Thursday, July 9, 2020

Whisky Review: Bowmore 21 Year (Late-90s)

Finally, the last of this series. This is also one of the older Bowmore's I've ever had the chance to try. The Prime Malt 21 Year/1982 is the same age, but drawn from a slightly later period. Assuming that this OB is actually from the late-90s, it should have been distilled somewhere in the late-70s. I guess we'll see how much of a difference that makes.

This whisky was aged in (I believe) a mixture of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, then bottled at 43%, probably with coloring and chill filtration.

I purchased this sample from the Old England Scotch House.

Bowmore 21 Year (Late-90s)

Nose: kind of closed - oak-y sherry, maple syrup/caramel, vanilla, baking spices (cinnamon), light lavender, a touch of peat. After adding a few drops of water the bourbon casks are emphasized and most of the other notes fade into the background.

Taste: surprisingly hot - moderate sherry sweetness up front, joined by some oak tannins and floral notes in the middle, maltier fade out with a touch of peat. After dilution it gets a little watery but the heat entirely disappears, the sherry up front is replaced by American oak sweetness, and the floral notes shift into the background.

Finish: lingering oak and lavender, grape/purple, sherry residue, fresh malt

This is something of an odd duck. It appears to have leapfrogged the worst of the lavender, but the result is something kind of generic. Given that the peat has faded even more, I would probably peg this as some kind of older Highland malt. The lavender is the only thing really connecting it to Bowmore, though even that is balanced enough here that I'm not sure I would automatically guess it. If it had some of the older Bowmore tropical fruit I would move it up a notch, but I couldn't really find any. So there's nothing wrong with this malt and I would drink more if offered, but I also don't get the feeling that it's something I need to search out in future.

For a slightly different take on what I think is the same whisky, see The Whiskey Jug.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Whisky Review: Bowmore 17 Year (Late-90s)

Last week's 12 Year was already deep in the lavender era. If the dating of this miniature is correct, the spirit should be drawn from the late-70s to the early-80s - the very front end of that period rather than the middle.

This whisky was aged in a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, then bottled at 43%, probably with coloring and chill filtration.

I purchased this sample at the Old England Scotch House.

Bowmore 17 Year (Late-90s)

Nose: big floral notes (lavender) with a purple/grape tinge, clean malt underneath, caramel, very light sherry, creamy vanilla, tannic oak and dry peat (more with time), and something savory. After adding a few drops of water the lavender becomes more integrated, the sherry is stronger, plus there's a little more peat and savoriness.

Taste: sweeter malt and bourbon cask notes bouncing back and forth with big floral/lavender up front, shifts towards bittersweet oak tannins from the middle back. After dilution the sweetness up front is joined by some sherry, the oak near the back is joined by some caramel, and citrus peel comes out around the middle.

Finish: lingering lavender, sweet malt and bourbon cask, polished oak tannins, very light peat, slightly sour

There are a lot of similarities with the 12 Year I just reviewed, but age had noticeably improved this one. While the lavender is still over the top, it's a little more integrated, though the even more diminished peat isn't around to help much. I do like the balance of bourbon and sherry casks, since I feel like the former often lets the spirit shine more than the latter (at least in Bowmore OBs) Unlike the 12 Year I would drink more if offered, but it's not something I need to search out. While the current 18 Year has its flaws, I honestly think it's a better whisky.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Whisky Review: Bowmore 12 Year (Late-90s)

This is a really interesting one for me since I've tried various iterations of the standard 12 Year a few times as well as the 12 Year Enigma. If my guess for the late-90s bottling date is correct, this was drawing spirit directly from the most infamous period in the late-80s/early-90s.

This whisky was aged in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, then bottled at 43% with coloring and chill filtration.

I purchased this sample from the Old England Scotch House in Ravenna.

Bowmore 12 Year (Late-90s)

Nose: thin and kind of muddled - caramel, floral, citrus peel, baked apples, savory notes, light sherry and peat, somewhat plastic-y malt, buttery. After adding a few drops of water the sherry and floral notes become stronger, some hand soap emerges, while the peat and malt almost completely disappear.

Taste: caramel and citrus sweetness up front with lavender notes, carrying through to the back where there is a little more oak and the floral notes grow stronger, somewhat vegetal in the middle. After dilution it becomes extremely watery, the malt is creamier, but the flavors remain much the same.

Finish: strongly floral (lavender, especially), hand soap (especially after dilution) clean malt, caramel, light but lingering peat

Unlike Legend, this time I need to give the nod to the modern version. The problems that Bowmore became notorious for - muddled character, big floral notes, soap, and little peat - are on full display here. Surprisingly even the higher strength isn't enough to save it. 43% is a fairly significant bump, but it still reads as rather thin. Water just wrecks it. ABV isn't everything, I guess.

It was a bit better on the second tasting when I could get more peat, which helped to balance out the other elements, but even then it didn't hit the mark. While I think it could be useful for blending to add a twist to a fruitier malt, there's nothing about it on its own that grips me. This actually helps me to appreciate modern Bowmore, even if it still has room for improvement, because I can see how they managed to rein in some of their flaws while retaining their core character.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Whisky Review: Bowmore Legend (Late-90s)

Time for some blasts from the past.

I managed to find a(n almost?) full set of Bowmore miniatures in a tiny whisky shop in Ravenna called the Old England Scotch House. Tucked away in a side street not far from San Vitale, it's the kind of specialist shop that barely exists in the States. While my lack of checked luggage prevented me from getting any of enticing bottles, I was able to find some very fun things in their selection of miniatures.

This whisky was aged in ex-bourbon casks, then bottled at 43% with coloring and chill filtration.

Bowmore Legend (Late-90s)

Nose: classic bourbon cask Bowmore - fresh malt, dusty grains, gentle caramel, berries, pleasant peat smoke, floral vanilla in the background. After adding a few drops of water it becomes rougher but more expressive - the berries expand, the malt is creamier, and the peat and oak get a bit stronger.

Taste: malt and cask sweetness up front continuing through to the back with some floral flourishes, a little tannic with some berries in the middle, plus light peat notes underneath that expand going into the swallow. After dilution it become softer and much more fruity (almost sherried), with the peat arriving earlier and more strongly, but also more oak tannins.

Finish: dry peat smoke, grape-y oak, floral, sweet malt

While nothing show-stopping, I really enjoyed it. While maybe a little less complex than the newer Small Batch I tried a while back, it is less overtly youthful and a little more full-bodied thanks to being bottled at 43%. The trademark Bowmore floral notes are present here, but much less strong than I've found in other expressions. This was probably drawn from their 90s distillate after they had solved their problems from the 80s.

I was also pleasantly surprised by how well it handled water. While it did lose a bit of body, the brighter, fruitier flavors were quite welcome. Oddly that also meant that the finish had more of an alcoholic nip, but that might have been solved by more time in the glass.

These bottles apparently can go for big money now, which is either a reflection of people liking this even more than I do or the current mania for bottles from the past, whatever their quality. But like I said above, if you can still find something like Small Batch (defunct, but not impossible to find at its original price) you'll be pretty close without breaking the bank.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Whisky Review: Glencadam 15 Year (2009)

Sort of like how the 17 Year was created when Ardbeg was revived, the first release from Glencadam after its purchase and restart by Angus Dundee was a 15 Year. This may have been because of the brief shutdown of the distillery between 2000 and 2003, leading to them trying to build up younger stock to ensure future releases, though I can't be sure.

Perhaps a bit behind the times, the 15 Year was originally bottled at 40%. When they introduced the 10 Year in 2009 they revamped the line at 46% and renamed the 15 Year "The Rather Dignified". I guess we'll see if it lives up to that.

This whisky was aged in ex-bourbon casks, then bottled at 46% without coloring or chill filtration on July 1st, 2009.

I purchased this sample from The Whisky Exchange.

Glencadam 15 Year (2009)

Nose: good balance between clean malt, gentle dusty oak, a little caramel, mixed fruit (berries, apples, pears), and light vanilla. After adding a few drops of water it gets kind of muddled, the alcohol is more overt, and the aromas shift towards the casks.

Taste: sweet malt with unripe apples and pears up front, rounded sweetness in the middle that fades out into gentle bittersweetness with some oak tannins. After dilution it gets kind of watery and hot without any development.

Finish: a little heat, clean malt, green fruit, gentle oak

While this is honestly more what I expected the 10 Year to be, it's really rather generic. While it is 50% older, I also suspect that there are some more active casks in the mix. At the same time I'm not sure this achieves much more than a competent Speysider. I appreciate that they stuck with ex-bourbon casks, which was somewhat uncommon even at the time when at least a touch of sherry was fairly standard. Something closer to the similarly aged Balblairs I've sampled could have pulled me in, but this isn't more than decent.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Whisky Review: Glencadam 10 Year (2009)

Despite having some samples in the back of my cabinet for the better part of a decade, Glencadam is one of those distilleries that I've managed to not experience yet. As usual, I will leave most of the history to Malt Madness, but there is one relevant wrinkle here.

Glencadam is one of the few remaining independent (major) distilleries in Scotland, having been purchased by the blender Angus Dundee in 2003. This was after Allied had mothballed the plant in 2000 and laid off all of the employees but one as surplus to requirements. Because the gap was relatively short, they have taken an approach more similar to Glendronach in maintaining a full age stated lineup. The 10 Year was introduced with a new label design in 2008 along with an upgrade to full craft presentation.

This whisky was aged in ex-bourbon casks (probably refill, given the lack of color), then bottled at 46% without coloring or chill filtration on June 25th, 2009.

I purchased this sample from The Whisky Exchange.

Glencadam 10 Year (2009)

Nose: straightforwardly malty - sweet, creamy malt, a touch of oak, graham crackers, mixed fruit (berries, melons), lightly floral, vanilla. After adding a few drops of water it remains largely the same, but a little bit softer.

Taste: clean malty sweetness up front, kind of green/new make-y with citrus/fruity/floral overtones and vanilla undertones in the middle, then gently bittersweet grain with more floral notes going into the finish. After dilution it becomes softer and sweeter, but the green notes in the middle largely fade.

Finish: a little heat, clean malt, fresh hay, floral, a touch of oak

This is right on the edge of being too immature for my taste. To a degree I commend them for being willing to put out a more 'naked' malt without any fussy casks, but I do wish the wood had been a bit more active. They clearly have some respectable if not remarkable spirit, so I can imagine it becoming better with more time.

As a small note, I was a bit worried when I got this miniature out because the fill level looked low, but between the picture I took immediately after purchase and on other sites selling these miniatures, it looks like that's just the fill point for Glencadam. A bit odd, but no harm done.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Whisky Review: Benromach 10 Year

Benromach is one of those distilleries that I've been hearing about for years, but never got around to trying. While its history goes back to 1898 (I'll leave the details to Malt Madness as per usual), when it was purchased by the independent bottler Gordon & Macphail in 1992 they were basically handed an empty shell with whatever old stock was left. So while the name has continued, the distillery itself is basically a new entity.

They have taken the approach of trying to resurrect an older lightly peated Speyside style. It took some time for them to get everything going again, but since then G&M has managed to build up a fairly solid core line of lightly peated whiskies along with heavily peated, organic, and triple distilled releases and a wide array of one-offs, often focusing on various kinds of casks, plus occasional and expensive releases from the old stock they acquired.

This release is aged for nine years in a combination of 80% first-fill ex-bourbon and 20% first-fill ex-sherry casks, then blended and married for at least one year in ex-sherry casks before being bottled at 43% (probably chill filtered, maybe a bit of coloring?).

I purchased this bottle in 2014, but couldn't find a bottling code.

Benromach 10 Year

Nose: a wonderful melange of sherry, creamy malt, caramel, vanilla, and gentle peat smoke, salty sea air, ripe and unripe bananas, herbal, cinnamon. After adding a few drops of water the peat becomes stronger, the sherry fades into the background, and the creamier/vanilla notes pop more.

Taste: opens with bittersweet sherry backed up by mild oak tannins, which becomes thicker around the middle, malty, apple, and floral overtones as the sherry fades a bit, then light oak, charred wood, and pleasant peat at the back. After dilution it becomes softer overall, but there's some wine-y tartness around the middle, the oak is less strong at the back, and the peat waits until the finish to show up.

Finish: sherry residue, peat smoke, moderately tannic/charred oak

This is hands down one of the best entry-level malts being made today. The middle ground between lighter unpeated malts and big, heavy peated malts has been hollowed out over the years as many distilleries that once used lightly peated floor malt have switched to unpeated commercial malt (looking at you, Glendronach and Glen Garioch), so it's good to see the few places that carry on the tradition. The closest current analog I can think of is Highland Park, especially since they are both overtly sherried, but the peat in this Benromach reads somewhere between Islay and Benriach to me, just at a lower pitch.

While this is no competition for the bigger peat/sherry combos, I really appreciate that this is just nice to drink. Anything bottled under 46% tends to catch some flack in the enthusiast community, but sometimes I really just want an easy drinking whisky with no threat of singing my taste buds. It's just plain nice whisky at a decent price (in most places).