This week's review focuses on the final 2 expressions within the latest range of bottlings for The Single Cask, and they're both from Bowmore!
Before we get stuck into the reviews, let's first delve into the history of this illiustrious distillery, which is also the second oldest operating distillery in Scotland after Glenturret.
The distillery was founded in 1779 by a local merchant, David Simpson, and thus became the oldest distillery on Islay. It remained under his control until 1837, when the distillery was sold to James and William Mutter from Glasgow.
James Mutter, the head of the family, was a businessman who had a number of farming interests. He was also the Vice Consul to the Ottoman Empire as well as Portugal and Brazil, which was made possible through their respective consulates in Glasgow.
Under the direction of James and William Mutter, the distillery introduced a number of new and innovative distillation techniques and processes and also underwent several periods of expansion. This continued until 1892, when the distillery was sold to a consortium of English businessmen under the guise of Bowmore Distillery Company Ltd.
The distillery underwent a further series of changes in ownership in the intervening years, most notably being under the control of Distillers Company Limited (DCL, the predecessor of Diageo) in 1929 and William Grigor and Sons in 1950, before being purchased by Stanley P. Morrison in 1963 for a sum of £117000.
Morrison would go on to found the company Morrison Bowmore Distillers Ltd., which acted as the parent company of the distillery. The distillery remained under Morrison Bowmore’s sole control until 1989, when Japanese spirits conglomerate Suntory purchased a 35% stake in the parent company. In 1993, the distillery released one of the most legendary whiskies ever made, Black Bowmore.
Another two versions were released in 1994 and 1995 respectively, during which time Suntory assumed full control of Morrison Bowmore Distillers Ltd. and in the process took ownership of Bowmore as well as Auchentoshan and Glen Garioch distilleries and the McClelland’s brand of single malts.
In 2014, Suntory merged with Beam Inc. in a £16 billion merger which brought the distilleries belonging to Suntory (Bowmore, Auchentoshan, Glen Garioch and McClelland’s) under the same umbrella as those owned by Beam Inc. (Laphroaig, Ardmore and the Teachers blend).
Bowmore is of the belief that the entire whisky process should remain as traditional as possible, while allowing for some modern conventions in order to simplify the distillation process. The distillery is one of three on Islay (the other two being Kilchoman and Laphroaig) to retain a functioning maltings floor.
The malted barley is first soaked before being laid out on the floor to dry. It is turned once every 8 hours in order to allow for even germination. Once it has reached the optimal germination level, the malted barley is brought to the kiln to be roasted.
The distillery sources 30% of its barley requirements from various farms on Islay while acquiring the rest from commercial maltings company Simpsons on the mainland. The barley acquired from these sources are all peated to 25 ppm phenol.
In the case of the locally sourced barley, it is slow roasted in the kiln over a peat fire for up to 14 hours in order for it to achieve the desired phenol specification. The barley is then brought back to the maltings floor to cool before being transported to the mash tun for mashing.
The distillery sports an 8 tonne stainless steel mash tun, 6 washbacks and 3 pairs of stills and predominantly matures its whiskies in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks which are then vatted in pre-determined proportions before being bottled for official sale.
When it comes to independent bottlings though, there seems to be a far larger amount of ex-bourbon cask Bowmores on the market in comparison to its ex-sherry counterpart, although the latter can still be sourced on occasion by the bottle.
This week's review focuses on TWO sister cask expressions of Bowmore which were distilled in 2001, matured in ex-bourbon casks (#31931 & #31932) before being bottled at 50% abv for The Single Cask.
So, let's dive right into the reviews!
The Single Cask Bowmore 2001 14 Years Old #31931 (50% abv)
Nose: Initial entry presents wood varnish followed by cracked black pepper, guava juice, oak and a hint of pungent yet earthy peat. A hint of brine and sea salt follows and there is a robust feel to this dram which is apparent from the nose itself.
Palate: Initial entry presents more of the wood varnish, cracked black pepper, guava juice and oak, followed by more overt peat and a certain sweetness which seems to have been brought on by the guava juice hints. More brine and sea salt follow and there is a distinct camphor-esque note which lingers. Cinnamon, nutmeg and some mint also emerge after some time.
Finish: Long and lingering on the finish, with the peat, brine, guava juice and hints of oak and wood spices carrying through to the very end.
Balance: A superbly well balanced and immensely enjoyable dram which exhibits a superior level of complexity. Something to savour!
The Single Cask Bowmore 2001 14 Years Old #31932 (50% abv)
Nose: Coastal peat and gentle smoke on initial entry, with brine, camphor, seaweed, guava juice and some barley on the rather complex nose. Slightly green, with some unripe fruits such as mango and kiwi.
Palate: Sweet, slightly spicy and with a fair bit of mellow peat on initial entry, followed by guava juice, mint lollies, fennel and menthol. Some sea salt and camphor emerge towards the end and are chased by a fair bit of cinnamon.
Finish: Long and lingering on the finish, with the sea salt, peat, camphor, cinnamon and guava juice figuring prominently till the end.
Balance: A very well-balanced and fruity dram which exhibits mellow peat and a warmth brought on by the spices and oak without being imposing. Immensely enjoyable as well and probably the gentler of the two Bowmores!
Both these expressions of Bowmore can be purchased by the bottle and the dram for in-bar consumption or by the bottle for retail/takeaway purposes. Please be aware that these bottles are extremely limited and there are only a handful left in store, so it would definitely be worth heading down to sample them side-by-side.
For more information on these bottles, please approach our friendly staff and they will be more than happy to assist you with your enquiries.
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