Bowmore 17 PX Cask / Feis Ile 2016 Hand-fill

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Distillery/Brand: Bowmore | Region: Islay | ABV: 56.1% | Colour: Burgundy
Nose: 7.4 | Palate: 7.4 | Finish: 7.8 | Overall Score: 7.5

Review
Another day. Another Islay whisky reviewed. This time it’s the 2016 Feis Ile hand-fill from Bowmore.

Matured for 17 years in a single Pedro Ximenez cask this was scooped out of the barrel and served to us straight as we sat in the distillery’s tasting room at 10.30 in the morning.

The sunny weather was showing no signs of letting up as we sauntered down to the distillery which was but a few minutes stroll from our self-catering cottage on High Street. As we made our way through the gates we were greeted by a hundred strong line of eager shoppers as they snaked their way into the distillery shop and to the ever depleting supply of Feis bottles.

After picking up our tickets at the gate we milled around with the crowd until we were ushered inside to the tasting room.

Joining 20 odd people we took our seats and came face to face with four drams sitting right in front of us.

1. A 15 year old first-fill bourbon hogshead bottled at 53%
2. A 13 year old first-fill Oloroso sherry oak bottled at 54%
3. The Fesi Ile 2016 vintage 25 year old finished off in Claret Wine and bottled at 55.7%

And finally number 4 : This years’ festival hand-fill. The 17 year old matured exclusively in a Pedro Ximenez butt and bottled at 56.1%

Now there was a serious debate between which of the two festival bottles was a better one. Some preferring the hand-fill (majority) while some preferring the 25 year old (me). Though, I have to admit it was a mighty close race. Even after I went back and re-tasted the two side by side. Regardless of what the critics say I still prefer the 25 year old. But that doesn’t mean the hand-fill is a sub-standard dram.

Far from it.

My sample is straight from the cask and served at 56.1%

Nose: The PX is up in your face. Very strong and dominant. The smoke is soft and nice. Quite densely packed with flavour. Seems heavy if you know what I mean. Some tannins. Earthy red rum. Like a savoury Old Monk. Molasses. Blackberry. South American chocolates. Grassy overtones. Like the dying embers of a spent forest fire. Opens up a touch with water. A little sweeter. 7.4

Palate: Damn. A lot of spice. Very drying. Full. Cinnamon. Liquorice. Juicy raisins. Bold oak. Black peppercorns. Mocha. That same South American twang. Peruvian coffee beans. Lindt 85%. With water a touch spicier. A touch drier. 7.4

Finish: Long. Again extremely drying. Oak. Cinnamon. Fills your mouth. With water it’s a little shorter. So don’t. My favourite part of the journey. 7.8

Overall Comments: I really like this style of whisky. Unadulterated. Untouched by human hands. Totally unique in it’s own form. I like that. Whether or not I like how it actually tastes is a simply a point of view. But I like this whisky. It’s bold. It’s flavourful. It’s just not spectacular, that’s all. And I have nothing against that.

Overall Score: 7.5

Ardbeg 1975 OB 2000

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Nose: 8.2 | Palate: 8.4 | Finish: 9.2 | Overall Score: 8.6

Review
I think by now everyone’s read about my trip to Islay for the Feis Ile so I won’t bore you with the details.

What is pertinent, though, is our annual pilgrimage to the Kildalton Cross, a few miles ahead of Ardbeg, with the aim of toasting something special. This year there were seven of us. Which was both a good thing and a bad thing.

Good because more the merrier.

Bad because we decided to drive down to the cross in a single Volkswagen Passat. Let’s just say everyone had their privates mashed against someone’s rear at all times. There were violent complaints followed by uncontrollable bouts of laughter as we made the agonising 20 minute drive from Lagavulin.

The only person unaffected was my self. As the designated driver for the day I had the enviable position of sitting comfortably in the drivers’ seat and laughing at my friends’ discomfort.

I had procured this bottle in Dubai and gingerly carried it in my luggage all the while hoping and praying nothing would happen to it. Luckily the whisky Gods were on our side. The bottle was unscathed. The day was beautiful. Everything was perfect in that moment.

This vintage Ardbeg was released soon after the new ownership had taken over the distillery. Released in 2000 my sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 43%

Nose: A fading peat. Soft and in the background. Not as earthy as I thought but more coal smoke. Old leather shoes. Almonds. Walnuts. Organic kale chips. Salty kale chips. Yemeni honey. After a while becomes quite malty. Cereals. The tender oak is next. Becomes a touch floral over time. Dried lavender petals. Like potpourri. Heather. Such a distinctive old school style of spirit. No sharp edges. Everything married as one well rounded robust offering. 8.2

Palate: Feels better on the palate. So full. Extremely oily. Mouth filling. Lovely soft delivery. Faded peat. Cocoa powder. The oak here is supreme. Beautifully balanced. Same nuttiness as on the nose. Banana cake and almonds. Four cumin seeds. Not five. Not three. Four. 8.4

Finish: Bloody hell. This just keeps getting better and better. One of the more magnificent finishes I’ve encountered in a long time. Just stays in your mouth and refuses to dissipate. Hints of vanilla. The soft peat. And, of course, the divine oak. Love it. 9.2

Overall Comments: A truly world class whisky that harks back to a bygone era of whisky making. There’s an aged softness to these old school spirits that I’ve noticed that might never be replicated. There’s just too much time and care taken to produce these kinds of gems to make them successful in the modern world where everyone is impatient and has the attention span of a Jack Terrier on cocaine. And, frankly, even if they do I doubt us lesser mortals will be able to get our hands on it anyway. Such is the world we live in.

Overall Score: 8.6

Berry Brothers & Rudd Tasting

The following is an honest account of my experience at a recent Berry Brothers & Rudd tasting.

We were greeted with a sweet cherry cocktail as we walked into the clubhouse of the Jumeirah Golf Estates, one of the many developments that have sprung up around the outskirts of Dubai. They call it secluded but the phrase that came to my mind was more along the lines of out in the boonies.

Since I was early I perched at the bar and kept my self busy watching, you guessed it, golf on the many HD screens hanging from the walls. Once there were sufficient numbers crowding the waiting area we were ushered into the restaurant and shown to our numbered tables.

The head-chef came out first and explained the menu to us in great detail. Food wise things were looking promising. The chocolate mousse and pistachio dessert was what I was really waiting for. As it turned out the entire meal was absolutely fantastic.

The fresh salmon ceviche was followed by a baked sea bass. Braised beef in a whisky reduction was next and a lovely chocolate mousse with pistachio ice cream was pretty much spot on. Really happy with what I ate that night.

Unfortunately I wish I could say the same for the whiskies that we encountered.

Having been in the business since 1698 Berry Brothers & Rudd are one of the oldest wine and spirits merchants in the UK. They also bottle a hefty number of whiskies which they sell under their BBR label. Counting the four that I had that evening it would bring the total number of BBR whiskies I had tasted up to a whopping 11.

I think that’s enough whiskies to form a general opinion on the overall quality and style of a particular independent. Sure there are some hits and some misses. But when the misses are overwhelming then one has no choice but to cast judgement.

And so I have cast. You, sir, are not to my liking.

Berrys SpeysideReserve

The first whisky of the evening was the blended Speyside Reserve. I’d love to know what reserve really means. So many distilleries use it to denote spirit kept aside for a special purpose. What I think it really means is I have no idea what this whisky stands for. Let’s put Reserve in the name and hope for the best.

The young whisky was quite bland and boring as was the speech by Doug McIvor, their Spirits Manager, who read off the cue cards at the beginning of the evening. After which he settled down for his meal and that was the last we heard of him.

Left to our own devices we decided to take the evening seriously and settled down to making some notes.

Note: All whiskies reviewed under were bottled at 46%

Nose: Hello rotting wet wood. Looks like a sulphured cask in here somewhere. Can’t be anything else. Quite overpowering if you ask me. Processed honey. Sugarcane juice. Sweet heather. Love hearts. They all try but the sulphur is a bit much.

Palate: Very light. Uninteresting. Bitter. That sulphur again. Quite spirity and raw. Tries to be sweet. Can’t. What a waste of time.

Finish: Let’s just leave this field blank.

Overall Score: 5.0


Berrys Girvan

The second whisky to be brought out was an 8 year old single grain Girvan. One of the comments left on my Twitter feed after I posted this picture was @WhiskyCliff saying the only reason Girvan existed was to remind us how good single malt really is.

I must admit I laughed a little at that.

Distilled in 2006 and bottled in 2014 (see I told you it was 8 years old) it’s not as bad as the comment that was made but let’s just say I’m not rushing out to get t-shirts with I [heart] Girvan printed on them.

Nose: ex-Bourbon barrels have given this a sweet vanilla essence. Faint nectarines. Neutral greens. Jolly Green Giant peas. Mild fennel. It’s not as bad as the previous one. Still no sparks, though.

Palate: Right then. Back into previous territory. Bitter. Quite savoury. Coconut. Vanilla. Hint of oak. Nope. No thank you.

Finish: Still bitter. Still not good.

Overall Score: 5.5


Berrys Caperdonich

Ah, what do we have here? A closed distillery. And my first Caperdonich.

Striking color on this one. The sherry seems to have done it’s job. And twenty years old on top of that. Here’s hoping.

Nose: Now that’s what I’m talking about. Nice. Very nice. Ripe bananas. Stewed red fruits. Stewed cherries that you ladle on a cheesecake. Cherry Cola. Dry arm chair leather. Pomegranate peel. Mint leaves. Seems like an Oloroso butt here. I really like this.

Palate: Nice oak. Maybe a tad tired but this is not the time to start being cynical. Lindt 70%. Cinnamon. Burnt caramel on creme brûlée. Not as good as the nose (thanks to the oak) but quite drinkable. Let’s order another dram.

Finish: Medium. Nice. Lindt with red chilis.

Overall Score: 7.5

Berrys Arran

I’m a fan of Arran. Not it’s number #1 fan, mind you. More a there’s nothing wrong with this whisky fan. So I was quite happy to finish off the evening with something that I kind of trusted.

But as Mufasa will tell you trust is a dangerous thing.

A seventeen year old bottled in 2014, matured in ex-Marsala casks and paired with my chocolate pistachio dessert. Bad idea.

Nose: Burnt caramel. Cabernet Sauvignon. Black grapes. Wait, what’s that? Is it sulphur? Maybe. There’s certainly something dodgy going on here. Black salt. Dry all spice.

Palate: Something is definitely off here. Not Defcon 4 off but off. I don’t like it. Caramel. Black peppercorns. Slightly spent oak. Not working for me.

Finish: Medium to long. Oaky.

Overall Score: 6.2

Bit of a disastrous evening if you ask me. The food made up for it, though.

My favourite part of the evening was when one of the serving staff insisted that Caperdonich was an Islay whisky. I merely nodded and smiled. Because, like most of the whiskies tasted that evening, what was the point?

Kilchoman Madeira Cask

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Distillery/Brand: Kilchoman | Region: Islay | ABV: 50%
Nose: 5.8 | Palate: 5.8 | Finish: 5.8 | Overall Score: 5.8

Review
I seem to writing only about Islay whiskies of late. Thing is I have a pocket book full of tasting notes after my trip to the Feis Ile that I have to commit to the site. So you’re going to have to bear with me for a while.

We managed to spend a fun few hours at the distillery indulging in, not only some whiskies but, chocolate desserts too. The Machir Bay brownie, I must admit, is better than any whisky produced there. Sure, that might be a slight exaggeration but every time I think of Kilchoman I think of that brownie. So draw your own conclusion.

Kilchoman have been quite busy of late adding experimental expressions to both their core and special range and the one I was most excited about getting my hands on was the young ‘un matured fully in Madeira Casks.

Back in 2011 the distillery filled 17 casks which had previously held Madeira wine and set them to rest. Then in 2015 they managed to extract 6,100 bottles from those casks and put together what is, in my opinion, one of the more average Kilchomans’ I have ever tasted.

My sample is from an open bottle and served at 50% ABV

Nose: Nope. Don’t like it. Really spirity. Feinty spirits. Quite sharp. I’m missing the delicate robustness that I’m accustomed to with Kilchomans. Quite woody. There is some vanilla and toffee sweetness. Touch of garam masala. For some reason this one screams young. And it really shouldn’t given how pristine Kilchoman are with their spirit and casks. 5.8

Palate: Equally spirity. Equally upsetting. Muddle of sharp pin pricks with an almost apologetic fruitiness. Sorry, nothing to see here. 5.8

Finish: Medium to who care anymore? 5.8

Overall Comments: Well, what can I say? I’ve decided I don’t like these wine maturations. Especially Madeira. Laphroaig struggled with it with 2016’s Cairdeas. It was not a total disaster like this but still nothing spectacular. I don’t know if a few more years will do the trick or only make it worse. Honestly, I don’t know if there’s any stock left over to even know. And, frankly, I couldn’t care less.

Overall Score: 5.8

Kilchoman 2008 Vintage

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Distillery/Brand: Kilchoman | Region: Islay | ABV: 46% | Colour: Gold
Nose: 8.0 | Palate: 8.0 | Finish: 8.0 | Overall Score: 8.0

Review
It’s been a really long day. Nothing that would kill me, mind you. Just that the sometimes the rigors of daily life can eventually catch up with you. And that’s when you need the escape. That one happy place you can go to and pretend nothing around you really matters.

And for me that place is Islay.

Especially now given how fresh my memories are of that wonderful place. The clean air, the calming green and simply the thought of being surrounded by so many amazing whiskies.

On our second day on the island I convinced the others to head on down to Kilchoman for, not just their whiskies, but their sinfully delicious Machir Bay soaked chocolate brownie. If there is one thing you must do before you die is try that dessert in the distillery cafe. It is just absolutely divine.

After stuffing my face with a tasty roast beef sandwich and the famed brownie I sat down with something else that was equally divine and also made at Kilchoman. The seven year old 2008 Vintage.

This is the first time Kilchoman have released a whisky this old for the general public. Though, I’m not counting the one-off 10 year old released a few months ago for a cancer charity auction in support of, then distillery manager, John MacLellan. He sadly lost his battle against the same disease three months ago. RIP good man.

The Limited Edition 2008 Vintage is a vatting of fresh ex American bourbon barrels filled in July 2008 and bottled in August 2015. Seems like older Kilchomans are just as tasty as their younger siblings.

My sample is from an open bottle and served at 46%

Nose: That signature Kilchoman toasted barley. And the equally familiar smoke. Then there’s that typical Islay grist. Cereal-y with a soft layer of peat. A hint of green lime. Melon. Touch of oak. Green berries. Another classic Kilchoman nose. Still seems quite young and sprightly even though it’s a good 18 months or so older than the oldest Kilchoman on the market. 8.0

Palate: Crisp barley. Nice solid oak. That Islay smoke. Vanilla. Dries mid-palate. Now a little sweeter. More chocolate. More fruit. Very creamy mouthfeel. It’s not overly complex but I didn’t expect it to be. Just the classic Kilchoman flavours coming through nicely. 8.0

Finish: Long. Drying. Touch of oak. Black pepper. 8.0

Overall Comments: I love this distillery. Love everything about it. And so I’m probably a little biased. But then again I’m a sucker for good old-fashioned bourbon barrels done right. Clean crisp flavours where I can taste the distillery. And this one ticks all those boxes for me.

Overall Score: 8.0