Bowmore Devil’s Casks II, 10yo, 56.3%

I think almost everybody even just remotely interested in whisky has heard about Bowmore’s Devil’s Casks releases. Last year when they released the first batch there was a run on it and within a month, the price had increased by some 400% of the original retail price.

Most shops never got around to actually putting it on their shelves. I only got my bottle (still closed so no review yet) thanks to Billy, who managed to get one for me. Or at least remind me to put in a reminder email on The Whisky Exchange’s site.

Anyway, this year they released batch 2, and the hype was no less great. It sold out in minutes and the only guys getting one after the first day got it from obscure retailers without a web shop. Now only to find one of those!

I got my sample from Ben Cops in a sample swap we did recently. We do that. We send each other samples of stuff. It’s fun. Apart from the fact that I forgot to put some in that I promised him.

A ten year old from Bowmore is usually pretty great, and one matured in first fill sherry is bound to turn heads. I was slightly skeptical at first since first fill sherry can easily overpower gentler spirits.

Bowmore Devil's Casks II

Bowmore Devil’s Casks II

Sniff:
It’s salty. That’s what I notice first. Then there’s a light peatiness immediately followed by a massive blast of sherry. Good sherry, though. There’s some tar, but also red fruits, strawberries. Quite some wood, more than I expected with mint to an almost toothpaste level. The peat does become slightly more prominent after a few minutes.

Sip:
The palate is fierce with lots of oak, peat and sherry. It takes a minute to settle and release more flavors. Heather, gentle herbs but also barbecue coals and marinade.

Swallow:
The finish is long and peaty, again with heather and herbs. Almost floral, even and fairly dry. The sherry is here too, but in a more timid way than I expected, but still pretty fierce.

It’s a bit of a strange one, this. It’s a remarkably sherried whisky, but because the sherry hits so incredibly hard on the nose it doesn’t really stand out on the palate and finish anymore. That doesn’t mean it’s gone though.

Albeit a bit of a strange whisky, it’s bloody delicious. As in, I want a bottle or two. I was afraid that it would just be strong, peaty sherry but there’s much more going on that I love. The balance is quite alright, and it’s much more complex and layered than I’d regularly expect from 10 year old first fill sherry whiskies.

Great stuff by Bowmore. It makes me pay attention to batch three next year, and hope batch one tastes as good as this one! It also helps that I kind of love Bowmore, nowadays. Their Tempest, Laimrig, Darkest and many other releases are just great, and great value for money.

Bowmore Devil’s Casks II, 10yo, 56.3%. It used to go for some € 80, but I expect you to pay much more if you can find it.

Thanks Ben!

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Port & Peat bottle share wrap-up

The only thing I’ve got to do with the Bottle share whiskies of the Port & Peat theme I recently bought, sampled, handed over and tasted is decide which one is my favorite and finish the bottles (read: my own samples).

I’ve been going back to the whiskies over the weekend and have come to some strange conclusions. First, a bit of background to these conclusions.

A while ago I wrote about redoing tasting notes and really ‘getting to know a whisky’. This last thing is not the same as writing notes and getting it over with. Unfortunately, that’s what we mostly do, since most whiskies come in 3cl quantities nowadays.

Getting to know a whisky is actually sitting down for it on several occasions and trying to decide whether or not you were right in your first assessment, change opinions (if only slightly) and finding and opening more layers in a dram tasted.

This is what I’ve been doing to the four bottles I had in this bottle share over the last couple of days. Unfortunately that makes me have to come back to stuff I said earlier. Especially about the Kilchoman. I’ve tried it about three times now and while my tasting notes have not changed much in a point by point way, I do feel the whisky is either 1) getting ridiculously unbalanced if open for more than a couple of days or 2) not my cup of tea after all.

Back in the initial review I stated that I thought it was a pretty good whisky. I’m taking that back. I’ve tried it again and again, and I now just don’t want to finish the rest of the bottle. It’s just peaty strawberry juice with alcohol by now. On Facebook I got a reaction from someone who didn’t like it at all on his first try. For me, it took me a little while longer but I’m agreeing with him more and more.

I just don’t like that whisky, after all. At all. Strange, huh?

The rest has stayed pretty much the same as before in my view, and that’s why I’m not fully losing faith in tasting notes right now. So, here’s the final list, from top to bottom. Sort of.

A shared first place goes to:

Longrow and BenRiach. Not much of a surprise there. I love both of these whiskies. I actually love everything about them. Their price vs quality ratio is great. Their flavors are great. They show great depth and there’s loads of things to discover, while not forcing you to do that. This means as much as ‘they’re easy to drink too’.

The only complaint about the BenRiach I can think of is that it’s watered down to 50% for consistency (I guess) and it’s not really cask strength. Apart from that, both drams are great, earthy, show port hints in restraint and have oodles of flavor. Oh, and the Longrow is salty too.

Third comes the Talisker, after all. I expected this one to be fourth. I’m not a huge fan of it, so the step between 1 (and sort of 2) to three is big. This is an okay dram, but there’s not much to it. But still, if you buy Talisker, just get the ten.

Fourth comes the Kilchoman. Apparently three years is not always enough. This one just completely fell apart over the course of a couple of days. Bummer.

So there you have it, a short update on how this one went. I’m already thinking about a next bottle share. I hope Master of Malt gets another cask of Cask Strength bourbon from FEW, then I might just do the full FEW line of products, up to and including their grappa.

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BenRiach 17yo, Solstice (batch II), 50%

The final installment of the Port & Peat bottle share and this time it’s a whisky I’ve actually tried before. The BenRiach Solstice has been around for a couple of years and it’s fairly easy to get hold of at shops, and even a wee taster at festivals is pretty easy.

So, maybe together with the Talisker Port Ruighe this is the one that most people will be familiar with. BenRiach is a distillery known for versatility. Their quality is consistently high, but they use all kinds of casks to varying degrees of success. Apart from their casks which they use both for maturation and finishing (pay attention when buying single casks!), they also vary their distilling process quite a bit with peated and unpeated batches, and some batches are triple distilled.

Of course, this means there will be expressions that you will not like as much as others, but that’s with any distillery that does this (think of Springbank, Bruichladdich and Arran). I’m usually not a big fan of wine casks and will not ever buy those without trying them first. The Port finishes and maturations have been pretty great though, and since this one is in the bottle share, and I’ve tried it before you might be able to guess the outcome of this review.

We’ve considered adding one of the new single casks to the bottle share, but since it was a quick one that we wanted to keep low in price (€ 45 for 4 x 10 cl) we decided against it. The 1984 Port Finish that just came out would add € 35 to the grand total per person, so that seemed a bit out of balance.

BenRiach Solstice 17yo

BenRiach Solstice 17yo

Sniff:
The peatiness is quite different from the previous three Port & Peat thingies. Where those were all coastal whiskies, this one is not and the lack of salinity stands out. I guess the casks used here were used for tawny port previously since there’s scents of hazelnut and strawberry. It’s very light and delicate behind that and floral even. There’s an earthiness here too. Dark chocolate and praline. After half an hour I suddenly get massive scents of barbecued pork. Like the bark on good ribs.

Sip:
The palate continues down the barbecue track with more oak and more meatiness. Some pepper. It’s quite strong on the port flavors, but not too strong. Between the oak and barbecue there’s a certain greasiness going on. It’s quite appealing. The combination of flavors make for a pretty gentle dram, although it’s at 50% and there’s a lot going on.

Swallow:
The finish is somewhat lighter and here it kind of shows that this is a finish instead of a maturation. The flavors of white oak show up a little bit, and the floral bits I also found on the nose show up again too. I don’t think those would’ve been present without some years in a bourbon cask previous to the finish. Late in the finish the barbecue pops up again.

In short: I like BenRiach and I like Port finished whiskies. This is a golden combination. I tried the 15 year old version a couple of years ago and enjoyed that as well. That was a bit more sooty than this one and that would have been a nice addition.

The flavors of this dram are pretty great. I think in this case a finish works better than a maturation since I think the spirit of BenRiach would otherwise have been overpowered. The port layer is just thick enough to enjoy, and have significant impact without it being just about red fruits and old, wet oak. Good stuff!

BenRiach Solstice Batch 2, 17yo, 50%. Available in many shops, with prices varying between € 63.50 and € 75. The high price is still pretty fair for this dram.

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Talisker Port Ruighe, 45.8%

The Talisker Port Ruighe (Portree) is named after the island’s capital town and to make the name a bit of a gimmick they also decided to finish the whisky in port casks. Apart from the town name and the ‘port’ pun it’s also a tribute to the famous port trading houses of Scotland from yonder year. Cockburn’s, Graham’s and many others had their roots in Scotland.

Portree

Portree

This expression came out in a year that Talisker also released the Storm and Dark Storm so it seems they are quickly making their way to NAS whiskies. I expect this is because Diageo is going to need more older stock soon to keep up with their 18 year old (and older) expression.

I tried the Talisker Storm at several occasions and while it’s a fairly unrefined dram, I kind of liked it since it showcases a very old fashioned, spirit driven whisky that doesn’t taste all that bad. The biggest drawback any Talisker expression has is that it’s always going to be compared to the regular 10 year old, since that’s one bloody great whisky, especially at that price. That also means that those NAS whiskies at increased pricing are going to struggle.

Talisker Distillery

Talisker Distillery

This one then. NAS, which probably means (guessing here) some 8 years old. This I find interesting, since within those eight years they also managed to squeeze in a finish. That then means the finish wasn’t overly long. It doesn’t necessarily have to be since, for example, the Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition is only finished for three months and that’s one noticeable finish!

Talisker Port Ruighe

Talisker Port Ruighe

Sniff:
It’s fairly closed at first with just some sweetness and a timid smoke coming out of the glass. After ten minutes or so it starts opening up and I get crunchy muesli with red fruits. In the Netherlands we have it with freeze-dried strawberries and raspberries and that’s what it reminds me of. Slightly spirity in a good way with some grass and a salty touch.

Sip:
The palate is light with the typical Talisker crushed black pepper notes. Some smoke and a white oak background (I didn’t see that coming). Red fruit again with ruby port (not tawny). It boils down to Talisker with a drop of port added.

Swallow:
The finish is very similar to the palate, but feels a bit more out of balance. It feels a bit like the port and Talisker whisky haven’t mingled all that well. Sweet, with fresh raspberries, some smoke and a hint of pepper.

I’m not overjoyed by this one. It takes too long for such a youngster to loosen up, and in the end it feels all a bit out of balance. It’s a bit like someone tried to mix Talisker with actual port and not just use a port cask.

The drawback here is, as expected, that it’s not better than the ten year old and since I can get that for € 26, and this for € 42.50 it a rather bad deal. If you’re going to buy any of the NAS ones, I’d go for the Storm, since that just is just Talisker on steroids. I haven’t tried the Dark Storm yet, though.

Anyway, a bit of a letdown, this. I had hoped for a bit more balance and integrated flavors.

Talisker Port Ruighe, NAS, 45.8%. Available in many places though prices vary wildly.

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Kilchoman Port Cask matured, 3yo, 55%

Apparently, young Islay whiskies are ridiculously popular. As I said a short while ago I’m having trouble spending a wad of cash on Kilchoman, since it stings a little bit that I’m shelling out for a three year old. However, most of them are pretty good so when this one came out and I was already toying with a Peat & Port bottle share, it fit right in.

To my understanding the release of this bottle was only last week and it has already sold out everywhere, so it appears I am one of the few not readily spending a hundred bucks on a three year old whisky that might not be all that.

I’ve already spotted someone on Whiskybase trying to flip it and making a quick 40 euros, since it’s on the marketplace there. Luckily, I’m here to try it. To see how it ranks to yesterday’s Longrow (which I thought was pretty damn fine!).

Anyway, I saw a review recently that this was matured instead of finished in a port cask. That was heralded as some sort of boon for this whisky. However, since this baby is only three years old I’m willing to argue that most finishes last longer than this maturation has!

Kilchoman Port Cask Matured

Kilchoman Port Cask Matured

Sniff:
It’s a lot more peaty on the nose than the Longrow, but also very earthy. More towards damp soil and a peat bog than mushrooms and leaves though. There’s also old oak and dunnage warehouses. I’m having trouble getting the telltale fruitiness here. The more typical Kilchoman salinity and sharpness are present. After a couple of minutes some berries come through.

Sip:
The palate starts off with fizzy strawberry lemonade. I don’t think I’ve ever had that in a whisky! Then the alcohol comes rushing in to catch up. The peat is not as pronounced on the nose, but there is a lot of oak going on. The fruit cannot be held back and the strawberries are joined by red berries, and maybe some raspberry. As in, I get some fresh acidity. Quite syrupy, too.

Swallow:
The finish swings the other way. There’s a mountain of peat, lots of oak. Salt, some brine and sand, a lot more coastal than expected. After all that the fruits comes back a bit but nowhere near as on the palate. Pretty long, but rather simple.

What to think of this one? It’s pretty good, that’s for sure. I just don’t think it can trump the ‘pretty good’ level. It’s a tad inconsistent and the port and spirit don’t seem to have married all that well. It’s a bit wobbly between the nose, palate and finish. First only smoke, then lots of fruit, then back to the smoke again with almost no fruit.

It’s a very likeable whisky, but I’m glad I didn’t choose this one as the Kilchoman to start spending on. I prefer the Longrow, and with that I’m (sort of) keeping € 35 in my pocket. It’s just a bit too young I think, but I also wouldn’t be too thrilled to leave this for more years to see what happens then. Maybe a cleaner port cask? Cleaner, as in, rinsed better or so.

Kilchoman Port Cask Matured, 55%, 2011-2014, 3yo. Pretty hard to get by now, and the prices are climbing fast.

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Longrow Red 2014, Fresh Port Casks, 51.8%

As said in a previous post, I’m kind of enamoured with peated whisky from a port cask. Whether it’s a finish or a maturation doesn’t really matter to me, as long as the cask doesn’t fully overpower the whisky. How much like it depends on the quality of both the whisky and the casks of course.

In the case of Longrow I at least know that the quality of the whisky is taken care of. I love that stuff, unless they finish it in a Tokaji cask. They’re fairly consistent although they sometimes mislabel a Longrow as a Springbank (I think).

In this case they decided to put their newest Red release straight in my current area of interest. Their previous releases were from red wine casks and even though those usually raise my skepticism they were both pretty okay. Let’s see how this one fares!

I generally don’t comment on the color of a dram since it usually doesn’t mean anything, with the creative wood management that currently exists, but this one is definitely of a pink/orange hue.

Longrow Red, from Fresh Port Casks

Longrow Red, from Fresh Port Casks

Sniff:
Pretty heavy with some nuts, smoke and an earthy scent to it, like mushrooms, or wet leaves. Slightly salty with cigar smoke and a hint of red fruits behind that. More timid than I expected.

Sip:
The palate has two faces. There is a sharp, slightly salty side to it, with some barley and smoke. The other side has the warmth of the fruits, the dark oak and port like flavors. It blends rather well after a couple of seconds, but it seems the peppery bite is getting a tad overpowering.

Swallow:
The finish is definitely smoky with fresh wood smoke, but also some cigars. Some stewed red fruits (strawberries mostly), with oak, peat and that earthy flavor I also found on the nose.

While this might not be the most complicated of drams, it sure is a tasty one. I love the combination of fruit, smoke and warmth it gives, and I think Springbank has timed the release of this bottle well, since we’re heading for some colder months now.

The port is not overpowering at all, but does sure add flavor that otherwise isn’t found in Longrow. The salinity of the whisky with the crisp smoke is familiar, but the earthy flavor and scent is new, and I like it very much. This is a keeper! I might have to get myself a full bottle instead of just a wee sample…

Longrow Red 2014, Fresh Port Casks, 51.8%.

Pretty easy to get at the moment but I suggest trying a local specialty shop. Drinks & Gifts has it, so does De Whiskykoning. Master of Malt stocks it too, but the exchange rate for the Pound Sterling does you in, if you’re used to Euros. In The Netherlands it should be between € 60 and € 65, and it’s well worth it!

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Blind Tasting Competition 2014

It’s been a while since I posted a review, but I’ve been trying to work my way through a cold that my lovely daughter brought home from daycare. It’s going in the right direction so I hope to be back at more regular postings after the weekend.

This post is just to get your attention for our club’s annual Blind Tasting Competition. This year it’s running for the fourth time and it’s promising to be a good one with already 65 contestants.

The competition has been opened to non-members now and you only need an account on our website to participate (www.levenswater.nl) from December 6th to 23.

What is it:
You get 18 samples of whisky that can come from anywhere in Scotland, and are all single malts. Apart from that it can be any bottling that is on Whiskybase.

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Every day you taste one sample and fill in what you think is the right answer, and by scoring points on multiple categories you hope to end high on the list:

  • 40 points for the correct distillery, subtract 20 if you only get the region right
  • 40 points for the correct age, subtract 10 for each year you’re off (minimum of 0)
  • 20 points for the correct ABV, subtract 1 for each tenth of a percent you’re off.

I generally suck at this, but I’m hoping to do better than I did last year. Plus, technically the samples are cheap for what you’re getting!

So, go to www.levenswater.nl and sign up! There’s some 7 spots left!

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