Saturday, 23 February 2013

Bowmore Tweet Tasting

It was a great surprise to receive a Twitter message from Morrison Bowmore Master Blender Rachel Barrie, also known as 'Lady B' or @LadyBlender to give her full twitter handle. Rachel is a fairly new Twitter user but she has very quickly become established as one of the #whiskyfabric and very willing to discuss whisky with anyone, although there is a Morrison Bowmore bias (Bowmore, Glen Garioch and Auchentoshan) but then many of the new releases are by her own fair hand.
Four beautifully packaged mini flagons, complete with cork stoppers, of Bowmore whisky arrived just in the nick of time for the Wednesday evening Tweet Tasting. 

A Valentine's Eve date with four 'mystery' drams from the legendary Bowmore Distillery, Islay's oldest, and a group of whisky enthusiasts all there by invitation.

Each bottle was labelled with the #LoveBowmore hashtag and numbered, one to four. Bottles one and two had the % abv stated whereas bottles three and four were marked 'cask', and all four had been selected by Rachel.

I came across Bowmore whiskies fairly late in my journey, not registering my first discovery until number 167, starting with the wonderful 18 Year Old. I'm not sure why it took me so long, but have enjoyed everything I have tasted since and have been fortunate to try some really special expressions too.

With some brief introductions we were all ready to start at seven o'clock, pouring out our first expression into our glasses.

Whisky Discovery #308

Bowmore Small Batch Reserve NAS (40% abv)
Islay Single Malt Whisky
Circa £33.00 70cl

Small Batch Reserve is a fairly new release from Bowmore, and I have seen its gracing the shelves of our local supermarkets since the run up to Christmas last year.

We didn't know what this was when we started, so all of our tweets were just as we saw it. I did save half of my sample so I could sit back later and enjoy at my leisure and write a new set of notes in order to check against my initial thoughts. The expression was guessed correctly, but not by me, as this was a new 'Discovery' to me.

Once we had established what expression the was Rachel explained that this was a marriage of 1st/2nd fill bourbon casks, where the first-fill casks give vanilla, cinnamon spice, bourbon oak and the second-fill casks giving fresh fruits, brine and creamy malt. She also went on to say that she had selected casks from a number of years to give complexity; younger casks for malt, older casks for the mint notes we were picking up and middle aged casks giving the  fruit and salty notes. All had been matured in the No. 1 Vaults in top quality oak casks which adds sweetness, complexity & fresh spiced ocean notes.

So What Did I Think?

My Tweets read as follows:
Nose: Orange peel, Straw Bales, a bit of earthy smoke, flashes of toffee notes, now evolving fresh minty notes with some salt too, toffee notes starting to feel more chocolaty
Palate: Very gentle, light sweetness, some orange notes under a wispy fragrant smoke, slight salty tang
Finish: A long finish with an earthy smokiness, brine and black pepper drying my mouth

Which I summarised by tweeting: Small Batch Reserve A complex nose gentle palate and long finish Orange Mint & Toffee, Earthy Brine and a wispy fragrant smoke

When I revisited the second half of this sample and gave it some time to develop there was some vanilla fudge and sea salt, the orange notes I picked up earlier turn more lemon/lime like and a sweet waxy honey starts to shine through. These citrus notes on the palate appear more orange like though.

This was a very pleasant opening dram to our four dram tweet tasting, a new Bowmore expression. What did the others think? Here's a few of the tweets that caught my eye:
@RobAllanson: Very sweet cereal on the nose. Fresh cut barley fields, spent match, toffee apples, warm rye bread and a seaside picnic
@cowfish: Nose: Porridge with brown sugar and candied orange peel, a hint of the sea and some light earthiness.
@EdinburghWhisky: Candyfloss, salted caramel, rhubarb boiled sweets & vanilla. Lovely!
@TheWhiskyBoys: Nose: oily, orange zest, muscle shells, soapy, sea salt, beach shingles
@ifotou: Nose quite subtle but has a spicy, peppery note, malty and cerealy, a touch of malt loaf was expecting more peat
@petedrinks: A smooth and almost creamy in the mouth, nice start to the evening! 

Bowmore 15 Year Old Darkest (43% abv)
Islay Single Malt Whisky
Circa £50.00 70cl

At first I thought this could be the 18 Year Old on the colour, but at first nose was put right and hinted at 15 Year Old Darkest right at the beginning of this tasting. I've tasted the 15 Year Old Darkest before, once at The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show last October, and then again at a tasting with Phil Nickson, so not a new discovery, but a welcome return to a great dram.

My Tweets read as follows:
Nose: Rich and Fruity, dried fruits Figs Dates & creamy dark toffee notes wisps of peat smoke, tarred hemp rope, licorice
Palate: The palate is just as rich as the nose, still fruity with perhaps some mandarin orange, more woody and pine notes.

I didn't go on to add much more after this, just sat back and enjoyed the rest of this expression and fairly certain I will be adding a bottle of this to my shelf sooner or later.

What did the others think? Here's a few of the tweets that caught my eye:
@EdinburghWhisky: Nose: dates & figs in syrup, dark treacle, sultana cake too. A smouldering beach BBQ. Still quite restrained though.
@jasonbstanding: Definitely licks of savoury smoke about the bouquet.The more it sits the more the fruit backgrounds and smoke comes forth
@cowfish: Nose: leathery sherry notes, burnt sugar, medicinal edges but fruity and creamy behind light coal smoke.
@RobAllanson: Nose: a little shy, some sherry rancid, cherries, candied citrus peel. Then an open humidor, drying tobacco leaves
@MaltReview: A great marriage of sweetness & peat. Bitter chocolate, sultanas, raisins, chewy, spices. Citrus and brine again.

Whisky Discovery #309

Bowmore Tempest IV NAS (55.1% abv)
Islay Single Malt Whisky

For our third expression of the evening I'm still not quite sure if we were tasting the latest release of Tempest, a 10 Year Old cask strength expression or the recently released Dorus Mor Small Batch Release No. 1 which was released at the end of January for the US market.

Both expressions are made up of first-fill bourbon casks, and have been hand selected for distillation dates and warehouse position to create a 'spiced by the ocean' taste. All of these first-fill bourbon casks were hand picked and married. Some were vatted as Dorus Mor, some for Tempest IV. Rachel said that there would be subtle differences.

The Bowmore Tempest is listed in Ian Buxton's 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die, so is an important dram in my journey (I've been busy checking these off since buying his book in November 2011!)

My Tweets read as follows:
Nose: Bright and Lime zesty, there was also an underlying earthy musty note to this too
Palate: Sweet entry then POW! Zesty Citrus and hot peppers before mellowing sweet and creamy vanilla and lemon curd
Finish: Another lengthy finish balanced with sweet icing sugar, brine and tobacco and a peat smoke drifting though it all. This is my favourite so far, is it a 10 Year Old Tempest?

What did the others think? Here's a few of the tweets that caught my eye:

@MaltReview: Sweet shop. Tropical. Sharp apples. Coastal again. Classy. It settles to reveal grapefruit, the citrus flavours almost hiding the peat, but it comes to the fore. Then summer puddings.
@Girl_Whisky: I'm almost crying after the first sip .. amazing! Sparkling all over!
@jasonbstanding: Has maritime and honey notes, and gives me a sense of the tropical fruit that Tempest B1 had.
@RobAllanson: Waxy mango, dried apricots, spun sugar, a lemon zest hit. Plenty of depth. The fatty part of air dried ham. Creamy
@cowfish: Taste: Intense. Soured cream, vanilla and zest up front bursting into sweet coal and wood smoke, with a touch of tar.
@petedrinks: Fresh and oh-so-drinkable despite the strength; sweet, fiery, tingly and fresh - a step away from what I normally think of with Bowmore

Whisky Discovery #310

Bowmore 'Mystery Dram' (circa 57% abv)
Islay Single Malt Whisky
We still don't know what we have tasted here. We were told that our finale dram was only ever touched by Rachel's hands. A virgin to our taste-buds.  Rachel went on to tell us that this has been taken from the deepest darkest corners of the No. 1 Vaults where it has been hiding for years, and teased out just for our date tonight. Something very special to tease us all!

We've got no cask details, no age of the spirit, all we were told was it was sitting at around 57% abv when Rachel drew it from the cask.

The colour suggests a Sherry Butt or Port Pipe, and after spending a bit more time with it I think that this may be maturing in a Pedro Ximénez Sherry butt as there seems to be some familiar notes in the nose and finish of this. I wasn't the only one who has said PX but I know a few others though Port. Rachel is keeping very tight lipped about this one, we've all asked several times but our tweets and direct messages have been carefully ignored!

So What Did I Think?

I was pretty careful with this expression, only releasing a small amount of whisky into my nosing glass at a time. I also saved half of it to sit back with later, as not only was I struggling to keep up with the Twitter banter going on, but I realised that this was something special and needed to be given some time.

I tweeted at the time "What a rich and luxurious nose this one has, moist fruit cake, with toasted almonds on the top - glorious!" But spending some time with this one after the event got so much more from this interesting whisky.

Perfumed, yet Earthy. Sweet rich fruit cake-mix flavours, figs, dates, raisins, cocoa powder and some coffee grounds, a sweet fragrant smoke that floats through the nose and a earthy peat deep under the rich sherry notes of an aged Oloroso or Pedro Ximénez, and some dark toffee notes too.

On the palate it's sweet yet spicy, dark and almost menacing with burnt toffee, rich sherry soaked fruit cake, toasted almonds, espresso coffee notes and plums. The finish is long, very long with cloves and liquorice and leaves a slight metallic note in the mouth at the very end.

What did the others think? Here's a few of the tweets that caught my eye:

@MaltReview: Oh sweet lord yes. This is lovely. Crème brûlée. Toffee. Gentle maltiness and peat seeping in, but we're onto dessert now.
@steveprentice: Last up for the night, and I'm already guessing it as my favourite, someone set fire to a sherry soaked log.
@EdinburghWhisky: Nose: seared scallops, BBQ'd seafood (shrimp?), HP sauce, manuka honey, Jamaica cake & smoky bacon crisps just for starters!
@WhiskyLaing: Like Christmas in a glass... Stewed fruits, coal fire and Christmas pudding! Divine Deliciousness!!
@cowfish: A bit of a swerver - deep nose into intense taste, softening to darker flavours and finish, with a fresh fruity death.
@Girl_Whisky: Just when I think she's said it all. She saved the best for last. She rolls her eyes with a smile
@jasonbstanding: Makes me think of a dark-eyed intriguing woman, who piques your interest, plays hard to get, and is all class.
@ifotou: Plum Jam, huge huge notes of plum jam, with gentle sweet cigar ash, with more fruit, touches of orange and cloves.

Finally a massive thanks to Rachel who ran this single-handedly and made an excellent Tweet Tasting host. If you're not following her on Twitter, I suggest you hop over right now, and follow @TheLadyBlender.

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