It’s been a bit more than a week since I wrote a post on this here blog. The reason for this was announced in some posts on a Bunnahabhain and a Lagavulin, I was on Islay last week.
A long planned trip with my friends to the holy grail of peated whisky. The last time we were in Scotland we already started planning an ‘expedition’ like this, and contrary to that one, we actually wanted to see some of the surroundings from outside the car. We wanted to see Islay.
So, contrary to many people’s expectations we only planned one distillery visit per day, but decided to go (almost) all out on those. A tour in the morning, a tasting right after. Lunch to cool down and then some sightseeing.
On Monday we visited Bunnahabhain and did some walking on Jura. On Tuesday it was Bowmore’s turn and a small round trip between Ballygrant and Keills. On Wednesday we toured and tasted Lagavulin and drove around the western leg of the island.
The tour at Bowmore, we did the Vaults Secret Tasting Tour, is a great one. My wife and I toured the distillery in 2010 and loved it. Unfortunately, back then there was a bit of a drought and the distillery didn’t have enough water to malt any barley. This time the malting floors and the Kiln were in use so we made barley angels at 50 degrees Celsius.
Our tour guide, Lauren, took us around the distillery and allowed us plenty of time for pictures, questions and random wandering around. She even put up with our bad jokes and chimed in herself with a quip or two:
“The water from the lade is brown, because it runs through peat bogs. It’s not because it’s sewage or something. That is what Caol Ila uses…”
Before, during and after the tour we tried some whiskies, obviously. I didn’t take any notes. I thought not being an uber geek for once seemed the better option, so you have to forgive me for not having a proper review of a recent 11 year old Bowmore Hand Filled from a sherry cask, last year’s 27 year old Port Cask from Feis Ile and the Vaults Edition (this one will follow later).
What I do have is a tasting note on the 10cl sample of a 1999 bourbon cask that was included in the tour ticket (either a bourbon or sherry cask, I picked the bourbon one). It does warrant a bit of an explanation though. But first, tasting notes.
Bowmore 1999-2018, Bourbon cask 1462, 53.4% – Handfilled by me, at the distillery on April 10th, 2018.
On the nose I got a good whack of dry smoke, with an earthy, peaty background. Some smoked tea, but not as heavy as Lapsang Souchong. Lots of yellow fruit too, apple, dried pineapple. Later it gets more and more grassy, with straw, heather and marram grass. Rather salty as well.
The palate is more dry than the nose made me expect, but most people know I love a dry whisky, so that’s great. Slightly less fruity, although the apple is still noticeable. Hay, grass, oak and apple peels. Not too sharp, but very intense. The smoke is a bit sharp.
The finish is very consistent with the palate. Lots of peat and earthy flavors. Smoke, oak, straw, hay. Lots of fruit too, and slightly more bitter than before. So that suits the pineapple, and dry apple too.
Obviously it’s great. A nineties Bowmore from a bourbon cask is (almost always) something that gets me going. I love that this is a slightly atypical one in its intensity and peatiness. That is also where the explanation kicks in.
Obviously, if you get into contact with a certain scent or flavor a lot, you can get immune to it. When walking through the town of Bowmore, there sometimes is a mist of peat smoke coming from the distillery that’s fogging up the streets. Also, when you start doing barley angels in the kiln, you smell of smoke afterwards.
Because of that, when I tasted this whisky in the No. 1 Vaults, I didn’t really pick up on the peat at all. I thought it was a very gently, very fruity Bowmore that was even slightly less peaty than I’m used to. Boy was I wrong.
I gave a sip to my father-in-law, last Saturday, and he figured it was too peaty for Bowmore as well, and went to Ardbeg or Laphroaig for his guess. And yet here we are. Bowmore in a different guise. Still, an epic dram though.
Also, when a bung is being hammered back in a cask, really tightly, by a female tour guide while she exclaims ‘I like to make it hard for people’, it’s apparently inappropriate to immediately blurt out ‘That’s what she said!’.
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