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.

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Glen Elgin 19yo 1991/2010 (53.9%, Signatory Vintage, Cask Strength Collection, Refill Sherry Butt #2324, 412 bottles)

After the amazement of the Glendronach I recently reviewed, here is another shock (at least for me it is). I’m actually baffled I didn’t throw in Glen Elgin earlier on these pages, since it is one of my secret loves. Every Single Malt aficionado knows which Malts are just the best, but one always has a secondary, more personal, list of Single Malts. Everybody just loves Brora, or at least knows its one of the best around. However, not a lot of people would pick f.i. Teaninch as such, which is one of my other favorites. Usually it is a Malt with a less “easy” profile that somehow manages to tickle one’s fancy. It’s personal.

Glen Elgin. I love it. Many times it just floats my boat, and this one is no different. I brought it with me as a favorite to my Whiskyclubs gathering in Hamburg, where it failed to get the applause, I thought, it deserves. Yes, again, my opinion. The same club presented me a while back with a sister cask of this one, bottled something around the 61% ABV mark, and since then, I was looking out for a bottle of my own. This cask #2324, in Hamburg, was deemed too extreme and hot by many, but after a 1990 Family Cask of Glenfarclas, the Elgin was retried and deemed more accessible and creamy. So, remember, when tasting a lot of Malts in short succession, it is important where it is placed in the line-up, what you had to eat, how tired you are, and understand how your palate works. It all depends…

Color: Copper orange.

Nose: Sherry, nutty, creamy with lots of soft vanilla notes. Soft wood fiber, but right from the start, not the usual oak aromas. I get hints of Rhum Agricole. Storm by the waterfront. Waterfront organics. Reed. Old air-dried oak (the outside of the cask). Vanilla, cream and wood, but not very fruity yet. Spicy and slightly grassy (wet). Sometimes hints of licorice (wood). Otherwise thick and syrupy with the sugar smell you get from a freshly opened sugar packet. The Rhum Agricole notes stay around, rendering the smell more dry. Add to this another layer of an acidic red berry smell (and some gravy) for complexity. Greek yoghurt? Only hints of sugared and dried yellow fruits now, but I couldn’t tell you which ones (dried papaya and pineapple come to mind).

Taste: Short attack. Big. Starts with some vanilla sweetness mixed with paper or cardboard. Wood, nuts and fruit. Fresh almonds (chewed). Creamy and dusty. Nutty and a medium wax aroma. Altogether a medium and very pleasurable body. The big start soon gets smaller. Fruity acidity on top, from red fruits. Berries. The acidity is quite unexpected and doesn’t fit the nose all that well, or the Whisky as a whole for that matter. Hints of Beer. Finishes (long) on the fruity acidity adding some light bitterness for the first time. The bitterness makes up the aftertaste as well.

I have to be honest. I don’t like it as much now as I did in the beginning. It is definitely one you have to work with, but you also need to forgive some minor flaws (like the acidic top note). I also fear this suffers a bit from oxidation. This is a bottle I often grab when I want a few cask strength Sherry expressions, so it is already 2/3 down, lots of air to play with.

Points: 85

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!

Highland Park Week – Day 5: Highland Park 9yo 1988/1997 (59.6%, Signatory Vintage, Sherry Butt #10700, 630 bottles)

Lets backup in time even some more. We stay in the land of the independent bottler, this time Signatory Vintage. We are going to take a look at another Highland Park matured in a Sherry cask, a butt even. This one is an even younger example at 9 years of age. The G&M/Whisky Mercenary bottling was 20yo, The Wilson & Morgan was around 14yo, and this Signatory Vintage bottling is a mere 9yo. Highly unusual back then, not so unusual today, since demand has risen dramatically. There is no time anymore to age the bulk of Whisky when there are so much of you around, dear readers. We’ll also go back in time bit since this was distilled in 1988. That is almost 30 years ago!

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Funky Sherry, but this time with some quality behind it. Meaty and buttery as well, with some nice distant fruit going on. Dusty mocha and milk-chocolate. Dark chocolate as well. Steam, sowing-machine oil. Clean toilet notes, not to be mistaken by a freshly cleaned toilet odour. I know this sounds pretty peculiar, but I get it in this, so I couldn’t help myself and had to write it down. Deeper and more brooding. Probably Oloroso. Cedar wood with an oriental spice-mix and pencil shavings. Even though it is a young Whisky, it already smells like something from another era. Christmas spices. Christmas cake. Dusty and very thick. luxury and velvety, just like the box. The more it breathes the better is gets, give it lots of room for development. A much better Sherry cask than the one, the 1992 Wilson & Morgan expression matured in. After this, forget about that one.

Taste: Well this is almost 60% ABV and that shows. Its big, thick and a bit hot, but also very fruity (meaty blueberries), and amazingly pretty woody as well, but not too much. Luckily it also has some toffee sweetness to it, to balance it all out. Steam and coal. You are conned, by the initial sip, this is going to be sweet, but the sweetness is shoved aside by bullying tannins and Italian laurel licorice. I’m guessing this came from a first fill Oloroso butt, which impaired enough onto this Whisky, so it could be used as a very nice refill cask the second time around. Long oaky finish, with an even longer aftertaste full of black fruits and (cedar) wood. It isn’t all that complex, but when a Whisky is as tasty as this, it doesn’t need to be. It’s only 9yo, but it is bottled at the right time, believe me. Probably Oloroso, but Cream Sherry or PX might be possible as well.

Ohhh, I want one of these. 1988, wow, 9yo, wow-wow. This in my glass and some 80’s music, and I’d have a great day.

Points: 90

Highland Park Week – Day 4: Highland Park 1992/2006 (46%, Wilson & Morgan, Refill Sherry)

Yesterday we ventured into the realm of the independent bottler, well two actually. Today we’ll stay there but add only one independent bottler to our collection. This time we’ll have a look at a reasonably priced, (at least it was reasonably priced ten years ago, when this was bottled), and reduced Highland Park bottled by Italian outfit Wilson & Morgan. Yes, you’ll find a lot of people in Italy with names like that!

Yesterdays Highland Park was distilled in 1995, this particular one was distilled several years earlier. Do you see a trend? However, since this was bottled ten years prior to yesterdays 1995 offering, this one is definitely younger (as in it spent less time in wood). Here it is stated on the label that this came out of a Refill Sherry cask, so lets see if this one has more Sherry influence, compared to yesterdays Refill Hogshead.

Color: Gold.

Nose: Funky Sherry notes and actually a bit soapy. Much different from the previous Highland Park. Right from the start discrepant fruity acidic notes. Dusty and vegetal. Not very appealing actually. First impression is that something is not quite right. Warm, dull (nothing sticks out or shines) and somewhat simple. Not a lot of development. It’s almost like the Highland park distillate and this particular Sherry cask are no friends of each other. I’m wondering what kind of Sherry it was. Definitely unbalanced. Hints of caramel, toast and aspirin powder. Add to that a vibrant red fruity, synthetic, acidity. Unbelievable how dusty this is. No wood and some hidden sweetness. Syrup, sugar (the smell of it, not the sweetness). Hints of morning breath and Jenever. Powdered coffee creamer.

Taste: Wow, the dullness mentioned above is right op front the taste as well, as is (finally) some wood. Short hot burst and woody spices. Friendly hint of, again synthetic, lemon. Some sweetness in the background, toffee, coffee creamer and yet again an unbalanced middle part. Rural notes. Here the dullness translates into paper. Old newspaper (hold the ink). The red fruits mentioned above make up the rather short finish, with a unbalaced aftertaste. The cask did it’s part here. It did impair aromas you wouldn’t get from a Bourbon cask. However, just like was noticeable on the nose. The Highland Park distillate and the cask didn’t work together very well.

This one is long gone and you don’t even see them that much on auctions. Most older bottles of reduced Whisky, by Wilson & Morgan were very affordable, so I guess most were drunk when they were released. If you come across this one at auction or on a dusty shelf somewhere, well it’s not without reason it stayed on that shelf and when auctioned, I wouldn’t pay all that much for it. Its Whisky, it’s not bad and it doesn’t have big flaws. Definitely drinkable, but not a high flyer if you ask me. A bit unbalanced and very restrained or dull, but not boring, or maybe that as well…

Points: 80

Arran 19yo 1996/2016 “The Chosen One” (54.7%, OB, Limited Edition, for Whiskysite.nl, Sherry Hogshead #1390, 312 bottles)

One of the finer places to buy Whisky in the Netherlands is Whiskysite based in the town of Leiden. Excellent, wonderful looking store, good people, fair prices and a very handy Website which services the whole world. For me one of the go-to places. The same guys also host a Whisky festival called Whisky in Leiden. This years edition is next saturday on april 1st. No joke. If you are interested, I’m sure they will have room for you next year since this years edition is long sold out. Just like any real good festival, or retailer, the guys have special bottlings done for them. One of last years bottlings was a very old Arran. I can still remember Arran starting up, and here we have already a 19yo example of the Malt. I’m getting old.

Color: Gold.

Nose: First sniff and I’m guessing Fino Sherry casks. Nice Sherry note combined with nuts and wood. Mocha and a sweeter component in the background. Chewy toffee. As I said before, I never was a big fan of Fino cask Whiskies but just like Rhum Agricoles it is an acquired taste, and today, wow, I get it. They are very special. Vanilla and dried lemon powder, in part like in artificial sweets. Hints of high winds at sea, combined with cold dish water. Strange èh? But in reality not strange at all. Hints of wood come next, as well as some pencil shavings with floral notes and wood from cigar boxes. This smells very distinguished and luxury. Next a layer of cold fruitiness. Green and red apple skins, dried apricots and some dried basil as well. Sweet yoghurt. A promise of some fruity sweetness. Crushed beetle and rotting flower bulb, both a childhood memory. I’m sorry for the animal, I only did it once, by accident. Well balanced and none of the aromas presented here are overpowering. A quiet Arran. Toned down. Whispering. A sort of connoisseurs Whisky maybe. You need some experience to discover it all, as well as appreciate it fully. I hope I don’t sound arrogant now. If you are a novice, please buy it if you come across it, but wait a few years before opening it.

Taste: Half sweet and spicy. Nice wood-notes and soft nevertheless. Sweet fruit yoghurt. The stuff with peaches in it. White peach with a spicy bite. Warming. Mocha and hard coffee candy. Butterscotch and some aspartame sweetness. Pencil shavings. Again, well-balanced stuff and very tasty. If this would have been 5% lower in ABV, this would be dangerously drinkable and you’d finish the bottle way too quickly. Now it is slightly hot, which makes you appreciate it better and follow it up with a different Whisky. It’s almost as if the sweetness and the dryness of the wood are competing. one sip, and one manages to get all the attention, and in the next sip the other. Hints of Belgian Beer towards the finish. The finish itself is quite long.

Good cask strength Whisky from a nice (Fino) cask. No typical distillery character if you ask me, but also no particular aroma that manages to take the lead. Well balanced but with nothing really sticking out, making for a bit anonymous yet well-balanced Whisky.

Points: 86

Tamdhu “Batch Strength” (58.8%, OB, Batch 001, Sherry Casks, 2015)

In our series of NAS Cask Strength Whiskies, here is number three. After the nice Glengoyne and the surprisingly good Tomatin, here is Tamdhu. Tamdhu is since 2011, the new jewel in the crown of Ian MacLeod, who have managed to save yet another distillery from the hands of the Edrington Group. The group chose to focus on the highly marketable Macallan and Highland Park brands, so no use for this low profile, but high quality distillery Tamdhu is. Over the years all previous owners haven’t done a lot with the Tamdhu brand, so there aren’t a lot of Tamdhu expressions around. Ian MacLeod, being the new owners, came up with a nice retro design and up ’till now have released four expressions. A 10yo that is widely available, blended from first and second fill Sherry casks. A limited edition 10yo, blended from first fill Sherry casks only, which has sold out rather quickly. And last but not least, two batches of the Batch Strength expression. Today we’ll have a look at the first batch, although last year the second batch saw the light of day.

Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Funky bread-like notes. Cereal and smelly, brooding Sherry. Quite spirity and paper-like at first. Cold dish-water. After a short while of breathing a more likeable fruity note emerges, but not much. Hints of gravy, Beer and menthol. Butterscotch and a rather strange burnt note, with an acidic top note (that’s why its strange). I’m not alarmed though, because the previous two NAS cask strength expressions started out funky as well, but turned out to be really tasty in the end. Next a more vegetable and woody note. Spicy but not in a big way. Still some paper, (slightly scented toilet paper comes to mind), as well as some jasmine tea. Pencil shavings start to emerge. Soft with a hint of sweetness. Creamy and nutty. The more it breathes the more toffee it shows. The strangeness mentioned above never really disappears.

Taste: Big on toffee and pencil shavings. Wow. Nice. Sweet. Hot. Big. Brash. I like it! Here too a funky note. Even some orange skin. Different from the other two, but one that screams yes! Its good. Where the nose had some off-putting aroma’s, the taste is very inviting. If you like cask strength, this is immediately likeable. Sure a bit raw and at times a wee bit under-matured, but not much. It won’t be twenty years old, but it won’t be three years either. Well made, you can taste a lot of care went into this. Lots of nutty Sherry notes, so I’m guessing some Sherries that matured under flor were used as well. Wonderful woody elements adding to the whole. Medium finish at best. The big aroma’s turn dry and then disappear altogether, which invites you to take another sip.

First of all, this is all Sherry casks, as the plan is for all Tamdhu releases, but way different from the all Sherry cask Aberlour A’Bunadh, blended solely from Oloroso Sherry casks. Compared to the other two I reviewed recently, or even to the A’Bunadh, this is maybe priced a tad to high, but I suspect this liquid was also quite pricy to produce.

However, if I had to choose on smell alone I would pick the Tomatin, which is also less expensive than this Tamdhu, but since Ian MacLeod made the bold move to buy this distillery, which isn’t known to the big public, I understand the pricing and the Whisky is definitely worth its price. In a direct comparison with the Tomatin Cask Strength, it is obvious both are equally good, and both show something about the distilleries they’re from. The difference in taste is a matter of opinion, as well as your mood. You can’t go wrong with either of them, including the Glengoyne which did score one point less.

Points: 85

Thanks Alan!