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.

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Highland Park 12

This will be another quick review of a benchmark Scotch. It doesn’t need many words because that would seem inappropriate for such a simple, elegant dram.

Nose: Cereals, honey, slight musty with some citrus note.  Sometimes sulphury eggy notes, but they’re rare.

Palate: Nicely thick, slightly oily. Chewy. Peppery, salted toffee, sweet with slight peatiness and smoke–a very pleasant highland with islay and spey notes.

Finish: Medium long. Light smoke. Cool.

Grade: B-

Again, another Scotch that I can’t fault for it’s dangerously low ABV (43%). It’s flavourful and chewy–one of the chewiest scotches I’ve ever encountered–and I love it. It doesn’t do anything superbly, but it seems to do almost everything either average or above average. I’d say it’s right on the bubble of B-/B. A classic that is an affordable staple for any Scotch fan.

P.S: I have since replaced the Dun Bheagan 8 with the Highland Park 12 as my office bottle of scotch, and I couldn’t be happier.

Edradour Ballechin #4 (Oloroso Sherry Cask)

Edradour is the smallest distillery in all of Scotland, and for that itself, there is some novelty in trying one of its whiskies. I received this bottle as a gift from a friend who had been to the Edradour distillery on a tour. It’s probably lucky I did, because the prices for this spirit in Canada are well over $100 a bottle. At 46% ABV, this Edradour is a “heavily-peated Highland”, and what a pleasant peating it is.

Nose: Smoke and Peat, but a really obvious BBQ smell. Sherry influence. There are some fruits here in the nose, but the individual fruits are indiscernable.

Palate: Obvious smoke and peat on the palate, but in a pleasant way, of course. Sherry influence from the cask, and hints of leather at the end. It gives this impression of a dark, sinister whisky.

Finish: Medium-long finish, smoky with hints of pipe tobacco. There is this chlorine note at the end, but it’s not strong enough to be too off-putting.

Grade: B

A pleasant overall experience from Edradour. If price is not an issue for you, do give this whisky a try. It’s not too heavily-peated, (despite it being branded as such) and it reminds me of a moderately peatier Clynelish 14. For those of you that can’t afford a $120 experiment, I’d stick with the Clynelish 14.

Auchentoshan 18

I was lucky enough to score one of the last bottles of this gem at a clearance price when they discontinued it in Ontario. In the case of the Auchentoshan 18, the drop in price was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that I would probably have never forked over the extra $20 they originally wanted for it, and it was so very worth what I did pay. However, it was a curse in the sense that this bottle must last me until I can find another affordable source for this precious whisky.

Nose: Barley, spices, tobacco, citrus. Upon first tasting, I was instantly struck by a vivid visual of the wheat fields of Saskatchewan. It has been years since I’ve seen them, so this whisky is a definite memory-jogger. After sitting for 10 minutes, with a few drops of water, the palate morphs into vanilla, toffee, and other sweetie shop scents.

Palate: Confirms the nose. Thick, syrupy, grassy, with hints of tobacco and fresh citrus. After 10 minutes and water, the candy shop opens up. The sweetness and barley marry into what I can only describe as a chocolate-covered granola bar.

Finish: Long, smooth, dry Tobacco and cereals. Vanilla and hints of bitter dark chocolate on the tail end of the finish.

Grade: B+

As I had mentioned in the review of the PC An Turas Mor, my A- grade often requires some sort of metamorphosis, or some increasing depth with the addition of sitting time, and/or water. It should provide me 2 experiences in a glass. The Auchentoshan 18 does that, and fabulously, even though I was skeptical at first with it being such a low ABV. It is, too, a chill-filtered whisky, and I’m not certain, but I’d guess that it also has caramel added to give it that beautiful, almost orange colour. Unlike other malt-maniacs, I won’t dock this whisky grades for its chill-filtration or caramel, because it is so spectacular in its own right. I can only wistfully imagine what a cask-strength-non-chillfiltered-no-e150 Auchentoshan 18 might taste like.

All in all, this is one bottle I will be playing close to the chest around company. Consider it a badge of honour if I share.

Retaste: Just over 8 months later, (and 8 months wiser) a retaste of this whisky has led me to downgrade it to a B+. While the notes are much of the same, it’s just not as smooth, and doesn’t hold up to some of the better whiskies I’ve had over the last few quarters. That said, it’s still, perhaps, the most unique whisky I’ve tried to date, with the most savoury profile I’ve come across. The Mortlach 20yo CS may take that to task, though, from what I’ve been told.

Port Charlotte (Bruichladdich) An Turas Mor

The Port Charlotte An Turas Mor (ATM) is one whisky where the rule, “follow the tasting notes first, and the marks second” is important. If you follow the marks of the ATM given around the net, you may pass up on this gem—this extremely affordable gem. Too many of those who are lucky enough, wealthy enough, or are willing to sacrifice enough to get their hands on any of the PC5-PC8, have scoffed at the ATM for its multi-vintage, standard strength bottling. Too many folks have compared the ATM to its cask-strength siblings, and I think that is an unfair thing to do.

For my palate, the ATM is everything I love (except the cask-strength): oily, peaty, smoky, slightly sweet (with chocolate, not fruit) and spicy—not hot, Indian curry spicy. Before I get too gushy, I’ll get to the tasting notes.

Nose: Apparent at a distance. Coastal sea salt. Peat and lapsang souchong smoke. Indian masala spices: cardamom, coriander seed, cumin. Chocolate. Honey sweetness. If I nose while swirling the glass, I get Hickory BBQ Sauce! I would pay to have this whole bouquet in an incense stick.

Palate: Confirms the nose (Good thing too, as I wanted it to, so badly.) Reasonably oily.  A sea-salty peat. Indian spices: cardamom, coriander, light on the cumin. Then BBQ smoke (hickory wood chips), ending in a nice, dry, high-cocoa dark chocolate.

Finish: Long, peat and smoke clinging to dark, dark chocolate.

Grade: B

***WARNING: On my first dram, I found that any more than a few drops of water turns the finish from long, to medium-short. Careful here.***

Bruichladdich has done something pretty special here. They have managed to marry my favourite things: mouth-coating oiliness, peat, smoke, a spicy masala, and insanely dark chocolate. I do chastise the ATM for two things: I would love it at cask-strength. That may improve its ability to handle water. While water isn’t exactly a deal-breaker, it is missing that extra layer that my top whiskies have.  A great whisky (to me) evolves when you add water, either by showing the depth of the whisky to show more subtle notes in the nose and the palate, or, it transforms the experience entirely, so that you’re almost getting two whiskies in one. This is where the ATM falls short. The Nose is enhanced with some water, but the palate and finish die. Even the Auchie 18 at 43% ABV can handle a little water, and it’s often all the better for it (details in a future review).

Update: For those of you that have checked my rankings since this post was originally made, you may have noticed that the Port Charlotte took a tumble in the rankings. Perhaps I was a bit too over-zealous with my original tastings of this whisky. By the end of the bottle, the An Turas Mor is still all the things I’ve said it to be (at least to me), but it doesn’t do it so spectacularly as I had first thought. Since discovering the Bowmore Tempest III for $5 less (and 50cl more, and at cask strength…) I have found other peated Islays that are a better bang for your buck. That said, I will definitely give Bruichladdich’s new flagship peated malt, the Port Charlotte 10yo, it’s fair shake when it hits the LCBO. Perhaps the inconsistencies of the An Turas Mor will be sorted out by then.