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Sunday, 25 June 2017

Bowmore Feis Ile 2017 19 Year Old Whisky Review!

The anticipation for last week's review, the 2017 Laphroaig Cairdeas, was high because of my love for Laphroaig. But it's just as high for this week's review, because a number of highly respected professionals have said this was the best whisky of this year's Feis Ile!

Despite only being released on the 31st of May, this is already an extremely rare whisky, since the very limited number of bottles sold out within a few hours of release, with people queuing from 5am at Bowmore's open day during the Islay festival. I don't have an official figure for the number of bottles released, but considering there were apparently only 2000 bottles of the 11-year old Feis Ile bottling, which was a mix of casks, I'd assume it's going to be well under 500-600 or so for this 19 year old hand-filled single Puncheon cask. I'm sure there'll be many of these on auction sites right now, being flipped for double the initial asking price (which was 130 pounds by the way) or more, much to the frustration of those who missed out at the festival. This seems to be the unfortunate fate of most limited releases these days. Although apparently there was a van spotted near the distilleries during the festival that belonged to a European whisky auction site, offering an immediate profit to take people's recent purchases off their hands, which is a new low as far as I'm aware.

Anyway, that's enough of that. Bowmore had three different whiskies specially bottled for the Feis Ile this year: an 11-year old that was matured in both sherry & red wine casks, this 19-year old that was matured in a sherry puncheon, and a 27-year old that was matured in a single port cask. All were bottled at cask strength, and were naturally coloured and non-chill filtered (and stated this on the labels, which is excellent!). All three were distillery exclusives, and all three are sold out completely. So I'm very lucky to get the chance to taste any of them, especially this 19-year old!

Bowmore is more of a medium-peated Islay whisky compared to it's neighbours, being peated to around 25 ppm on the malt, and the distillery still floor-malts a portion of it's barley requirements on-site, using powdered local peat. The floor-maltings can't support the distillery's 2,000,000 litre annual capacity though, so the majority of barley is sourced from elsewhere, most often from the Scottish mainland. Something I'd personally like to see is a Bowmore take on the 2015 Laphroaig Cairdeas, which only used that distillery's floor-malted barley. No doubt I couldn't afford a bottle anyway, but it'd be very cool to see something like that from Bowmore!

This Feis Ile exclusive was distilled in January 1998, and bottled in May 2017 at a cask strength of 54.3%. It was matured in a first-fill Oloroso sherry puncheon (a 500-litre cask, squatter in shape than a sherry butt), and as mentioned above it's naturally coloured and non-chill filtered. On paper it sounds like an older and obviously far more limited version of the Devil's Cask series; well the first two Devil's releases anyway, which were fully Oloroso sherry cask-matured. Which is very exciting for me, since this second release of the Devil's Cask series is still my favourite Bowmore so far, by quite a margin. But that just might be about to change...

(image borrowed from Google)
Bowmore Feis Ile 2017 19 Year Old, 54.3%. Islay, Scotland.
Distillery & Feis Ile exclusive, cask strength, matured in a first-fill Oloroso sherry butt. Hand-filled, natural colour and non-chill filtered. 

Colour: Extremely dark brown, almost cola coloured, and it's natural remember! Makes Glendronach 18 look pale!

Nose: A little shy at first, thick & condensed. Fizzy cola and nutty, dry sherry. Some fresh ginger and butter caramel. Musty red grapes and blackcurrant cordial, a little salted semi-dark chocolate. Coffee grounds with more time.  

Texture: Lovely! Medium-heavy weight, thick, juicy & chewy. Slight touch of heat. 

Taste: Dark & spicy, but very fruity as well. Black cherry syrup, some blackcurrant again, and more salted chocolate but it's definitely dark now. Spicy fresh ginger, more fizzy cola and musty grape. A little spicy wood smoke, and some grapefruit! Didn't expect that in a whisky like this!

Finish: Medium length. The smoke shows itself a little more, dry & ashy wood smoke, with the spice, dark chocolate and ginger still present. Coffee grounds again, some mild grape tannins, and a little spicy oak.  

Score: 4 out of 5. 

Notes: Seriously delicious stuff! Very much like a darker, broodier Devil's Cask with a quick dose of steroids! Very, very enjoyable with plenty of complexity and balance, and a little of Bowmore's tropical fruit still coming through. Definitely my new favourite Bowmore! The peat is basically undetectable, and the smoke is very subdued, but after 19 years in a first-fill cask that should be expected, and I'm sure they're adding depth to the notes that do come through more strongly. It's still a gorgeous dram, dark & fruity, and the perfect whisky for a cold winter evening. Once again, I just wish I had more of it!

I'm not sure that I'd pay the current secondary market prices for it (even if I did have the financial means), but if you were lucky enough to grab one of these at the original retail price, or reasonably close to it, you got a seriously good deal! Now I need to find some more hand-filled Bowmores to try. Oh, that's right, there's another one coming next week...

A massive thanks once again to the very generous Mr. Dan Woolley, Australia's national brand ambassador for Beam Suntory, without whom I most likely would never have seen this whisky in the flesh, let alone have had the pleasure of tasting & reviewing it. Very much appreciated mate!