Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Review - Black Bowmore 50 years old 'The Last Cask'

The Last Cask is the fifth and final edition of the fabled Black Bowmore series. The first expression appeared in 1993 and was followed by a further two bottlings in 1994 and 1995 respectively. Then after a hiatus of over 10 years, the fourth edition was launched in 2007. Now nine years later the final installment is released. As with the previous Black Bowmores in the series this whisky was distilled in 1964, shortly after the famous Islay distillery switched from coal-fired stills to steam.

The spirit for The Last Cask was distilled on November 5 1964 and has been maturing in an ex-Oloroso sherry hogshead cask ever since. This has sat within Bowmore’s No.1 Vaults, the oldest maturation warehouse in Scotland and part of which sits below sea level with Loch Indaal lapping against its walls. This single cask, the last of the pocket of stock from 1964 used in the Black Bowmore series, has yielded just 159 bottles.

The whisky is presented in a hand blown glass bottle designed and created by Glasstorm and a bespoke Scottish oak cabinet designed and created by John Galvin Design. This features a secret 2cl vial of The Last Cask, a silver tree ring design representing the five Black Bowmore bottlings and a slide out oak panel engraved with the story of the series. To mirror this, the bottle features a silver neck piece, a Scottish oak stopper and silver inlayed engraving.

The Last Cask also represents the final act of Eddie MacAffer, a legendary figure in Scotch whisky and a man that now retires after 50 years and three months of working at Bowmore. This fifth Black Bowmore, which was distilled just 20 months before he started, is bottled at the natural cask strength of 40.9% ABV and will be available globally through selected whisky and luxury retailers. The cost is £16,000 per bottle.

Our tasting notes
The colour is deep amber and the nose is extremely fruity.  The key aromas are that of tropical fruit (think of pineapple, mango and peach) with some background candied orange.  Other aromas include caramel, golden syrup, raisins, walnuts and hints of clove and earthy peat smoke.  This distant smoke becomes more prominent with time.

On the palate the whisky feels soft, velvety and viscous, possible even oily.  There is again plenty of initial tropical fruit notes (pineapple, mango, peach and apricot especially), although these feel more like dried fruits than on the nose.  These are enhanced by a delicious golden syrup-like sweetness and some developing notes of malty cereal biscuits and salted caramel.  Further depth and complexity is added by hints of raisin, walnut, gingerbread, delicate wood spices (cinnamon in particular) and clove.  The distant soft peat smoke gives a savoury and earthy note that is most reminiscent of forest mushrooms or truffle.

The finish is incredibly long and is initial fruity and floral.  This combination is lovely and is again driven by the dried tropical fruit notes, plus something like honeysuckle or jasmine.  With time these fade to reveal further candied orange and drying woody characteristics, all backed up by a lingering and increasingly influential waft of peat smoke.

What's the verdict?
This whisky is a fitting end to the Black Bowmore series and to the working career of Eddie MacAffer at the distillery.  It is very rare to sample whiskies of such great age and heritage.  It was a marvellous privilege to do so at last night's launch held in the No.1 Vaults at Bowmore and to share the moment with Eddie and David Turner, the current Distillery Manager.

What you are getting here is not just a very old whisky from another era but a combination of craftmanship - the whisky makers and those that have cared for it over the five decades combine with modern day glass work and cabinet making.  It is a truly outstanding piece of work that will make 159 people very happy, whatever they choose to do with their bottle.

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