To be honest, Bowmore would quite easily be my least favourite Islay distillery. Although that's really like saying it's my least favourite Ferrari! I absolutely loved their Devil's Cask, or at least the second release that I've tried, but aside from that, I'm yet to try another Bowmore that has truly impressed me. So far I've also tasted the Legend, Small Batch, 12- and 18-year old, and the travel exclusive 'Gold Reef', and they've left me rather underwhelmed. The only exceptions so far are the 15 yo 'Darkest' sherry-finish, which is definitely my pick of the 'standard' Bowmore range, and the 10-year old 'Tempest' cask strength which is matured in first-fill bourbon casks, so basically the bourbon-matured version of the Devil's Cask: cask strength, 10 years old, non-chill filtered, and I suspect also natural colour. If only more Bowmores followed that suit!
This travel-exclusive 'Black Rock' expression sounds promising on face-value, in that it's "predominantly matured in ex-sherry casks" (with the remainder being ex-bourbon), as opposed to the afore-mentioned Gold Reef, which was "predominantly matured in first-fill bourbon casks". Unfortunately though the Black Rock is down to 40% ABV, and you'll notice there's no mention of 'first-fill' in the blurb on this one, both of which probably aren't going to work in its favour. I suspect it's also 'predominantly' quite young, but that could be OK if allows more of the peat influence to shine through. Bowmore's whisky is already lightly-peated to when compared to its Ileach neighbours, weighing in at around 25 ppm on the malt (Ardbeg comes in at 55 ppm, for example), which will then slowly ebb away with time in the cask. The name by the way refers to the large black rock that sticks out of the water in Loch Indaal, not far from the distillery, which was apparently the inspiration behind this expression.
So will this be some sort of devil's cask for beginners? I don't think so, unfortunately. It's likely to be held back by the low bottling strength of 40%, and the fact that it has been chill filtered and has definitely had a lot of artificial colouring added. The pricing doesn't seem to be too bad though, going for around $80 for a 1-litre bottle in Australian duty-free stores. And hey, it's a young, partly-sherry matured whisky from Islay, so all is not lost just yet, and the proof is in the drinking (pun intended). Tally ho!
Bowmore Black Rock, NAS, 40%. Islay, Scotland.
'Predominantly matured in ex-sherry casks', chill filtered and artificially coloured. Travel-exclusive.
Colour: Orange-y copper. Definitely loads of adding colouring here.
Nose: Sweet, with very waxy fruit, sugary caramel and dusty marshmallow. Some very sweet red fruits & berries, and something rubbery which is hard to pin down. There's also some wet copper coins, and a little earth and sweet vanilla.
Texture: Light and thin. No heat though.
Taste: Light dry smoke, some blackcurrant and blackberry dessert sauce (sweet, thin/light, not jam-y). A little earthy peat comes out with more time in the glass, but so does some off-putting bitterness.
Finish: Short and light. Some bitter fruity-ness, maybe stone fruit that's passed its best-before date. Some more of that wet copper, and a hint of earth behind. Maybe a tiny hint of orange as well.
Score: 2 out of 5.
Notes: I was going to go with 2.5 out of 5 initially, but that bitterness that came through with time convinced me otherwise. It's not overly unpleasant or nasty though, just unusual and a little quiet and subdued. I can't help but think a slightly higher strength and skipping the chill filtration (and preferably also the colourant) would have really helped this one. But then it is quite well-priced in its 1-litre bottle, although for my money I'd still be spending the extra $20 for a bottle of Laphroaig PX. All day, every day. But then, the PX is an absolute bargain, so maybe that's not a fair comparison. It's my benchmark for travel-exclusive whiskies, particularly when you also consider value for money, and it's not surpassed very often!
So unfortunately Black Rock was another Bowmore that hasn't impressed me. In fact I prefer the standard 12-year old to this one, even taking the slight jump in price into account. If you're after a bit of sherry cask influence in your Bowmore, go for the 15-year old 'Darkest'. It was very impressive, offers decent value for money, and is probably my favourite 'standard' Bowmore in fact. And you don't need to travel internationally to be able to buy it...