and pencil shavings (cedar) and some hints of coal. Quite hot (not raw) when sliding down my throat. A classic combination of aroma’s from soft Oloroso. (It lacks the meatiness batch no. 33 had). Nice hints of mocha and whipped cream. Tiny hint of bitterness gives the finish some oomph.

I haven’t tried it myself yet, but I understand this takes water very well. That is an indication of a high quality cask (and Sherry it held), since more recent bottlings can get very hot, very hot indeed when water is added.

OK, why not. With water the whole softens up a bit, and brings the aroma’s closer together. The wood seems to stick out a bit more, which isn’t a problem. It momentarily also enhances the fruity part, and the bitterness of the finish. Toffee, caramel and oak.

Points: 88