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 Feis 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

Bowmore Vintage Feis Ile 25 Years Old

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Distillery/Brand: Bowmore | Region: Islay | ABV: 55.7% | Colour: Ruby Gold
Nose: 8.2 | Taste: 7.7 | Finish: 7.7 | Score: 7.9

Review
Bowmore has never really tugged at my heart strings even though I’ve given it enough opportunities. Though I must admit, of late, there have been some shining moments which have made me sit up and take notice. Most notably it’s Tempest series which is only going from strength to strength.

I stumbled upon the first release by chance and six releases later am still a fan. I think their Laimrig is also very nice. The Devils’ Cask too. Though I fail to understand it’s allure to so many people willing to shell out big bucks for it on the second hand market. It’s something like £500 on some whisky sites. It’s 10 years old guys and tastes very much like the cheaper Laimrig.

While some of their special releases do hold my attention it’s the core range that disappoints me the most. The 12 all the way through the 25 are lacklustre drams in my opinion. Of course I’ll be courting a backlash from the die-hards but so be it.

Anyway.

So there I was sitting in the Bowmore tasting room at the distillery on their open day with four drams laid out in front me.
Bowmore 25 tasting pic

We had signed up for a single cask hand-fill tasting during our trip to the whisky festival and, never mind that it was 10.30 in the morning, all of us were sitting there rubbing our hands in anticipation.

From L to R we had a 2014 15 year old first-fill bourbon hogshead single cask, then a 13 year old Oloroso Spanish Sherry Oak, this years hand-fill the 17 year old matured in a PX butt and finally, as the surprise dram of the morning, this 25 year old Feis bottling.

I know a number of people who had lined up outside the distillery 16 hours before the gates opened to get hold of one of 200 bottles released. I was not one of them, mind you. But, hey, more power to you if you were and congrats on your purchase!

After tasting the first three (all very nice, by the way) we made our way to the star of the show. This cask strength 25 year old was first matured for 12 years in first-fill bourbon and then transferred to a Claret Wine cask for another 13. The result is an extremely sweet and spicy dram which just might have been over-powered by the wine influence.

My sample is from an open bottle and served at 55.7%

Nose: So sweet. Almost sickly sweet. Though just about manages to not be cloying. Just. Mulled wines. Hint of oak. Touch of all-spice. Black peppercorns. Soft red apples. Mushy red fruits. The nose is quite distinct, thanks to the Claret Wine. Though, this may have been a disaster if kept for another year. But it’s not. I think it’s nice. 8.2

Palate: Very creamy. I like the mouthfeel. Gets quite dry mid-palate. Those red fruits are back. Raspberries. Almost jam like. Cinnamon. Milk chocolate brownies. With water the ash comes out a bit more. As do the spices. I don’t like it as much as the nose. I think the Claret Wine influence is mighty strong and I like to taste the integrity of the spirit. Still, feels nice on the palate. 7.7

Finish: Very long. Very drying. With a late resurgence of oils. 7.7

Overall Comments: So what do I think? I like it. I’ve heard it being slammed by some critics. Even some friends. But I’ll chalk that up to creative differences. I don’t think it’s worth waiting in line for 16 hours to spend £350 on it, though. But it’s not a disaster as some claim it to be. And, to be honest, the real reason is that I was in Islay sitting inside Bowmore tasting this with close friends. And that means a lot. Enough to award this more points than it actually might deserve. Deal with it.

Score: 7.9

Bowmore Feis Ile 2015 Virgin Oak

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Distillery/Brand: Bowmore | Region: Islay | ABV: 55.7% | Colour: Light Gold
Nose: 22 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 89

Review
To be honest I’m not a massive fan of Bowmore. I really like their Tempest series but other than that there’s not a whole lot that really makes my heart pump. Even as a distillery it doesn’t have much allure for me.

I have friends who differ, of course. By a lot. And that’s fine. Just doesn’t cut it for me for some reason.

So when I walked into the distillery on it’s Open Day during the Islay Festival I was just in the mood to nose around and see what was happening.

First up there was a hundred person line waiting to get into the visitor shop for the festival bottling. Bowmore released three this year. A NAS matured in Virgin Oak, a 12 year old First-Fill Sherry and a 26 year Sherry Matured.

I couldn’t be bothered to stand in line so wandered around looking for free drams.

Came around the back to a man with four bottles of Bowmore atop a folding table selling a dram for five pounds each. After giving him a dirty look we decided to head out some where given we couldn’t even secure a tour or a tasting.

The same evening as we sat down for dinner at the Harbour Inn, across the road from Bowmore, they had on their menu the Virgin Oak. Having missed it at Bowmore I decided to give it a try.

My sample is from an open bottle and served at a cask strength of 55.7%

Nose: Cold cuts. Charcuterie. It’s quite sweet. Vanilla. Coconut. Waffles. Milk chocolate. Hint of citrus. Almonds. Mild eucalyptus. Walnuts. Quite a crisp and arresting nose. Very clean.

Palate: Quite robust. Creamy mouthfeel.Fair bit of spices. Oak. Leather. Tannins. Red apples. Clove. Cinnamon. Brown toast. A touch rough in places but in a way that gave it character. Quite chewy.

Finish: Oil. Clove. Red berries.

Overall Comments: This is quite a beautiful little dram. The most affordable of the three at just 55GBP. I tasted the 12 year First-Fill Sherry and thought the Virgin Oak was a touch better. The only disappointment was the boring arrangements at the distillery on the day.

Rating: 89

Bowmore 15 Year Old Laimrig

Bowmore Laimrig
Distillery/Brand: Bowmore | Region: Islay | ABV: 53.7% | Color: Young Sauternes
Nose: 23 | Taste: 24 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 93

Review
I’ll be honest. I’m not a huge fan of Oloroso finishes. Not because I don’t like Oloroso but I feel that some less than stellar whisky makers tend to hide behind it’s bold flavors and use it as a shield to mask their spirit.

However, when it’s done well it can be an absolute treat. And I think it takes special kind of guts (read skill) to harvest the spirit when the Oloroso influence is just right.

And this exactly what the Laimrig does.

Poured out at a cask strength of 53.7% my bottle is 11780 of 18000 making this batch number 3. The first batch was a run of 4500 bottles available only in Sweden. I don’t know why. The second batch was 15000 bottles and literally flew off the shelves. This one is a larger run and I suspect flew off even faster.

Matured for 14 years in ex-bourbon barrels and then a year in ex-Oloroso this is a beautifully balanced dram.

Nose: As one would expect from Oloroso maturation. Chocolate. Burnt orange peel. Dark rum bananas sprinkled with cinnamon. Dark figs, raisins, cherries with a hint of peat and dry spicy leather.

Palate: Chocolate fudge with sweet cinnamon and dark honey. Woody molasses. Dry honey. Dry spices. I like that it does not fight with water. A few drops will open up it’s sweeter profiles and make the delivery more creamy.

Finish: Long. Dry. Spicy honey on wood.

Brilliantly crafted spirit. Love it!

Rating: 93

Bowmore 10 Year old Tempest Batch 5

Bomore Tempest V
Distillery/Brand: Bowmore | Region: Islay | ABV: 55.9% | Color: Sunlight
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 92

Review
It’s been a month since my last review. Not that I was short of any whiskies to drink. Far from it. It’s just that I like to take an alcohol sabbatical once every year just to take a break and replenish my self both physically and mentally.

My first two weeks go by in a flash and I barely even think about what I’ve given up. In the third week I start preparing for all the expressions I’m going to be tasting once the month is up. By the fourth I can’t wait to get back to doing what I love the most.

And so it’s really important that I pick a solid expression that I know for sure will not disappoint. There’s nothing like waiting for something for such a long time and discovering it tastes like piss. I hate that.

So I decided to pick the latest Bowmore Tempest Batch 5 as my first whisky of the new season. Because I figured if it’s anything like the last batch it was going to be cracking.

Matured for ten years in Bowmores’ legendary No1 Vault in first-fill bourbon barrels this is allegedly a small batch release. I say allegedly because I don’t know how many bottles make up a small batch. I think anything under 6000 should be small. I think.

Nose: Quite lovely. Very fresh. It’s sweet, almost winey. Like a tart chardonnay. Mixed with a lot of bright lime juice and mild vanilla extract. Dark cocoa tossed in coarse sea salt and crushed cornflakes. Cinnamon sprinkled on juicy nectarines.

Palate: Quite a kick! Strong lemon sweet candies and fiery white pepper prickles. Mandarins become the sweeter citrus. Dark unsweetened cocoa. Adding a few drops of water makes it more herbaceous and adds a touch of garam masala. (I prefer it without the water, though.)

Finish: Long. Very oily. Very chewy. Salty. Peppery with honey cocoa.

This is a great series by Bowmore (who I’m increasingly beginning to like) that is nurtured well and executed with amazing skill.

Rating: 92

Bowmore 15 Year Old – Darkest

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Distillery/Brand: Bowmore
Region: Islay
ABV: 43%
Color: Full Gold

Nose: 22
Taste: 22
Finish: 22
Balance: 22

Review
I initially had a rocky relationship with this distillery, having sampled some less than stellar expressions earlier on in my quest as a malt enthusiast. Luckily a friend of mine, who has an obsession with this single malt, insisted I keep trying.

Good call.

This 15 year old was finished in Oloroso sherry for three years after spending the first twelve in bourbon barrels.

Nose: Quite dry like autumn potpourri and crushed leaves. The strong Oloroso sherry is remarkably balanced with a nice dark chocolate and treacle mix. Red wild berries covered in black salt are next followed by a nice woody vanilla and rustic raisins.

Palate: Medium bodied delivery which at first sip seems a bit weak but gathers steam as your palate plays with it. Fresh red berries on dark salt strewn over a plank of cedar cinnamon vanilla. Finally tasty autumn fruits with a touch of peaty smoke.

Finish: Medium long with slightly drying clove.

This is a solid malt which one can drink without being too overwhelmed. And I mean that in a good way.

Rating: 88

Bowmore Cask Strength

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Distillery/Brand: Bowmore
Region: Islay
ABV: 56%
Colour: Copper

Nose: 23
Taste: 22
Finish: 23
Balance: 22

Review
I bought a case of this expression almost a year and a half ago at my Malt Society’s annual Christmas bash. It was very warmly received thanks to the cold weather and high ABV.

Now I didn’t think much of it back then; probably because I was too busy doing other stuff to really take notice. So tonight when I spotted a half-empty bottle in the back of my shelf I decided to pull it out for a swig.

Nose: It doesn’t say anything in the official literature but the sherry in this expression is enormous. There is the faintest of peat smoke on thick meat sausage. Followed by an earthy dark sugar sweetness with a handful of clove and gorgeous dried thyme; like crashing headfirst into a sweet spice rack. The aromas are made all that greater by the fine incense smoke that envelopes everything in a shroud of deliciousness.

Palate: Intense dark fruits and bananas sit on a bed of caramel and burnt sugar. The sherry, then, mixes in with screaming spices and woody cured meats. An extremely potent experience.

Finish: Once again the massive spices come through with burnt raisins.

This is a lovely malt which has become even better over time. At least I think it’s become better.

Rating: 90