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

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King Car Whisky – Conductor

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Distillery/Brand:
King Car | Region: Taiwan | ABV: 46 | Colour: Deep Gold
Nose: 22 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 89

Review
My first brush with this legendary distillery was through their insanely awesome Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry. I mean it literally grabbed me by the tenders and swung me through the air. There was no way I was prepared for that type of sensory onslaught. But one thing was certain, I was going to find out more.

I ran into a couple of more Kavalans in the next few months and was equally impressed. My curiosity grew. As did my appetite for whiskies from this Asian phenom and, given the slew of awards being won by them, I was obviously not alone in my opinion.

The brand Kavalan is owned by a Taiwanese group called King Car which, when you check their website, you realise is a massive industrial giant producing everything from root beer, processed foods, coffee, green tea, water to, of course, whisky. While the facade may seem monolithic there is certainly something wonderful happening behind those whisky doors to produce spirit of such brilliant quality.

While most of their expressions carry the name Kavalan they have also released one called the Conductor and is named after the distillery, King Car. There’s not a lot of literature to go around regarding this specific release except that it’s been composed of eight casks, two of which are bourbon and sherry and the rest only Ian Chang, the master distiller knows.

My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 46%

Nose: Rose water. Dark honey. Sherry oak. Red berries. Wild berries. Black salt. Chocolate. Betel nut lead. Tobacco lead. Cigar box. Quite herbaceous. Leafy greens. It’s quite crisp. It has more of a sherry attack than bourbon which might shed some light on the remaining casks in play. Overall I like it. 22/25

Palate: Dark honey again. Bitter chocolate – the kind I like. Sweet molasses. Cinnamon. Black pepper. Rock salt. Tobacco. Red berries. Once again I feel the sherry is the dominant force here. Probably some type of Oloroso cask. It’s quite a lovely crisp palate. There’s a certain tanginess to it too which I quite like. 23/25

Finish: Nice and long. Spicy. Touch of oak. Oily. Pomegranate. 22/25

Overall Comments: I wish there was more info to be had so that I could really see how the various components had been put together. It’s not as good as the Solist series but certainly better than the core range. Solid whisky with absolutely nothing wrong with it.

Rating: 89

Macallan Rare Cask

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Distillery/Brand: Macallan | Region: Highland | ABV: 43% | Colour: Old Sauternes
Nose: 22 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 85

Review
OK so let’s give credit where credit is due. When Macallan do something they do it in style. Have to give them props for that. And they seemed to have pulled out all the stops for the launch of their newest NAS, the Rare Cask.

Set on the 27th floor of the Burj Al Arab Hotel, in Dubai, is the newly opened bar Gold On 27, which I’m sure you’ve figured out by the name, is pretty lavishly done up in gold. This was to serve as the venue for this rather glitzy affair headlined by the Edrington Group Creative Director Mr Ken Grier.

I managed to sneak five minutes with him during the course of the evening and found Ken to be an instantly likeable chap. And looking at how Macallan is being perceived today in the world I’m confident he’s doing a stellar job.

Which now brings me to, what I consider, a serious problem in the world of whisky today. Stellar marketing to push average products to wide-eyed consumers. Now I’m in marketing as well and have, at times, been guilty of doing the same.

It is, after all, the look that sells. I get it.

But whisky evokes certain emotions that few other products do. It’s constantly being judged across an enormous gamut of subjectiveness. And each opinion is a sum of so many influences.

Which brings me to the moral dilemma I’ve started to face of late. Is something so subjective really bad (or good) just because I like it (or hate it)? I honestly don’t have the answer to that.

Take Dalmore for example. I think Richard Paterson is one of the best marketers of his era. Taking, what I feel is, a mediocre product at best and doing a fantastic job positioning it as an ultra-premium brand. I may not like that whisky but I have seasoned whisky buddies who swear by it. Are they wrong? Am I? Again, I don’t know.

So I feel that this Rare Cask is treading that ever shrinking line between being genuinely good and being wonderfully marketed. Do I think the whisky is good? Sure, it’s not bad. It’s not the magical elixir made from the tears of a thousand angels, mind you, but it’s certainly drinkable.

Is it over-compensating by being packaged in a lovely bottle and experienced at the world’s most prestigious venue? I certainly think so. Is Bob Dalgarno, their esteemed Whisky Maker, under constant pressure to churn out premium expression after expression despite depleting stocks of well aged whiskies just to satisfy both the Marketing and Finance department? You bet he is.

Made from a selection of casks which the official literature liberally describes as being rare, exquisite, never before, never again or exclusive (among other buzz words) and employing a mix of European & American first-fill sherry barrels (not all, mind you) my sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 43%

Nose: Honey. Vanilla. Grated ginger. Nutmeg. Strong Oloroso sherry. Almonds. Touch of oak. Hint of citrus. Cloves. Red grapes. Green apples. A fair amount of spiciness. There is some masala – the nice kind. Dark chocolate. I like the nose. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. It doesn’t blow me away but that’s fine. I don’t think it was meant to. 22/25

Palate: Medium bodied. A little oily. Plums. Raisins. Those Christmas spices again. Cinnamon. Nutmeg. Clove. Chocolate. Dark oranges. Christmas cake or fudge. Almonds. Toasted tobacco. It’s not as good as the nose. I would have preferred a more full bodied approach. 21/25

Finish: Medium. Quite oily. Cinnamon. Bitter chocolate. Could I have done with a bit more? Sure. 21/25

Overall Comments: I was sat with Ken Grier when tasting this so I might be a little biased by his good natured attention towards me as we shared this dram. Forgive me, I’m human after all. Otherwise the tasting camp was divided down the middle. Haters and lovers. Unsurprisingly the haters were part of my whisky club. The lovers people I had just met who were out enjoying an evening of decadent whisky tasting. Which sort of amplifies my point of how insanely subjective this matter is. I think the world would be a better place if the snobs chilled out a bit and the casual drinkers gave their whiskies a little more attention instead.

PS I would also like to ride a pink unicorn that pees only The Macallan 1946.

Rating: 85

Dalwhinnie Winters Gold

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Distillery/Brand: Dalwhinnie | Region: Highland | ABV: 43% | Colour: Pale Gold
Nose: 21 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 84

Review
Tricks. Tricks. Tricks. Everyone’s up to some trick or the other.

Like this NAS Dalwhinnie for example. Released as a whisky to be consumed totally chilled. Seriously?

I know what chilling a whisky does to it? It kills the nose entirely. Drops a lot of the delicate notes on the palate. And is, in my opinion, not how you should drink whisky. The only one exception I will make is with the Chivas 18. Drop that puppy in a freezer for a couple of months and experience the magic.

Anyway.

I didn’t bother with all this chilling nonsense and chose to taste it at room temperature instead. My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 43%

Nose: Citrus. Lime. Menthol. Ginger. Gingerbread. Honey. Touch of smoke. Hint of oak. Moist apricots. A little underwhelming if you ask me. Some might call it delicate. I like to be a little pretentious. 21/25

Palate: Green apples. Citrus. Touch of herbs. Clove. That minty stuff again. Little spicy thanks to the gingerbread. Malt. It’s not bad if you ask me. Just a bit ho hum. 21/25

Finish: Short. Hint of spice. Raisins. 21/25

Overall Comments: I wish when I had first started drinking whiskies someone had poured me a glass of this. Instead I quaffed half a bottle of Vat 69 in twenty minutes and then ended up fighting for my life on top of the toilet. It would have made for a much easier transition.

And if you ask I think I will try it frozen. Just to see if it makes it any better.

Rating: 84

Hudson Manhattan Rye Whiskey

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Distillery/Brand: Tuthilltown Distillery | Region: America | ABV: 46% | Colour: Deep Gold
Nose: 22 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 87

Review
So this is what I know about the Tuthilltown Distillery. It is the first distillery in New York since Prohibition ended over 80 years ago. It makes a bunch of different spirits: vodka, gin and a few different types of whiskies including corn, rye and single malt.

But most interestingly the property that it is built on was actually purchased for the intention of being used as a climbers ranch. When the neighbors kicked up a fuss, owner Ralph Erenzo along with Brian Lee decided it would be a good idea to start a whiskey distillery instead.

And it seems like they’ve come a long way given the number of awards they’ve won including Craft & Artisan Distillery of the year. And from what I’ve tasted I don’t see why not.

Not available in my neck of the woods I had to find a straggler lying around in an auction site some where to get my hands on it and satisfy my curiosity. So here goes.

My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at an alcohol strength of 46%

Nose: Rose water. Spices. Chocolate. Fresh leather. Oak shavings. Vanilla. Linseed oil. Clove. Caramel. Sandalwood. Quite herbaceous. Jute bag. It’s a nice spicy nose. 22/25

Palate: Cinnamon. Oak. Sandalwood. Coffee beans. Cocoa powder. Red chili flakes. The delivery is a bit thin. I would have liked it to be fuller. But the flavors are on point. 21/25

Finish: Long. Cinnamon. Clove. Thyme. Rosemary. 22/25

Overall Comments: I can see why this distillery is making headlines. While the whiskey did not totally blow me away it has made me curious to try their other offerings. And that can only be a good thing.

Rating: 87

Compass Box Hedonism

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Distillery/Brand: Compass Box | ABV: 43% | Colour: Young Sauternes
Nose: 22 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 88

Review
I’ve been on a bit of a Compass Box run lately thanks to them being in the spotlight because of the whole transparency issue. I’ve written extensively about that in my other reviews so I think I’m going to park that gripe where I can’t see it any more.

Other than really pretty labels Compass Box has the unique ability of mixing whiskies together and making some damn fine blends. While they usually use single malts Hedonism is 100% blended grain whisky.

Grain whiskies from Cameron Bridge, Carsebridge, Cambus, Port Dundas or Dumbarton are used in putting this blend together and then left to marry in a rejuvenated or re-fill American oak barrel for up to two years.

The result is an extremely delicate, sweet and floral whisky. Those who know me know that I like big strong flavors but once in a while it’s nice to sit back and experience the sweeter, more subtle, side of life.

My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 43% ABV

Nose: So sweet! Full of fruits. Sweet drops. Candy. Fondant. White chocolate. Hazelnut. Bananas. Touch of oak. Bubble gum. Coconut cream. Vanilla. Lots of perfume. Tangerine. Jeez Louise I have seldom put my nose in something this sweet. I like it but perhaps it’s way too sweet for some. 22/25

Palate: Medium body. Creamy mouthfeel. Coconut cream. Vanilla. Quite oily if you ask me. Robust. Very floral. Touch of oak. Green tobacco. Mild peppers. Bubble gum. Pink Tutti Fruity ice cream. I think I’ve mentioned how sweet this is. 22/25

Finish: Long. Lovely. Very fruity. Vanilla. Oak. 22/25

Overall Comments: OK I know I’ve made it sound like this is literally the sweetest thing you’ll ever put in your mouth (insert dirty thought here) but to be honest it’s delicate and subtle enough to make you really like it. I never liked sweet before but ever since I quite smoking I’ve developed a bit of a sweet tooth. Which probably explains why I like it.

Rating: 88

Compass Box Orangerie

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Distillery/Brand: Compass Box | ABV: 40% | Colour: Pale Straw
Nose: 15 | Taste: 15 | Finish: 12 | Balance: 14 | Rating: 56

Review
OK John Glaser. I know you do some amazing things at Compass Box but seriously WTF is this crap?

First he’s taken malt whisky from Glen Moray and blended it with equal parts grain whisky from Cameronbridge and vatted them in a first-fill American Oak hogshead.

He’s then infused the spirit with hand-zested Navalino orange peel, Indonesian Cassia Bark and Sri Lankan cloves. The result is the most imbalanced, weirdly tasting whisky I’ve ever had. And actually it doesn’t qualify as whisky any more thanks to the stuff he’s dropped in it. I believe it’s actually liqueur now.

I’m sure he had his reasons for doing what he did and I’m sure there are people who really really like this monstrosity. But if I know Glaser’s taste then I’m pretty sure he didn’t like this as well. Don’t believe me? Ask him yourself.

My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 40% ABV

Nose: Orange. Orange. A bit of orange. Some orange. A touch of orange. Lots of orange. With a side of orange. And, oh yeah, orange. Did I mention orange? No? A dash of orange. 15/25

Palate: That same orange that I got on the nose. Some orange. A touch of orange. A wisp of orange. Lots of orange. Chew on it and you get orange. Becomes more orangey mid-palate. 15/25

Finish: That orange again. With a touch of orange. 12/25

Overall Comments: Orange.

PS For a look at how to make orange zest work with your whisky check out the Amrut Narangi

Rating: 56