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: Oban 14yo

What I know about Oban I could probably fit on one hand. I’m lead to believe that the correct pronunciation is closer to “o-bin”. The distillery is apparently right in the middle of town (a town I’ve been through, but didn’t see the distillery). Oban is owned by Diageo. There’s also a big-ass essay written on the bottle in small blue cursive that I can barely read sober — ain’t no drunk gonna read it.

So other than to note that this review sample is taken from the bottom of a bottle I cracked about 5 weeks ago, there’s not a lot of baggage attached to this dram.

So here goes…

Nose: there’s a hint of brine, and a little bit of citrus, but the deep malt notes are really dominating here. And they are deep, wave after wave.

Taste: hints of dark honey, a brief touch of cinnamon, quite full bodied without feeling oily. Rich toffee – but not too sweet.

Finish: quite long, with notes of medium dark chocolate, maybe a hint of coffee, maybe a toasty oak touch, but this is by no means smoky or peaty.

And with a drop of water…

Nose: I want to say there’s a hint of orange peel, but it’s probably closer to oak. I think the wood is more pronounced now. It’s a little more briny too.

Taste: It tastes a bit lighter, like milk chocolate, no where near the heavy dram it was, with more cinnamon, maybe mace. It’s quite surprising — we’re talking a single drop of water in about 20mL and the difference this time is pronounced.

Finish: is lighter, maybe a hint of citrus, but definitely milk chocolate.

And for the official tasting notes:

Rich sweetness and fruits – oranges, lemons and pears, with sea-salt and peaty smokiness.
A full, rich, almost oily malt.
Mouth-filling late autumn fruits – dried figs and honey-sweet spices; followed by a smoky malty dryness.
Long, smooth-sweet finish with oak-wood, dryness and a grain of salt.


So overall I got close to what they were hoping for — actually I’m pretty amazed at how close some of my words were to theirs (I didn’t cheat, either!).

Overall I liked the richer, un-watered Oban. It’s rich, deep, malty. Not very smoky at all, and not my favourite malt, but one I’m happy to have drunk. For the right price I’d possibly replace this bottle once it’s gone, but given my stash is lacking some staples right now (Caol Ila, Clynelish, Bowmore Darkest) this won’t be my first choice grab.

If you like rich, not too complex, not smoky but with a hint of the sea, try Oban 14yo. Or, like the tasting notes, you can take my recommendation with a pinch of salt.

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 Tasting: Swiss Highland Single Malt Whisky Classic

It is one of life’s fortunes to be surprised. A whisky loving colleague, during a recent trip to Switzerland, was astounded to find the Swiss made whisky, too. A very generous whisky loving colleague, he gifted me a sample. And now I’m sharing the tasting experience with you.

Switzerland: makers of fine chocolate, and ferociously useful pocket knives; hoarders of wealth and looted treasure. Not known as makers of whisky, they are new kids on the block as it’s only been a few years they’ve legally been able to distill from staple foods like barley. And they are catching up: Bruichladdich legend Jim McEwan has taken Rugen Distillery under his wing; and Jim Murray gave their Swiss Highland Single Malt Whisky Classic a 95 in his 2012 Whisky Bible.

So is it up to the hype? As a long-time hype buster I’m willing to give it a go. I will say that the colour is an amazing gold, stunning.

Nose: Lots of green fresh maltiness, a little chemically, a whiff of alcohol stronger than expected for a 46% dram. Some vanilla, almost a hint of a rye whiskey.

Taste: Smooth and light, not floral light but a sweet light caramel. Some vanilla, hints of coffee, and malty goodness ridding along. Maybe some sweet orange.

Finish: Sweet, and lingering. Not big and long, but very pleasant.

And with a drop of water…

Nose: dials the alcohol right down. Maybe less of the green, and a touch more vanilla.

Taste: Lighter.

Finish: Sweet, fades away quickly and beautifully.

And the official tasting notes.


COLOUR Sunny gold
BODY A soft start and very easy on the tongue   
NOSE A good nose with sweet vinous notes of sherry and hints of malty caramel. The fruitiness of apricot and peach can also be detected, together with notes of honey.
PALATE The complex aroma of the nose is confirmed on the palate. Slightly woody, dry flavours are combined with vanilla and caramel to create a wonderful interplay and an impressive balance. This whisky makes its mark with a long aromatic finish.

It’s light and gorgeous, hints of Rye and Irish whiskies. If it was available for under $100-$150 AUD a bottle it’d be a steal. However it seems that they only make around 3,000 bottles a year, and no one in Australia seems to import it, I suspect it’d retail for a whole lot more if it can be found at all.

Is it up to the hype? It’s good. Worth checking out should the opportunity arise. If you like lighter whiskies, keep an eye out.

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: Midleton Very Rare 2014

A dram for St Patrick’s Day, from one of Jameson’s less well-known labels. Appropriately, I first stumbled across this in Dublin, ordering it in the hotel bar without comprehending what I was getting (at 16.50 euro a dram, I just equated it to Perth hotel prices). I was immediately blown away, and had to bring a bottle home with me. My impression then, and on subsequent samplings, is that it’s that good. So tonight I’m going to make some notes as I sip away.

Nose: rich floral malty goodness. A bouquet of honey and spring flowers, vanilla and toffee. I could keep my nose in here all day.

Taste: sweet honey goodness, lots of vanilla and toffee, but not overwhelming. Maybe a hint of dark orange chocolate, light citrus, caramel. Smooth, very light and smooth.

Finish: Lingering hints of chocolate, malt, vanilla. Not long but a fair length, though it does mean I’m reaching for the glass again quite soon.

It almost pains me to add a drop of water but for science I do these things…

Nose: richer toffee and caramel. The flowers are pushed right back but light sherry flavours come to the fore. Reminiscent of the Glenfiddich 15yo Solera, but a little more lightly honeyed.

Taste: Malty, jarrah honey, citrus hints. Not better, nor noticibly worse, just differently emphasised.

Finish: Seems to pull up a little shorter, a hint more malty.

My call here: skip the water.

I couldn’t find any certifiably official tasting notes, but there are some at http://www.whiskyintelligence.com/2014/07/irish-distillers-unveils-midleton-very-rare-2014-irish-whiskey-news/

Aroma – Rich, with vanilla sweetness on a layer of oak char from the influence of American white oak ex-Bourbon barrels. A soft floral note introduces the sweet spice of cinnamon, green pepper, and garden mint. Beautifully rounded with hints of green apple and banana. 

Taste – Full, with the sweet spice of vanilla, cinnamon, and liquorice and the flinty note of barley grains. Ripe fruit combines with the charred oak, adding to the complexity. 

Finish – Sweet spicy flavours that linger, fading slowly to leave the last word with the barley.

And I get a lot of this — I thought I’d picked up a little smokiness but dismissed it as being a little out of character with the rest.

Overall this is one of the good ones, well worth every 9+/10 review and for around $250 AUD it’s well worth it. There’s an inch left in my bottle, and I’m looking to save pennies to replace it. A word of warning: I’ve been told that there’s variation from year to year, so what goes for the 2014 may not apply to others.

Whisky tasting: Glenmorangie Companta

I’m fairly new to Glenmorangie, I tried one of their wine finishes some years ago and found it wanting; I’ve since had the Lasanta and enjoyed it a lot, and somewhere along the line had the base expression which left no impression whatsoever. I’ve got an unopened bottle of the ellusive and highly rated Ealanta waiting for the right time. When the Companta came a long a couple of years ago I bought one hoping for greatness. The result is below.

Colour: spectacular red.

Nose: Rose wine, flowers, UHU glue stick, glace cherries.

Taste: cherries and berries and plums, with a hefty alcohol kick. It’s 2% less than last night’s dram, but am getting the spirit coming through stronger. An explosion of slightly tart summer fruits.

Finish: Not as long as I’d like. There’s a little bit of plum remaining, but for something so upfront it fades fast.

and with a drop of water…

Nose: more of the cherries and flowers.

Taste: a little extra sweetness, maybe a hint of vanilla and a demerera sugar coating.

Finish: a slittle sweeter but no longer.

And the official tasting notes: https://glenmorangie.com/en/glenmorangie-companta

Aroma: On the nose, Companta exudes rich, ‘autumnal’ scents of red berries and damp forest floors, with a hint of fragrant woodsmoke complementing notes of aromatic, nutty oak.

Taste: Upon tasting, a spicy palate redolent of cherries and stewed fruits is slowly revealed, as notes of sugared plums, blood orange and rose-hip syrup emerge alongside milk chocolate and brown sugar.

Finish: Companta lingers on with a rich, mouth-coating finish.

The Companta is quite unique in my experience, so much up front (and different) yet so lacking a finish. There’s a lot of interesting here, and I’m willing to believe that someone somewhere lists this as their favourite whisky of all time. That’s not me: it’s an unusual dram, good to drink, but doubt I’ll need to restock when the bottle runs dry. I will try the next special Glenmorangie though, for something different I’m sure.

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.

Whisky tasting: Hazelburn Sauternes Cask

Tonight’s dram is a sweet little cask strength drop from Campbeltown.

Nose: Big spirit and sweet wine notes, there’s power in here. Butterscotch, dark chocolate, coffee beans, vanilla and dried fruit.

Taste: Strong alcohol leads the charge, this is definitely cask strength. I’m looking for a taste here but all I’m really getting is spirit burn. time to reset my palate with greek honey yogurt and water. Take two: better, caramel, toffee, a hint of smoke that gets stronger, and a hint of tawny port. It delivers the alcohol the nose promised but they are fighting the alcohol.

Finish: Lingering notes of toffee and dark chocolate, not the greatest but pleasant.

I’m going to add a drop of water for the nose, then a splash for the second tasting.

Nose: More of the sweet caramel and toffee notes, more chocolate.

Taste: Much smoother, fruit and nut chocolate.

Finish: Shorter, but I’m willing to please palate fatigue on this. It’s a strong one.

Previous encounters with this dram haven’t been as overpowering, I think because I usually have it after a couple of other drams. I think it needs a retaste in more optimum conditions. It’s sweet, big and not really recommended for a warmish week night.

Tasting: Highland Park 18 year old

Nose: Sweet, raisins, possible sherry, also dry with a hint of acetic, citrus, possibly grapefruit, maybe some demerera sugar tucked away. There’s a lot going on.

Taste: dark bitter chocolate, honey, malt, a little thin. The taste doesn’t quite deliver on the nose.

Finish: quite long, lots of chocolate, a hint of smoke, brown sugar.

And then a drop of water…

Nose: more citrus, more grapefruit.

Taste: Still a little thin, I’m looking for flavours but not really finding them, maybe something herbal or grassy.

Finish: Shorter.

Then I checked the HP website:


“Lingering layers of sweet honeyed malt, meet characterful dried fruit notes, marzipan and golden syrup, all wrapped up in swathes of our distinctive, subtle floral peat smoke. A whisky, which reveals more layers with every glass you enjoy.”

So I got some of that. It’s a pleasant dram, not overly complex but good for drinking. I think I paid around $150 and it’s probably overpriced at that point given the flavour profile. HP do some great drams, this one’s okay.