Bowmore “Tempest” 10 (Batch No. 3)

Initially this was a “first impression” review, but now that I’ve had time with it, I can confirm my initial opinions.

Preparing for a camping trip last Sunday, (for the first time two years) I thought it would be nice to take a bottle of Scotch with me, for my step-father and I to enjoy. At first, I thought it’d be nice to enjoy some Highland Park 12 throughout the break: accessible, delicious, and cost-effective. But, it just so happens that I had some money in the whisky fund and an empty slot in the cabinet, so I thought, “hey, why not grab something new, and spend the trip getting to know it properly?” I mean, there is nothing like nosing a great dram in the clean and fresh air of the brush. I noticed that the Bowmore 10 Tempest (cask-strength!) was on sale by a few dollars, and you really can’t beat a cask-strength, small-batch whisky for under $80. Now, I’d only ever had the standard Bowmore 12, and I had it during a Scotch and cigar night some 4 years ago. I disliked it very much, especially when put up against my Laphroaig QC. As a result, I have been avoiding all Bowmore to date. It hasn’t been that hard, since it’s usually pretty expensive. However, given the reviews of batches 1 and 2 by Ralfy and Whiskybitch, respectively, I thought to give it a try.

After 5 days in the brush with the fresh air off Lake Huron and a Glencairn, these are my thoughts on this cracker of a Bowmore.

Nose: The nose is an instant classic: everything you’d expect from an Islay whisky married to first-fill bourbon casks. First, we get the briny bacon, cradled in a woody smoke. Think Laphroaig QC plus Lagavulin 16. Maturity here, and even at 55.6%, the prickly alcohol, even without any water, is almost nowhere to be found. With a teaspoon of water, you get the vanilla sweetness and the american-oak-style creme brulee notes that I associate with Auchentoshan. This is another one of those cosmopolitan Islays. The notes are so well married together: briny coastal sea salt, licorice (more of a sambuca than an anise), vanilla, woody smoke, lemon and pepper, and even cherry notes here and there. But then there is a baked good, like the Auchentoshan Valinch—something kind of like a toffee pudding. Lastly, right at the end, when you take a big whiff, you get fresh (unlit) tobacco. That beautiful smell of a walk-in humidor.
The nose hits you with visions of whiskies past: Talisker 10, Laphroaig QC, Lagavulin 16, and Auchentoshan Valinch. It’s like the Bruichladdich Laddie Ten in so many ways, but there is this mature beauty (especially for a 10 year old) in the Tempest that makes the nose of the Laddie Ten seem harsher—and the Laddie Ten is a beautiful noser. The Tempest sells you so well on the nose that the palate is going to be smooth and elegant. At this point, it better be.

Update: As an experiment, I poured an ounce before dinner one night and let it sit out in the fresh air for 40 minutes. I came back, two teaspoons of water, and let it sit another 10 minutes. After all this, a hickory BBQ scent comes to the forefront, backed by briny pickles. Impressive.

Palate: Warm and anesthetizing. Smooth, but with a bit of heat. Not too much to ruin the image created by the nose, though. The palate is definitely more mature than the Laddie Ten (to use a 10yr Islay as comparison). Without water, it’s briny like Laphroaig, leathery like Talisker, but all the while being mature, like Lagavulin 16. Instead of being the fresh burst that I get with other American Oak whiskies, this one is a leathery, smooth, almost sophisticated sipper. Perhaps the best image is to think of a candlelit study with big leather armchairs, vs. a back patio in an adirondack waiting for the sun to set.

When you add that water. First, the thought is a bouquet of fruits and sweets, followed by a slightly medicinal smokiness shrouding notes of lemon and pepper. This develops into that note that is most recently advertised on triscuits and cheddar as “applewood smoked”. Nutty caramel baked good. More of a pastry than a toffee pudding advertised by the nose.

Finish: The finish is long, warming in the chest and mouth-drying. It leaves the top of your mouth first, and inches down from there. Smoky tobacco, nuttiness, some vanilla and trailing off into the distance is the briny sea salt with notes of that cherry I found in the nose. Without too much water, this whisky sits on your palate for a while. Truly splendid.

Grade: B+

Wow. While I would have loved to have tasted the orange notes of batch 1 and 2, (I don’t have an orange-y Scotch at the moment) this was definitely a pleasant surprise. The nose is something special. I could nose this glass all day. Also, for a cask-strength whisky, it needs surprisingly little water. Just enough to hide the initial prickle. It is about as thick as Laphroaig QC if you only add one teaspoon of water, but any more than that, and it thins out. The flavours are still there, it’s just not as chewy. A great showing from a young Bowmore.

Update: Dropped from an A- to a B+ upon opening the 3rd bottle, January of 2015.

An Unintended Experiment

To celebrate the winning of a much-sought-after award, I poured myself a dram of my 19yr Mortlach (Signatory, UCC). After a quick sip, I add a splash of water, and let it sit for 10 minutes in my Glencairn with the ginger jar top on. But then the wife gets home (quite late) and we get to talking. The dram sits 20 minutes. We lay on the couch, recounting the day, and I almost forget about it. The dram sits an hour. I then sit down with it, and upon first nosing, it’s sweet. Not the savoury baked good I had expected, nor the olive oil. Instead, it’s a beautiful caramel-coated cookie, with some salty, coastal notes. Strange, but only in that it’s unexpected. I assure you it’s delightful. Then I take a sip. It’s sweet.Very sweet. Almost like a Fig Newton. Also an undertone of peat. I don’t know where this came from, or who switched my Mortlach with a scotch soaked cookie, but thanks! While I do enjoy the savoury bouquet and spread that I normally get from this Mortlach, today’s dram was a welcomed dessert dram.

I’m still wondering what caused this major fluctuation in nose and palate. I guess we’ll have to see what the next dram is like, some days down the road.

Update: Never came across this nose and palate again with this dram. Quite a head-scratcher.

Auchentoshan 18: New data alert

I just read that Adam @ LAWS had recently retasted the Auchentoshan 18 (June 2012) and revised his rating from an A- (2008/09) to a B- —a very significant downgrade from a connisseur whose original rating led me to purchase a bottle in September of 2012. This begs the questions: do I own one of the good bottles? Did he taste from a bad batch?

As this whisky runs about $110 wherever you go, I’d lend the following caution to anyone considering adding the Auchie 18 to their collection: taste it at a bar first. We may be seeing a dip in quality of the 18yr offering. This new data point sure has me considering whether the 18yr still deserves a permanent spot in my cabinet.