Today’s review is a long overdue review of Bowmore 11 yo Exclusive Casks bottling exclusive for K&L Wines. This whisky was produced by the independent bottler, Creative Whisky Company…and provided to me by my friend and author of the “Diving for Pearls” blog, Michael K. Sadly, I’ve had this sample since December 2013 and am just now getting to it! Thanks for the sample, Mike, sorry for the delay!
Okay, this is the final posting for the year 2015 and for some reason I can’t seem to get very far away from Islay and Islay whiskies! Well, there’s a good reason for that, you see …. I enjoy Islay whiskies …. Islay whiskies are what drew me to scotch. I love the boldly peaty, medicinal, smokey and intriguing flavors and aromas that make Islay whiskies so unique. And apparently so do my friends who share their whiskies with me as well as occasionally supplementing my own accumulation with various samples!
About the Exclusive Malts and the Creative Whisky Company
From the website for the Creative Whisky Company:
The whiskies used in the Exclusive Malts line consist of single cask whiskies bottled at cask strength and usually wholly aged in one cask. The whiskies are as young as 8 years old and as old as 40 but carefully selected; each year less than 24 casks are chosen for this range.
Started in 2005, The Creative Whisky Co Ltd was created to continue a passion for outstanding single malt whisky. The founder/owner (solely responsible for all cask selections), David Stirk, had spent many years drinking, selling, making, finishing, packaging, talking about and writing about malt whisky.
The previous Tastings Co-ordinator & Journalist for “Whisky Magazine”, David also authored the books “The Malt Whisky Guide” and “The Distilleries of Campbeltown”. He also spent time with Scotland’s oldest independent bottler – nosing and selecting hundreds of casks each year, a very enjoyable time in his life.
David has travelled the world hosting tastings and masterclass and is, perhaps, infamous, more for his jokes than his whisky. His strategy is always to enjoy whisky and at the same time provide informative, yet, humorous, tastings and hopefully anyone attending will like at least one of the whiskies.
About Bowmore Distillery
The Bowmore Distillery was established in 1779 by a local merchant, John P. Simpson, before passing into the ownership of James Mutter, who was also Vice Consul representing the Ottoman Empire, Portugal, and Brazil through their Glasgow consulates. There are no records that pinpoint the date Mutter acquired the distillery from Simpson. Mutter would introduce a number of innovative processes to the distillery during his tenure and even had a small iron steam ship built to import barley and coal from the mainland and to export the whisky to Glasgow.The distillery was then bought from the Mutter family in 1925 by J.B. Sheriff & Co., who also owned the Lochindaal Distillery (see more info on Lochindaal, here). Sherriff & Co. Ltd retained ownership until the distillery was purchased by Inverness-based William Grigor & Son, Ltd. in 1950.
Stanley P. Morrison and James Howat formed Stanley P. Morrison Ltd. in 1951, and this company formed Morrison’s Bowmore Distillery, Ltd. in 1963 in order to take over the Bowmore Distillery. Stanley P. Morrison died in 1971, and control of the companies passed to Brian Morrison. The company name has changed slightly, and, following minor restructuring, the distillery is now owned by Morrison Bowmore Distillers Ltd., which is ultimately owned by the Japanese distiller Suntory, following their takeover of Morrison Bowmore Distillers Ltd. during 1994. Suntory had previously been a shareholder in Morrison Bowmore for several years.
Bowmore Distillery sources as much barley as possible from on the island of Islay, but there are insufficient quantities produced to satisfy the distillery’s demand, so barley is also imported from the mainland. The distillery retains a traditional floor malting, but this also lacks sufficient capacity; the barley imported from the mainland is normally already malted.
The distillery has an annual capacity of 2,000,000 litres, with fermentation undertaken in traditional wooden washbacks before the liquid is passed through two wash stills and then through two spirit stills. The waste heat from the distillation process goes to heat a nearby public swimming pool that was built in one of the distillery’s former warehouses. Morrison Bowmore bottles all whisky produced at Bowmore Distillery and their other distilleries at a facility in Springburn, Glasgow.
Review: Bowmore 11 yo Exclusive Casks, Exclusive for K&L Wines, Distilled 12 March 2002, Bottled 2013, Cask No. 20098 One of 271 bottles, 56.3% abv
As I mentioned above, I received this sample from Mike K who reviewed this whisky back when (Diving for Pearls Review – here). I have studiously avoided re-reading his review prior to making my own tasting notes in order to not allow any subconscious influences into my ….. subconscious!
I will admit that my prior experiences with Bowmore have been pleasant, enjoyable and rather ho-hum, but I will say that my tastings to date have been restricted to official releases. My take has been that there is something…. muted, or muddled … about the Bowmores I’ve tried. There are nice notes in the OBs, but to me they all seemed to come across a bit like a blended whisky – lacking any real individuality, with all of the sharp flavor corners rounded off. So here we have a single cask that, by color, nosing and tasting, certainly suggests to me that this is an ex-bourbon cask-matured Bowmore; should be interesting! Let’s see how this one fares!
Nose: (Neat) Immediately and obviously peated, with a rather nice smokiness rising out of the glass just sitting on the table. This is an earthy, vegetal peat with a mineral aspect that becomes more medicinal as it sits. Behind the peat lies a very delicate fruitiness, with ripe apples, a hint of melon, and fresh uncut lemon. There is a note of brine, some black pepper, lime zest, and a hint of cinnamon. The nose really doesn’t give any indications of the high abv. But there are a couple of downsides to this whisky. One is that the nose starts to lose steam after 10 minutes, losing much of its character and becoming just indistinctly smoky. The other is this underlying New Oak note that is just at odds with the rest of the nose. (Water): More medicinal now, and that New Oak is even more evident – and not necessarily in a good way for me. White pepper, lemon, hints of apples and vanilla cookies.
Taste: (Neat) Here the abv is noticeable, with a slightly rising heat, but it is not overwhelmingly hot. And the heat doesn’t completely hide the flavors. Lemony-peat is the first note that hits, then comes a growing sweetness – vanilla, ripe apples, toffee, along with more lemony/citric sharpness. In the mid-palate there is a wave of pepper, a return of the New Oak and earthy minerals. This wave settles and the oak is mixed with an ashy, smoky vanilla. (Water) Becomes much sweeter and rounder with a big vanilla cream note on the arrival. As with the nose, with water the oak also becomes more prominent. Lemon juice and fresh ripe apples, black pepper, Earl Grey tea, the vanilla returns and fades into that ashy smoke.
Finish: Citric sharpness and a brief vanilla sweetness, but then it becomes all about the ashy peat and smoke. Quite ashy and drying at the tail end.
Overall: This one showed such promise to start, but the nose, surprisingly, and somewhat disappointingly, becomes rather “unstructured” and faded after a very short time. It was also interesting that on the palate, this is much smokier and peatier than the OB Bowmores I’ve tasted previously. For me, the apparent absence of sherry-cask maturation impact on this whisky leaves a much cleaner, bolder, more assertively peated whisky that has some very appealing aspects, although there is a bit too much oak influence that just dims a pretty good experience. Also, I first put in just a couple of drops of water, but nothing really changed, so I added a few more drops and gave it another few minutes. This one definitely needs a bit more than a few drops of water and then several minutes to find its way. For me, the nose is much better neat – albeit short-lived, while the palate is broader, rounder and sweeter with water, but both suffer by the pronounced funky oak note.
Okay, now that I finished my own, independent review, I went back to Mike’s review to see what he thought. While we found some similarities, I did find this one to be peatier and smokier than Mike described in his review. Like me, Mike also found the slightly funky New Oak note and that it was a real detraction, ruining what might have been a pretty good whisky. Doing these separate reviews and comparisons is a great exercise. Calibrating your tasting impressions with others’ is very helpful when researching future purchases. Plus, it is simply fun!
Bottler: Creative Whisky Company Ltd.
Type: Single Malt, single cask
Age: 11 years (Distilled 12 March 2002, Bottled 2013)
Maturation: not disclosed
Price: $75.99 (K&L)
Availability: K&L Wines (CA) if still available at all
Sample Source: Michael K, author of the “Diving For Pearls” blog
Malt Whisky Yearbook 2014, Ingvar Ronde, MagDig Media, Ltd.