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.

Tomatin 12yo 2002/2014 “Pedro Ximénez Sherry” (46%, OB, Cuatro Series #4, 3 years Pedro Ximénez Sherry Finish, 1.500 bottles)

The fourth and final installment of the Cuatro series is the one finished in Pedro Ximénez (PX) Sherry casks. Understandably the last one of the series, since PX is a very dark and sweet dessert Sherry. The grape variety itself is white, getting its color of drying in the sun. We started out light (in color, not aromatics) with the Fino and Manzanilla expressions. Examples of Sherries that age under flor (which keeps oxygen at bay). The third expression was the Oloroso one. Oloroso is a Sherry that ages without flor and thus prone to react with oxygen. So finally the PX. Even darker than Oloroso and also very sweet as opposed to most other kinds of Sherry. Historically, Oloroso casks were always the most popular casks for ageing Whisky. Back in the day, one was sure the Oloroso butt (or puncheon) was made of european oak, giving off some more tannins than the American oak that is so popular with Sherry Bodega’s today. American oak gives off a more vanilla like and creamy aroma. Today, PX has become quite fashionable as well, for ageing Whisky, since it gives off a lot of color and a sweetish aroma. However, the sweetness does not always come through though.

Tomatin Cuatro Pedro XiménezColor: Gold, more or less the same as the Oloroso expression, ever so slightly darker.

Nose: Thick and a very rich nose. Hints of burned wood and even some tar and coal. Nice, and right from the start a better balanced nose than the Oloroso expression. Underneath, thick, creamy and chewy, like crème brûlée. If you smell it vigorously, you can recognize the PX. On top lies a nice acidic winey note as well, adding to the complexity of the Whisky. All well-balanced here. A nice grassy note emerges, aided by some fruits. Nice overripe red and yellow fruits, but also a very distinct aroma of unripe bananas, biscuits and vitamin C pills (another acidic note). An Autumn Whisky, just for the moment the leaves start to fall. Wonderfully rich and elegant nose, better than the nose of the Oloroso expression. I hope it tastes better too!

Taste: Big. A lot from the nose comes back in the taste. Slightly tarry, burnt wood again, with hints of vanilla and butter. Burnt sugar, yet not sweet sugar. All of the (acidic) fruity notes are there, but here, even some hints of white grapes show themselves. Add to that a typically Dutch coffee bon-bon called Haagsche Hopjes, and you’ll get the picture. Nutty. Hazelnuts and even fatty peanuts. The body and the finish are not thick, chewy and cloying like a true PX Sherry, but the aroma’s are there. A somewhat Beer-like finish. The different “burnt” notes; the tar, the wood and the sugar, are on the rise, so if you don’t like that, don’t get this one. It starts out elegant, but ends a bit raw and bold.

And there you have it. The whole Cuatro range explored. Was it worth it? Yes! A very nice learing experience. Do you, and I, as consumers need the whole set of four? Yes, we do if you want to share the experience with lots of others. Four bottles of study material from the Tomatin University Distillery. Do you need a whole box to drink by yourself? No, not really.

For this end piece I did a proper H2H2H2H. Yes, that means I have four drams in front of me. Comparing the Fino to the Manzanilla is interesting, but for a drinking Whisky both are too similar. Especially on the nose. If you only want one, I would opt for the Fino expression, since it tastes slightly better. Oloroso, supposedly the best Sherry cask for Whisky, was in this case a bit disappointing. Smelled less aromatic than the first two, but otherwise surprisingly similar. Not the same but certainly very well related. On the taste it is somewhat unbalanced especially toward the finish. I would pass on that one. Finally the PX does show poise, and yes it does start a bit sweeter on entry compared to the other three. It’s well-balanced, and definitely the one to pick over the Oloroso expression. But, and there is a but, the PX does show a lot of burnt notes you’ll have to like, although those notes are more and more obvious in the Oloroso expression as well. In the end, I would take two, The Fino and the PX, Both are very tasty and somewhat different from each other, but not as much as expected beforehand. If I had to pick one, I would definitely go for the Fino, which for me is the best of the bunch.

Points: 85

Lagavulin 1986/2002 “Distillers Edition” (43%, OB, lgv. 4/490)

Lagavulin is one of my all time favorite distilleries. It’s almost impossible to encounter a bad Lagavulin. I can’t believe this is just the third review of Lagavulin on these pages the other two being the other two from the current standard range. The 16yo and the 12yo. The 16yo is the modern classic (It used to be the 12yo with the cream label) and right at the time there was a rumour the 16yo would be quite scarce, the new cask strength 12yo was released. As I said, the current standard range is the 16yo, this distillers edition I’m about to review, and the 12yo cask strength version. The latter two come to us as “annual releases”. Just like Springbank, this means that there is some batch variation. A wanted batch variation, to buy more of the same and compare them to other releases, identified by  bottling year.

Just like NAS today, batch variation was always a dirty phrase, it’s not a word isn’t it. But marketing turned that around, just as they are trying with NAS. For me NAS means younger, less matured Whisky, so less contact with wood and as Gordon & MacPhail so aptly put it: “The wood makes the Whisky”. I’m not really happy about NAS, but I never disliked batch variations (again, look at Springbank), unless if the only way seemed to be down. There always has been a lot of discussion about our very Lagavulin 16yo, losing power, balance and character, but I hear the latest batches are becoming better and better again. Today Laphroaig seems to suffer from that…

This is the fifth Lagavulin Distillers Edition (DE). The first was distilled in 1979, the second in 1980, the third in 1981, and the fourth in 1984. Just like all the other distillers Editions, this Lagavulin has undergone a second maturation (a finish) in Pedro Ximénez (PX) casks.

Lagavulin DE 2002Color: Copper orange.

Nose: Fantastic peat. Lagavulins from the eighties can have this excellent peat, I never get tired of. Peat, tar, seashore, you name anything maritime and its in here. Sure the more recent DE’s are still pretty good, but they don’t smell like this. That’s why Whisky lovers still pay a great deal of money for these older bottlings. Smoke comes next and it smells a bit electrical. It has vanilla and a slight fruity nose. You know it’s there, but so hard to distinguish what it is. Ahhh lots of smoked (dry) sausage and slightly dried out onions and pear. Excellent, what a combination. Where have you smelled that last in a Whisky? This Lagavulin is all about balance (again some kind of dirty word for some). The whole is so fantastic, and goes on and on. Wonderful. Hard to put down. With time the fruit, still distant, finds it’s place in the whole and adds a more fresh and fruity part to the whole. Just smelling it is quite the experience, and still getting better. Lagavulin is such a big aroma, that even the thick and sweet PX can’t overpower it, just add a little something. I guess the finish was done intelligently. I’m putting off tasting it for just a while longer to put on my fisherman’s sweater…

Taste: …in the end it would be a shame not to taste this, so here goes. Well somewhat less special than the nose is the first thing that comes to mind. The PX is more upfront as well. It starts out chewy. Nice licorice, black and white powder and a thick sweet Sherry without most of its sweetness. Does that even make sense? Waxy and again very coastal and raw. Masculine. Puffer’s smoke. Burning hay. Fishy, as it should be. Smoked fish of course. Smearing tar on the hull of a boat. Get yourself something like this, because modern peated Whiskies are nowhere near this profile. I wouldn’t add water to it, because reducing it to 43% shortened the finish already. Big body, with only a medium finish. In the aftertaste the balance is slightly gone. It could have been even better than it already is! Wow.

It’s been a while, but I do understand why Whisky lovers in general pay lots of money for Whiskies like this. This is great and they sure can’t make them like this anymore. Drinking this put you in a different place and time altogether. It changes you as a person (for a while). Sure it puts you back a few hundred euro’s pounds or dollars, but try to imagine what a trip to Islay in 1986 would cost you now. It’s a time-machine and time-bomb in one. A must have.

Points: 91

Glengoyne Week – Day 4: Glengoyne 20yo 1986/2006 ‘Peter’s Choice’ (51%, OB, PX Butt #433, 603 bottles)

Well here you go, day four and here is the third and last of the Mashman’s choices from Glengoyne. Hardly a surprise after the last two days, isn’t it? This time a Pedro Ximénez Sherry Butt. Pedro Ximénez or PX for short, is a very sweet dessert Sherry. Oloroso Sherry were always considered to be the best for maturing Whisky, but it turns out that PX Casks are very good too. Let’s see how this PX-Glengoyne will do.

This is wat Peter had to say about his choice: “sweet, rich, wonderful and moves beautifully when shoogled*, just the way I like my whisky and my women!” So Peter shoogles his women? I mush have a go and shoogle my granny then!

Color: Sparkling copper brown, almost with a red tinge.

Nose: Quite fresh and light, but also raisins and alcohol. Dusty powdery wood. Utterly balanced, but not very outspoken. Charlie’s choice was definitely more ‘heavy’, this is friendlier. Dry meaty and slightly woody. Very slick and elegant yet again. Not a sherry monster. Honey sweetness and leafy.

Taste: Again very elegant, and sweet, easily recognizable as a PX Sherry. There is wood, but not very much, also something hoppy, with a hint of soap. The body is firm enough to withstand the soap, so don’t see that as a problem. The whole is thinner than Charlie’s choice though. The finish here is again beer-like and a bit sour. If that had stayed more fatty and sweet, that this would have been a score into the 90’s.

A very nice pick by Mashman Peter, may the shoogle be with you! This is the last of the Choices from personnel of the Glengoyne distillery, tomorrow the choice is mine again! Nosing the three Mashman’s choices, I would say the best nose is on Charlie. Tastewise it is a tie between Charlie and Peter, where Charlie is more brutal, or sporty, and Peter is more dressed to the occasion, so to speak. Both score the same and which one is better is dependent on how you feel. So two ties here, one between Charlie and Peter and a second between Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez.

Points: 88

* Shoogle is a Scottish word which means to gently shake or agitate.

Gonzalez Byass Cristina Oloroso Abocado

Some casks of Gonzalez Byass lying around...

Gonzalez Byass is an often seen cask in Scottish warehouses. These casks already find their way into making some excellent whisky. As we all know, the best results come from Oloroso casks, so here we have the opportunity to try a nice Oloroso from Gonzalez Byass.

This Oloroso is made of Palomino Fino and Pedro Ximénez (both white grapes!). Up to 95% of all grapes used for sherry is Palomino. Since this Sherry is sweetened with the PX-grape, this is essentially is a cream sherry. Usually three types of Palomino are grown: Palomino Fino, Palomino Basto, and Palomino de Jerez. Of which the first one is considered the best for making Sherry and especially today the latter two are grown less and less. Besides these Palomino’s, only Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel grapes are used for Sherry.

Gonzalez Byass Cristina Oloroso AbocadoEssentially, there are three types of Sherry:

1. Fino (including Amontillado and Manzanilla)
2. Oloroso
3. Palo Cortado

Fino Sherries arise under flor. This means that when the must is fermented a ‘flower’ of yeast (flor) grows on the surface, and no oxygen can pass through. This also causes the finished wine to have that fresh yeasty taste.

In Oloroso (‘Scented’) Sherries the flor is suppressed by fortification at an earlier stage. Since the lack of this layer of flor, the Sherry comes in contact with air through the porous walls of oak casks, and undergoes oxidative aging. Due to the ageing, the wine becomes darker and stronger.

Palo Cortado is a rare kind of Sherry and is placed between Fino and Oloroso. Palo Cortado resembles Oloroso in color and taste and has the aromatics of Amontillado (sort of long aged Fino), and it doesn’t arise under flor.

Color: Golden Brown. Amber.

Nose: Nutty and fragrant. Diluted PX, so notes of raisins. Very floral and maybe some fresh wood and vanilla. Toffee. Baked banana. Actually quite nice.

Taste: Sweet and sour, with lots of depth. Clean lemony acidity. Not cloying, thin compared to PX. So I guess not a lot of PX was used, nor should it have been used, to me this seems just right. Actually I quite like this. Easily drinkable and for me a thirst quenching Sherry. Recommended.

I’m quite new to Oloroso’s. I just had only one before and that was a bone dry one. This one, at 17% ABV, has some PX thrown into the mix and therefore is more palatable than the dry one I remember. Time to expand more into Oloroso Sherry, since a new world has just opened itself to me.

By the way, I found out that good bottles of Sherry are far less costly than the most recent offerings of whisky, which seem outrageous. Today a new 21yo Lagavulin (yes Oloroso Casks) costs almost 700 Euro’s. I think I’ll buy some more Sherries tomorrow.

Points: 87

PX Sherry: Valdivia Pedro Ximénez Dulce

Some casks of Valdivia lying around...Valdivia was founded by a supplier of building materials in 2003. He bought an old property in Jerez and completely renovated it. Next was locating some old stock to be able to release a series of old Sherries. This Series is called Sacromonte and are made up of 15 year old Sherries. Here we will try a PX from the ‘standard’ series. The modern look is aimed at the new trend-conscious generation. In its young history, Bodegas Valdivia already has its third owner.

Valdivia Pedro Ximénez (Muy Dulce version)Color: Mahogany. Dark brown with a fabulous red hue.

Nose: Wood, leather, raisins and figs, Lavas. Old books and syrup (not as strange as it seems). Hint of smoke and tar. Smells sugary sweet with a promise of nice acidity. Greenish. Fresh cut shrubs (a smell of working in the garden trimming various plants). Fabulous balance. It doesn’t smell only thick, as some PX do, nor has it a kind of mustiness, still it does smell elegant and ‘fresh’.

Color: Mahogany. It’s essentially dark brown with a fabulous red hue.

Nose: Wood and leather. Raisins and figs. This has even some lavas notes. Old books in syrup (what?). A hint of smoke and tar. Smells sugary sweet with the promise of nice acidity. Green. Fresh cut shrubs (a smell of working in the garden trimming various plants). Fabulous balance. It doesn’t only smell thick, as some other PX do, nor has it only a kind of freshness, but it does smell like a modern and elegant,’fresh’ PX.

Taste: Wow what a texture. Modern tasting. Sweet, but not raisiny as most others are. Some asphalt in the mix, but mostly clean sugar syrup and cough syrup. This should go over pancakes. Definitely a Sherry to accompany (sweet) foods, not only after dinner or as a dessert. The body is quite mild and the finish is short. Not what I’ve expected.

It’s good. Compared to the Lustau reviewed earlier, this is a less typical PX, less old skool and thus more modern. Even though it’s quite thick It lacks a bit in the taste department if you sip it like I’m used to. This one should be taken in big gulps en then, and only then, does this Valdivia show what it’s made of. Even the Elite I’ve tasted earlier has more going on in the taste department, what is a surprise considering the Elite had an ultra thin, velvety, texture.

Valdivia PX Dulce LabelFor me the nose is fabulous, and the taste a bit thin and short. Lacks a bit of complexity. When I finish this bottle, I will try the 15yo Valdivia.

Points: 83

PX Sherry: Lustau Pedro Ximénez “San Emilio”

Lustau LogoEarly November I started a series to support the drinking of sherry to get more good sherry casks for the whisky industry. For reasons not even science can wholly explain, I picked PX Sherries as a starting point. As mentioned before, PX or Pedro Ximénez is the most syrupy and sweet Sherry around, and is considered an after dinner Sherry or one to accompany a nice (sweet) dessert. Goes well with ice-cream.

Lustau PX San EmilioEmilio Lustau was founded in 1896 by Don José Ruiz-Berdejo who was an Almacenista himself. He made Sherries and stored them for a while, after which he sold them off to larger companies, thus adding value. In 1940, his son-in-law and name-giver for the company, Don Emilio Lustau Ortega moved the Bodega to the old quarter of Jerez. Since then the company wanted to be the best and expanded by offering high quality Sherries.

This “San Emilio” PX (17% ABV) is from the Solera Reserva range which has it’s heritage in the original Stocks of Don José Ruiz-Berdejo. His stocks were combined with special Sherries from different “Almacenistas”,  small independent wine-producers. Besides this Solera Reserva range, where casks of the same type of Sherries are blended, there is also a very interesting Almacenista range. In this series, Lustau selects small batches of high quality sherries which have been made and matured by small independent producers, or “Almacenistas”, who often make Sherries as a hobby.

Color: Almost black mahogany.

Nose: Very elegant syrupy Sherry which has a nice dry whiff of paper over it. Grassy with cloves. Dried apricot and raisins, also a more spicy element which you get when putting parsley in broth. A hint of yeast and/or flor (Marmite), so not only syrupy and sweet. For me also hints of lavas.

Taste: Sweet (sometimes sugary), but accompanied by a nice acidic touch, which is a great effect on the palate. The acidity reminds me a bit of the lemon part of cola. I Love SherryYes the apricots are there and some vibrant freshly made raisins and maybe some dates. Very lively and never dull, heavy or dusty.Very well balanced. Actually, this is blended so well to a nice harmony, that it’s almost hard and not even fair to look for separate markers or hints of it. The sum is so great.

Easily a favourite of mine when looking at PX Sherries. Excellent and an easy recommendation. Oops, another “San Emilio” finished…Next bottle!

Points: 89