Tuesday, August 20, 2013

New release - Bowmore 23 years old Port Cask Matured

This new whisky from the oldest single malt distillery on the famous whisky island of Islay offers something a little unusual and intriguing. The spirit was laid down to mature in 1989 and has spent its full life in ex-Port wine casks - these types of casks are more commonly used for finishing (the process where nearly fully matured whisky is placed in a different cask for a short period of time) and rarely for a full period of maturation.

As mentioned, the Bowmore distillery is located on the island of Islay, which lies off the west coast of Scotland. It is the oldest distillery on Islay and one of the oldest in all of Scotland, having been founded in 1779 by John Simpson. Bowmore is owned by Morrison Bowmore, who have been in control since 1963. They are a subsidiary of the larger Suntory drinks company from Japan, who acquired Morrison Bowmore in 1989. The annual production of the distillery is two million litres and the core range is extensive, making Bowmore one of the biggest selling single malts in the smoky/peaty style.

The whisky is presented in a red hinged box and includes a certificate signed by Distillery Manager Eddie MacAffer, who selected the casks along with Morrison Bowmore's Master Blender Rachel Barrie. There are just 12,000 bottles worldwide, with just 720 available for the UK market. It has been bottled at 50.8% ABV and is available through specialist whisky retailers.  The recommended retail price is £380 a bottle.

Our tasting notes
The colour is a dark reddish amber and the nose is highly perfumed and full of vibrant aromas. The most immediate of these is warm bonfire-like smoke, which has a charcoal barbeque edge to it. There is also plenty of wood spice, especially cinnamon, and this is backed up by a lovely aroma of sweet plum jam. Incorporated with this are some dried fruit aromas (think of strawberries, prunes and raisins), plus some caramel, dried orange peel and something salty and a little savoury.

On the palate, it is the charcoal-like smoke that hits first. This has a hint of coal tar soap to it and is savoury and slightly bitter. Then comes a wonderful floral note, which is sugary and reminiscent of parma violet sweets. The whisky gets more complex with time as further layers of flavour begin to reveal themselves – first some salted caramel, then some dried fruit (imagine prunes, raisins, orange and a hint of fig) and then a big hit of woody, earthy spices – the predominant one is cinnamon, but there are also elements of liquorice root, ginger, clove and a background hint something from the Indian spice cupboard (possibly cumin is the closest). The fruity note becomes increasingly jammy with time and is reminiscent of plum compote.

The finish is very long and it is the savoury smokiness and woody spices which last the longest – these can still be detected a good 10 minutes after the last sip. It is the lovely note of plum jam/compote that begins to fade first and this is followed by the other dried fruit elements. The intense, floral and sugary parma violet note lingers and combines well with the smoke and spices.

The alcohol strength suggests adding some water and with even just a few drops the whisky becomes softer and gentler. The savoury notes are knocked back and the sweet and fruity notes are allowed to shine further. The best way to describe it is liquid smoked plum jam. It is delicious.

What's the verdict?
This latest release by Bowmore is superb and is one that makes you wonder why more companies do not mature their whiskies in Port casks for longer periods.  The combination of flavours from the cask and the distinctive floral notes and smokiness of Bowmore is very good, and is possibly even better with a dash of water.  

The quality of the liquid is not in doubt.  However, what has been debated around the whisky blogosphere is the seemingly high price, especially compared to other older Bowmore releases from the last couple of years.  What we have here is a product that is almost unique and our view is this - why shouldn't the brand put a premium and a related price on a relatively rare product?  After all, most other brands are starting to ...


Anonymous said...

Rare? 12000 bottles is far from rare.
75 bottles is rare.

Anonymous said...

There are actually only 6,000 bottles - with 520 available for the uk market

Whisky For Everyone said...

Dear Anonymous (Oct 1)

Thanks for your comment. The information in the post is correct as per the press release from Morrison Bowmore. The amounts that you quote are for the Devil's Casks release, which we have yet to review.

Matt @ WFE