A Stroke of Luck, Genius: Bowmore 15 ‘Laimrig’

Music: Daniel Mehrmann & Kara Baldus, “Missed Out”

A dirty ‘farclas. A candied Laphroaig. One of those great drams that straddles the line between two types of Scotch well: a briny, smoky peat bomb, and a sweet, rich sherry bomb. Sometimes they marry terribly, sometimes they’re well balanced. This one fits into the latter category.

Nose: Elements of salt and smoked meat, wood, and sawdust. Peaty. Sherry, cherry, berry! There’s noticeable fruit in the one, that’s for sure. The smoke on this one is a damp, hot tobacco. A bit of a solventy note, like shoe polish… Neat! This one takes time to calm down, as it’s sharp on the nose right off the pour.

Palate: Sour berries, smoked meat, peat and leather. The palate then turns to dark chocolate and pepper. A real mixture of the stormiest Islay and and the richest Speyside sherry bomb. Like a slightly younger Bruichladdich Black Art in many ways, at a fraction of the cost. It’s got more heat than the Black Art, but sometimes you have to ask yourself whether that’s a bad thing. I don’t want my whisky to be so mellow that it’s like drinking candied barley; I mean, I could just buy that instead, and it’d be a hell of a lot cheaper.

Finish: Long. Dark Chocolate, brazil nuts and sawdust. Lingering peat.

Grade: A-

I’ve come across a number of great drams lately, after what felt like a long streak of average ones. This happens to be one of those great ones. It’s not the smoothest, easiest beast to get along with, but that’s what makes it great. It is smooth, no doubt, but if you want liquid gold, you’re going to pay.  In a way, it’s like a less mature (and more briny) version of the Bruichladdich Black Art. At 40% of the price, I’d take 2.5 bottles of this over the Black Art any day. While I thoroughly enjoy the Black Art, this is a great mature sherried Islay for the budget conscious. Also, given that it is only $3 more than the 15 yo Darkest, I better not see the Ontario stocks of Darkest drop before this is sold out in Ontario… else, someone is making a grave error. Laimrig + water > Darkest, 8 days a week.

Update: About half way through the bottle now, after dedicating much of the last 2 months to exploring it, and it’s quirkiness loses some of that charm after a while. Still a great dram, but more an A- than an A. Doesn’t make it into the league of Ardbeg just yet.

“Do you ever wonder if you missed out, missed out on it? If you think it’s worth your time to try and find out, find out yourself.”

Scotch Party VII

This year, I was invited by an old friend to take part in a Scotch party (of which this was the 7th edition). Great drams, and great people. Nothing better than sharing whisky thoughts with those who really, truly, love whisky.

Glenrothes 1995 – B

“The Scotchiest Scotch that Ever Scotched”

This is your sweet, biscuity, desserty dram. It is complex enough to be interesting, but isn’t show-stoppingly enthralling. A solid B that may be something great at 46% or higher. Still reasonably viscous at 43%.

Glenrothes Robur Reserve – B

“A nice, light snack”

In the lineup this evening, this one comes across as the 1995’s little brother. Much of the same, but a little bit more sugary without much more flavour.

Glenlivet XXV – B+

“Aged cherry cough sweets”

Plenty rich, strong cherry and other berries, thick and present, and then it’s gone. Really no finish to speak of, but the rest is really quite pleasant. A plenty good whisky, but at 25 years old, you’d expect much more.

Talisker 57 North – A-

“Warm leather arm-chair”

I began the night with this one, and it was most of what I’d expected. Everything the Talisker 10 should be (and maybe used to be,) but isn’t. Strong peppery leather, coastal salt, and your typical Talisker flavours. Warming like nothing else I’ve ever tried. It’s an excellent whisky for what it does, but it is missing that either solid second gear, or a neat 3rd to get it into the A range.

Tomatin 12 – B-

“A good aperatif”

Sweet, somewhat thin, just all around inoffensive, if not overly interesting.

Balvenie 14 Caribbean Cask – B+

“Banana marshmallows”

This one has those banana marshmallows all over it. Sure there is malt, and typical baked speyside goodness, but the note that hits you over the head first and foremost is the banana. It’s quite a delicious Balvenie, that makes me forget about their disaster of a triple cask.

Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve – D+

“Cinnamon Farts”

Just something awful. It’s like the Valinch gone wrong. Nothing but farm.

Bruichladdich Black Art 3.1 (48.7%) – A

“Pungent, sweet, leathery goodness”

The black art is tart, leathery, subtle, but complex. Berries, sherry, sour with light peat all around, and this nice leathery finish. Truly the star of the night.

Longrow CV – B

“Lightly peated, candied citrus.”

I was surprised by this in two ways: it wasn’t all that peated, more of a speysider than a wannabe Islay. It was also sort of disappointing, as I was expecting a show-stopper in this one, on the back of all the hype.

Bowmore 15 Darkest – B+

“Dark, rich, sherry almost-monster”

A bit of a dark horse for me. I was expecting something weak and mildly inoffensive. It’s sherry, raisins and chocolate. A bit medicinal on the palate, which makes it kind of a one-two punch of dark sherry sweet, and Islay smoky. They’ve done a nice job with this one, and might be worth about $80. The almost $100 that it comes in at here in Toronto is way too much to ask, however.

BenRiach Bernie Moss – C+

“Lightly peated, slightly sweetened new-make

A poor man’s Longrow CV. The peat isn’t very strong, and neither is much of the flavour.

All in all, a successful night with the lads. Looking forward to next year, when we raid the LCBO stocks again.

The Sweet Peat Treat: Bowmore 12

Bowmore 12 and I were not on speaking terms about 5 years ago. A friend brought a bottle to a Scotch and cigar party, and I, with my Laphroaig QC in hand, was not going to be won over by this new peaty intruder. Upon tasting, I recoiled and made a sour face. We didn’t see each other again, Bowmore 12 and I, until just this Christmas, when my darling brother bought me a bottle. I was to meet the beast again, but this time with a more open mind.

Nose: Peat, smoke and citrus. The smoke is very hickory-like.

Palate: Soft, slightly underwhelming. Peat and smoke, with pleasantly sweet-and-sour lemon notes. Like a smoky MinuteMaid lemonade, sort of. A little Caol-Ila-ish at times.

Finish: Rather short, lingering sour peat. Sour, of course, meant still in that good way. Like a lemon.

Grade: C+

There isn’t much to say about this whisky. It’s smooth, smoky and sweet. A little too mild at times to make it perfectly balanced over its few notes, but it’s not nearly as bad as I first thought. It’s a daily drammer when you want that Islay profile with a bit of sweetness, but don’t want to think too much about it. If the tempest is any indication, this would probably be much better in a 12yo cask-strength, truth be told. All in all, I’m happy that I was forced to come back to this again. We’re now casual friends, Bowmore 12 and I.

A Year In Review

Updated January 7th, more in-depth.

It feels about that time of year, where whisky fans/bloggers/maniacs alike are likely posting their favourites from their 2012 journeys, and being my first real serious year as a whisky blogger, I’d like to do the same. The whiskies that I’ve tried this year for the first time, and thus, all those eligible for consideration, were:

Bowmore “Tempest” 10yr (Batch 3)
’93 Ben Nevis 17yr (Signatory, UCC)
Caol Ila Natural Cask Strength
Aberlour a’Bunadh (Batch 36)
Springbank 12 Claret Wood
The Glenlivet 16 “Nadurra” (0911P)
Bruichladdich ‘The Laddie Ten’
Auchentoshan Valinch
’91 Mortlach 19yr (Signatory, UCC)
92 Clynelish 18yr (Signatory, UCC)
Port Charlotte (Bruichladdich) An Turas Mor
Highland Park 12
Glenmorangie 12 ‘Lasanta’
Cragganmore 12
Aberlour 10
The Glenlivet 12
Dun Bheagan 8 (Islay)

*Eligible whiskies must have been tasted for the first time in 2012, and I must have owned at least a 20cl bottle, and had at minimum, 4 drams of it.

I’ve been fortunate enough to try a number of great whiskies this year, and when I look back on the one’s I’ve tried, the ones with the highest price-to-quality ratio, in a few different categories, were:

Best Nose
Runner-Up: Caol Ila Natural Cask-Strength
Winner: Bowmore Tempest III

Best Palate
Runner-Up: ’93 Ben Nevis 17yo Signatory UCC
Winner: Bowmore Tempest III

Best Finish
Runner-Up: Bruichladdich ‘Laddie Ten’
Winner: Springbank 12 Claret Wood

Favourite Peated
Runner-Up: Caol Ila Natural Cask-Strength
Bowmore Tempest III

Favourite Unpeated
Runner-Up: Springbank 12 Claret Wood
Winner: ‘93 Ben Nevis 17yo Signatory UCC

Favourite No Age Statement
Runner-Up: Auchentoshan Valinch
Winner: Caol Ila Natural Cask-Strength

Favourite Overall
Runner-Up: Caol Ila Natural Cask-Strength
Runner-Up: ’93 Ben Nevis 17yo Signatory UCC
Winner: Bowmore Tempest III

Bowmore really took me by surprise this year. If you would have asked me last January what distillery I would expect to try something truly great from this year, I probably would have said Ardbeg, maybe Auchentoshan or Laphroaig, but never Bowmore. My initial taste of the 12yo had really ruined Bowmore for me, and I’m lucky to have been not-so-stubborn so as to give the tempest a chance. I eagerly await Batch 4.

The Springbank 12yo Claret Wood was also an excellent pick from earlier in 2012, as was the “carnival-in-a-glass” pick from Ben Nevis. My hopes are still to get a hold of the 17yo Cask strength version from ’93 (or ’92) before supply vanishes. Lastly, the Auchentoshan Valinch was a huge surprise in the NAS category, especially for the price it came in at. It was also the best whisky under $65 this year. I would love to say under $70, but then it would have to contend with Laphroiag’s QC, and I don’t think it was that good. Caol Ila’s win in the NAS category wasn’t as much of a surprise, as serving their younger stuff at cask-strength seems like it would be naturally good, given the rave reviews that the 12yo gets. The Auchentoshan, though it wasn’t the best NAS whisky of the year, sure took me by surprise. The Auchentoshan Classic/Select gets mediocre reviews—average at best—for an entry-level NAS malt at standard ABV. I was initially skeptical as to the merits of amping up something so banal to cask-strength, but was easily swayed when I opened the bottle. You go, Auchentoshan.

Here’s to another great year at “Whisky, Empirically”, where we will get to review #50, (at least!) a special Signatory bottle from the Whisky Exchange that I picked up for Christmas. Expect that review around Valentine’s Day.

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.