Whisky tasting: Bowmore Small Batch

Bowmore. I’ve talked about this distillery before. Great town, a cafe serving the best black pudding known to humanity, a cute round kirk. A distillery that, when it’s not good (Bowmore Legend), makes me want to burn the whole town down.

On a whim, I picked up a bottle of the 12yo, and have been enjoying it quite a bit (will write it up at some point). Last year at Whisky Live I recall tasting the Small Batch, and liking it, but anyone can tell you, sometimes things get a little blurred at Whisky Live.

So, figuring I may have been remembering things right, I bought a bottle. It ticks all the boxes that would make a whisky snob run the other way (no age statement, 40% ABV, pobably chill filtered, probably with added colour, RRP <$70), but where’s the fun if not in winding up hipsters?

For the tasting, I’m even forgoing the Glencairn for a Bowmore promotional glass — it still tulips a little but could be considered a closer relative of the dreaded tumbler.

Colour: I don’t usually note a dram’s colour, given it could be because of anything really, but will make an exception here. The Small Batch is a beautiful golden colour, somewhere between straw and pathology sample, but I like it.

Nose: It’s Bowmore on the nose; a little smoke, some seaweed (but not too much), black pepper, vanilla, a little honey, maybe some toffee too.

Taste: It’s a little jumbled, lots of things going on, so it’s like malt-and-toffee-and-citrus-and-honey-and-vanilla-and-pepper. It’s good, if possibly a little sharp, and maybe lacking a little body.

Finish: Pleasant, if a little dry, and not exceptionally long. There’s a hint of smoke at the end, and possibly a bit of spice, ginger and maybe nutmeg. A wave of orange appears when I exhale, and is gone.

And with a drop of water…

Nose: maybe a hint of licorice? A little sweeter, maybe boiled sweets in the mix?

Taste: Did I only add a drop? It’s now more cohesive, but less going on. Malt, honey and a hint of spice, but not firing on all cylinders. It has lost the sharp edge though. Quite smooth.

Finish: A smooth and delicate hint of the sea, maybe in the dryness. The orange wave has gone.

And the official notes http://www.bowmore.com/whiskies/small-batch/ :

On the eye warm gold.

Breathe in vanilla fudge, sea air and peat smoke, balanced beautifully by honeycomb and cinnamon spice.

Sip mouth-watering citrus, gentle saltiness and vanilla with flakes of coconut.

Savour the wispy smoke, bourbon vanilla and lime finish.

I’m not spotting the coconut, but an impressed at how much I’m in agreement with the official notes. Maybe I’m getting the hang of this.

Overall it’s a good dram. Not as good as the 12yo, but not at all unpleasant. I’d go for skipping the water. A solid sipper.

Whisky Tasting: Caol Ila 2014 Distillers Edition

This was bought as a 100mL bottle split, as a result don’t have the original label to refer to. So apologies if the Distillers Edition needs an apostrophe.

Caol Ila is a fairly new love, only in the last couple of years have I got to know this other Islay dram, I think initially through some stunning SMWS selections. Since then I’ve had both the standard 12 and a couple of the unpeated, as well as SMWS offerings, and am impressed by what this distiller offers.

It’s probably an under-appreciated, less fashionable Islay, not that owners Diageo seem to mind. Their singlemalts are only a small part of their huge production. At the same time it challenges all the talk of storage location, as barely a drop of Caol Ila is stored on Islay, and none bottled or barrelled there. Once distilled, large tanker trucks take the spirit to somewhere between Glasgow and Edinburghto barrel and store.

Regardless of the process of creation, Caol Ila is still a fine dram.

Nose: A lot of Islay, almost Lagavulin in it’s seaweedy oily iodineness. A little pepper, maybe a touch of brine, and the peat.

Taste: Smoke and pepper, some oil, some peat, and possibly a sweet note in there. A good full body but could use an extra punch in the flavour.

Finish: Not as long as I’d expected, fades quickly into just a hint of smoke. Hardly the big Islay the nose promised.

To me, it’s not the full oily punch the standard delivers.

And with a drop of water…

Nose: more smoke and pepper, less oil, a little sharper.

Taste: More pepper and spice, sharper and thinner (and it was a solitary drop of water into at least 20 mL).

Finish: shorter.

That drop of water certainly hasn’t worked for me. It’s added an almost Talisker sharpness, but without the oil or the brine. Sadly either with or without, I couldn’t find the wonderful Caol Ila citrus notes in this dram.

And the official tasting notes

Nose Wonderfully concentrated and clean, peaty, medicinal, with rich fruit, spicy and fragrant.
Palate Sweet maltiness strike first, then overwhelmed by peat smoke, intense, crisp flavours, and cinnamon spice.
Finish Long, rounded, robust and multi-layered.

Not my favourite Caol Ila. It’s a decent dram, a nice whisky but for me this distillery has a lot more to offer. If this is the only Caol Ila you’ve tried, don’t fear the others.

Whisky Revisited: Laphroaig Triple Wood

I started this thinking I hadn’t reviewed this dram, but a quick scan of headings tells me I have. So I thought I’d revisit it, without looking back at what I said last time. It’s a tricky thing, Laphroaig, I love it in all of its many forms, but I’m not sure I can tell all of them apart. Maybe I should test that at a tasting some time, see if I can.

Nose: It smells like Laphroaig, sweet, smoky, iodine, peaty, oily, the sea.

Taste: Lots of smoke, hints of dark cocoa, toffee, oily smoky peaty goodness.

Finish: long, rum and raisin chocolate,

Now I’ll see what I said last time…. mostly the same, less fruit up front perhaps, no pepper. Good to see my palate is generally consistent. Last time I said it seemed dialled down from the stronger Laphroaigs, but this time around I’m just getting different, a decent kick of flavour. Maybe not my favourite Laphroaig, but a decent dram.




Whisky tasting: Bowmore Black Rock

I’ve talked about my love-hate deal with Bowmore, so I won’t repeat that. Instead I’ll go off on a travel retail rant. The Black Rock is one of the 3 or 4 “travel retail exclusives” that Bowmore do. I’ve had two of them, the White Sands and this one, and the White Sands is the only onen in the range carrying an age statement. So there’s two black marks against this one before the bottle is even open, in these days where NAS and TR are frowned upon.

I’ve had a couple of naff TR drams (no names but they were definitely below the standard normally delivered) so I was a little hesitant to start with this one. But start I did.

Nose: rounded, caramel, malt, vanilla, spice, maybe cinnamon, orange peel, a hint of peat smoke.

Taste: lots of chewy malt up front, dark chocolate, orange, cardamom, salted caramel, demerera sugar, a little smoke coming in over the top but not overpowering.

Finish: decent length, toffee, smoky malt and a hint of the sea.

And with a drop of water.

Nose: More dark chocolate and spice, a profound opening event. Less citrus, more toffee.

Taste: Coffee and spice over the top, and pepper.

Finish: All the above, maybe less salt and some milk chocolate.

The official tasting notes:

On the eye dark amber

Breathe in smoke infused with raisins, pepper, warm cocoa beans and burnt orange

Sip rich sherry and peat smoke followed by blackcurrant treacle toffee and cinnamon spice

Savour beautifully balanced peat smoke and sea salt

It’s good stuff. It maybe NAS, TR, chill filtered and only 40%, but I’m happy to recommend it.

Whisky Tasting: Bowmore Tempest Batch 3

It’s been a while between drinks. Well, not really, but a while between tasting notes. Kicking off a new run with the Bowmore Tempest, Batch 3. I have a love/hate deal with Bowmore, they produce some wonderful drams in the Darkest, White Sands and Black Gold. The Small Batch is fine for what it is. The Legend is legendary in all the wrong ways: an unbalanced thin smoky drop that shouldn’t be called whisky; the 12 is a similarly single note affair,  and it’s not a good note. Reaching for a strange Bowmore is a gamble for me, it could be a real treasure.

Nose: citrus, hints of an ocean breeze, light peat, sweetness.

Taste: Cocoa malt, salted caramel, smooth smoke,  hints of cardamom and spice.

Finish: Long and smooth, a little peat, a lot of chocolate, a little toffee.

In the name of science I’ll add a drop of water.

Nose: More toffee, same ocean.

Taste: more citrus and spice, maybe pepper and ginger?

Finish: Maybe a little shorter, but it’s cask strength so it could be a trick of the palate.

It’s a strong dram, but well balanced at cask strength. It’s a Bowmore with a lot of depth, and I like it this way.

The official tasting notes here say: http://www.bowmore.com/whiskies/tempest/

Tempest Batch No. 3 – 55.6% ABV

On the eye bright, golden summer barley.

Breathe in Seville orange zest with Islay peat smoke.

Sip initally dry but giving way to reveal orange blossom and an atlantic sea-salt tang.

Savour lingering warming peat.

It’s a fine dram, but don’t buy it all, I may want another bottle. A good Bowmore is a fine thing.

Whisky Tasting: Laphroaig Triple Wood

Time for some more Islay goodness, from probably my fave distillery. I’ve had a number of Laphroaigs over the years, so will probably go hard on this dram. It has a lot to live up to.

Nose: All the Laphroaig classics: peat, smoke, iodine, dark sugar, with maybe a hint of dried fruit. All the classics, but possibly dialed down a little.

Taste: Dark chocolate, smoked malt, treacle, pepper (though this may be a remnant from dinner), maybe some dried orange or orange peel too.

Finish: medicinal, with bitter dark chocolate and smoke.

It’s been a little while since I’ve had a standard Laphroaig bottling, so I may have to recalibrate my tastebuds, but overall this was fine but subdued. It’s nice, but not really pushing the barrow of “The most richly flavoured of all Scotch whiskies”, not in the same way the Quarter Cask and 10yo Cask Strength do.

and with a single drop of water…

Nose: a little more fruit, a little less peat.

Taste: the smoke comes through stronger, everything else is there but dialed down a little.

Finish: sharper, slightly more bitter chocolate.

And the official tasting notes: http://www.laphroaig.com/whiskies/triple-wood.aspx

NOSE: At 48%, straight from the bottle, the initial flavour is quite sweet with a gentle mixture of sweet raisins and creamy apricots with just a trace of the dry peat smoke at the back, the smoother nutty flavours combine all these flavours into one smooth, syrupy whole. With a touch of water the peat smoke comes to the fore and masks the gentler fruitier notes. Even with the maturation being carried out in 1st fill bourbons, quarter casks and sherry butts, the intense bonfire ash smell of the earthy peat cannot be masked

BODY: Powerful yet with a creamy consistency

PALATE: With no water, a large initial burst of peat belies the slight lack on the nose but is gentled on the tongue by the creamier flavours of vanilla and fruit with just a suggestion of sherry sweetness. With a trace of water the peat reek is gentled, allowing the more complex flavours of citrus fruits and spices to come through. A slight tang comes from the European Oak balancing the creamier American White Oak.

FINISH: Mouth filling and extremely long but balanced by the sweet smooth caramel taste

So I’m getting dark chocolate where they get caramel, but otherwise I seem to be backward (my impressions without water are closer to theirs with).

It’s a tough call, were it not Laphroaig I’d be singing the praises of this dram highly. There’s certainly a bunch to like about the triple wood, wonderful flavours, a long finish that just gets sweeter, and a price point just over $100 that’s just about right. I just feel that it sits a little safe: the peat freaks won’t be challenged, and yet there’s still more peat than a typical peat-avoider would like.

This brings up something else, in that Laphroiag have also done the right thing by the NCF (non-chill filtering) evangelists on this dram, but it in spite of this it seems to bring less to the party than the supposedly chill filtered 10yo. It’s pushing me more to think that it doesn’t really matter, as long as the final dram is good. But then a bunch of what I say above also reads like someone looking for a taste or experience that the dram isn’t, too.

So I guess if you’re looking for something peaty, and with hints of fruit, it’s not a bad drop. It’s no xmas cake, not a hospital ward, nor the aftermath of a bonfire, but brings a hint of each.