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.

Highland Park Week – Day 1: Highland Park “Leif Eriksson” (40%, OB, Travel Retail Exclusive, 2011)

Time for another of Master Quill’s weeks. This time around we’ll focus on Highland Park. When rummaging through my stash of samples or bottles I sometimes come across a few which have some sort of common link, usually being made at the same distillery, but there can be many others. In no way should it be a true cross-section of the standard range or should it be all official or recent bottlings. Nope, the aim is to have fun with seven Whiskies, more or less picked at random. In this case Highland Park gets the honor. I have picked seven Highland Park Whiskies to have fun with and put them in some sort of logical order. We’ll start off with Leif Eriksson, one of many travel retail offerings. Usually reduced to 40% and usually bottled in a convenient litre bottle. This time however it is the standard 700ml bottle that can be easily picked up outside of an airport…

I may have mentioned this before, but Highland Park is owned by the Edrington Group. A company that also owns The Macallan. With both these distilleries, or brands, Edrington do a lot of marketing. There is an obvious core range made up of Whiskies with age statements, and some of them have already featured on these pages as well. Besides that Highland Park, as many others, loves travel retail outlets and are keen on issuing special series (aiming at collectors).

I am a big fan of the Highland Park distillate and when we look at Highland Park, pré marketing, you would have a hard time finding even a mediocre bottling. Just have a go at an older wide neck bottling and you’ll know what I mean, or even ask Olivier Humbrecht about Highland Park and you are set for the day.

The beginning of the special series craze, I mentioned above, started with the release of Earl Magnus in 2009 (5.976 bottles). It is part of a trilogy called the Inga Saga. Earl Magnus is a 15yo Highland Park of impeccable quality, and back then was released at a more than reasonable price. It was followed up in 2010 with a 12yo called Saint Magnus (11.994 bottles), which was a bit less interesting and the series was concluded in 2011 with an 18yo called Earl Haakon (3.000 bottles). It was a hybrid of the standard ages of 12yo, 15yo and 18yo, but also bore names of mythical figures from the history of Orkney. Today its hard to imagine a company releasing only one special bottling a year! By the way, this 18yo was top-notch again. Many series like this were created since.

However Leif Eriksson is not part of any series I know of. It’s a bottling commemorating the Viking Eriksson who was the first European to set foot in North America. So it shall be no surprise this Highland Park was matured wholly in American Oak casks (probably all ex-Bourbon).

highland-park-leif-erikssonColor: Gold.

Nose: Starts with a hint of smoke and heather, and a nice funkiness I know from older Highland Parks. Initially also quite sweet. Nice sweet barley notes, honey and also quite fruity. Cold butter. A very appealing, and slightly dirty, nose. Lots of vanilla and creamy latex paint, as could be expected. Less expected was the coal dust and Aspirin powder I got next. Highland Park is a distillate that does well in any cask. Excellent nose.

Taste: Oh no. Aiii, sweet honey and sugar-water. What a shame. This one is definitely ruined by reduction. Maybe they felt it was too hot at cask strength and since it had to be bottled for travel retail they automatically reduced it to the lowest strength possible, 40% ABV. Sweet, creamy vanilla again. Hints of almonds. Lots of creamy notes as well as lots of vanilla. That’s the main marker of the taste. Not a lot of wood though, although there is a nice toasted cask edge to it. The palate matches the nose very well. This should have been a litre bottle, since to get the max out of this you need to drink this in big gulps and roll it around a lot in your mouth (needs a lot of air as well). Funny enough a slightly bitter oak note emerges in the aftertaste…

You can still taste the potential of this. It is almost as if has to be suitable for pilots who still have to fly. I hope not. The nose is wonderful and the taste does show the potential. It is not a bad Whisky. It could have been a very good Bourbon expression of Highland Park, but it was ruined by one bad decision. The amount of reduction. Still, it sometimes can hit a soft spot, and is still an example how Highland Park can be without the (big) Sherry.

Points: 81

Highland Park “Einar” (40%, OB, The Warrior Series, 1 Litre, 2013)

First we had a core range, after that came the special bottlings and since a short while we also have special series. Highland Park had a lot of success releasing Earl Magnus (a 15yo released in 2009), Saint Magnus (a 12yo released in 2010) and Earl Haakon (a 18yo released in 2011), one per year. Thus a series was born. Next series was the warrior series, specially released for travel Retail (airports, boats and so on). In statistical sales figures, travel retail bottlings are treated as a country! That’s how many are sold this way. The warrior series comprises of six different bottlings, all released in 2013: Einar, Harald, Sigurd, Ragnvald, Thorfinn and Svein. Next came not a “series”, but a “collection” called The Valhalla Collection. Thor (16yo, 2012), Loki (15yo, 2013), Freya (15yo, 2014) and Odin (16yo, 2015). Again one per year. Aptly named though, since those bottlings seemed to be snapped up for collections and not so much for drinking purposes. By now Whisky became a commodity for trade and not an alcoholic beverage. Not a lot of reviews exist of these bottlings, so they must be sitting on shelves of collectors, trying to sell the now complete collection of 4 to…other collectors. Yeah, this will work just nicely.

Highland Park EinarColor: Gold.

Nose: Sweet, mocha, vanilla and a hint of funky Sherry and wood. Tiny hint of cask toast and alcohol. Toasted bread and something meaty. Dried. Sweet barley, almost like corn. Sweet funky mud. This one does develop over time. Powdered sugar and a floral soap quality (not much). A likeable and un-complex nose. Not bad at all.

Taste: Sweet and candy like. Sweet, almost artificial, red fruit drops. Sugar water and vanilla. Sugar with a bite. A slightly bitter note of oak at the start of the finish, as well as a small gingery note. Also here is the funkiness I got in the nose, that seems Sherried. Too simple actually, but without off notes as well.

Very sweet and light Highland Park. Typical travel retail bottling. It’s a litre, its 40%, its light. Even a litre of this will be drunk at a fast pace, because to properly taste this you need to take this in big gulps. Not one to ponder over for many hours. A bit too plain and simple, not to say a bit dull. Is it bad then? No not really. It’s somewhat recognizable as a Highland Park and that’s no bad thing. It’s still a decent Whisky, that can only be surpassed by (a lot of) other Whiskies. Nothing to scoff about. Never the less, not something I would buy (I would buy the 18yo or even the Dark Origins).

Points: 78

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