Friday, June 20, 2014

Seagulls & Whisky - A Night With Bowmore & Gordon Dundas

The evenings Bowmore family lineup
Yesterday evening, 19th June 2014, I took the opportunity to do a dedicated tasting of the Bowmore family as part of a joint SMWS (Scotch Malt Whisky Society) and Oak Barrel Sydney event. Held at the RAMC (Royal Auto Mobile Club) Sydney, we were treated to extensive while sometimes humours profiling of the Bowmore family with Brand Ambassador Gordon Dundas.

Tastings are fun things to do and I do enough of them these days, but anytime a high rolling Brand Ambassador is steering the evenings ship I try to make as much effort as I can to attend. This is the first time I have seen Gordon present and he exudes a seasoned confidence in presenting the brand while being very animated at the same time. Effortlessly Gordon took as on a tasting path of Bowmore, interjecting a quick wit that held the attention of the floor the whole way though. A great thing listening to Gordon was that he was happy to openly discuss those things often other distilleries would gloss over or shy away from discussing in an open forum. To me it simply says that Bowmore makes a great product and their methods reflect this fact.

Before delving into the tasting there is a few things of note I picked up during the presentation:

  • Yes Bowmore does use some colouring in their whiskies to maintain consistency.
  • Most Bowmore is chill filtered except the higher proof releases
  • 35% of Bowmore is still traditionally floor malted on the premises
  • Bowmore is peated between 20ppm to 30ppm
  • Lightly toasting European Oak opens up woods for more whisky to pass in and out of the barrel during maturation where as a method such as the aggressive alligator char used in Bourbon barrels would close the wood down.

Note the cheeky new make spirit on the right
The evenings tastings consisted of Bowmore's: New Make Spirit; Small Batch (yet to be released); 12yo; 18yo; 10yo Tempest IV Cask Strength; 23yo Port Cask; 14yo SMWS 3.198 (Scotch Malt Whisky Society release). It was a pretty awesome line up displaying the multiple dimensions Bowmore can be. Following you will find some brief tasting notes I took in order to reflect on in the future:

Bowmore New Make Spirit - At 69.3% it is not a shy dram at all. Yet to hit wood the nose it is super sweet with hints of seaweed. Tasting releases a honey sweetness giving way to elements of salt and smoke. The finish is long, hot, and spicy.

Bowmore Small Batch Bourbon Matured - This is a new release yet to hit the shelves in Australia. I found this a feisty bugger but still enjoyable. It is young that is for sure with the ABV at 40% it still holds its own. The colour is Champagne Crystal and the lightest Bowmore I have ever seen. Considering they do some colouring you can imagine just how light this maybe coming straight from the barrels. The nose is woody and a bit metallic with a medium dry peat smoke and salts. To taste it is very smooth with sweet malts in the fore, a typical metallic banding of bourbon casks in the centre, then closing with a dry edge of fruity spice. Finish is long and spicy that sits high in the palate finally releasing some dried coconut after the first dram.

Bowmore 12 Years Old - With an ABV of only 40% the nose still brings light medicinal peat smoke with citrus oranges. To taste I found delicate sweet spots of honey and vanilla, salts, light smoke and a dry citrus spice. Finish is a medium heat while high spices are released very quickly that gets a little ashy on the end. This is back in a big way and if you have been put off in the past by the odd mustiness encountered it may all be a thing of the past (interestingly this was a subject discussed on the night also). I have never been overly impressed with the 12yo or the Legend in the last few years but this is a sea change worth exploring again. Buyer beware though as you may still encounter some older releases of this expression from less wholesome years if the bottle has been on the shelf for a couples of years. Best to ask for the very recent deliveries only.

Bowmore 18 Years Old - At 43% we are starting to see a rise in ABV but it is not much and I don't think it needs to really be higher either. The nose delivers baked custard apples and caramelised sugars, a light smoke with a medium spice. To taste it is super smooth holding a creamy texture until the sherry spice and raisins appear. Finish is short and soft in the throat but leaves a long spice on the palate. A great balance of spice, oak, smoke, and cream.

Bowmore Tempest IV 10 Years Old - Not to be taken lightly this cask strength devil delivers a punch at 55.1% ABV. Now entering the non-chill filtered region of Bowmore you get an immediate oiliness on the nose with salts, apple skins and mints compounded by vanillas. The taste is super creamy, oily and minty but also has a tart berry note about it. Finish is long and warming with an overall balance perfect for a cask strength. This was the best of a great bunch in my books and topped the night.

Bowmore 23 Years Old Port Cask Matured - This yet another higher ABV at 50.8% non-chill filtered spending 100% of its maturation in Port Pipes. Nose is typical salts and smokes of Bowmore, some dried fruits but oak is becoming prevalent as camphor and leather is also appearing. To taste smooth and woody with port wine sweetness, raisins and dried oranges. It is getting a bit leathery for me though but holds a clear sophistication. Finish is long and rich leaving a chewy tackiness in the palate.

SMWS 3.198 Smoker's tooth powder and dentists' chairs - This was the independent single cask 57% cask strength sherry refill bottling by SMWS to make an appearance. Ideal to see an alternative view of when to bottle a Bowmore. The nose was medicinal with malt vinegar, salts and a hint of liquorice while having a medium smoke component. To taste brine water (think of canned tuna water) spicy, peat oils, apples and vanilla malts. The finish was long, salty, spicy and drying holding a mild ash right at the end. Best description is Salt & vinegar chips, or maybe just by sitting the ocean woofing down a news paper wrapped parcel of fish and chips with a lashing of malt vinegar. Watch out for those seagulls though when you open the bottle.

The soon to be released Bowmore Small Batch Bourbon Matured
Overall the event was really good and happy to have been lucky enough to have purchased a ticket. Well done to Oak Barrel and SMWS for puttin on the show. The RAMC Sydney is a great location to be holding tastings like this as the space is airy while being comfortable and sophisticated. Even with so many people in the room it still did not feel cramped. Lastly I highly recommend if you can do a tasting of Bowmore with Gordon Dundas you should as you won't leave disappointed. Gordon certainly likes a good story, especially about Islay or Bowmore, so be sure to bring your best yarn as well.

The Baron