For a start, it's actually much rarer. It's also a 25-year old cask strength Bowmore that was bottled for the 2016 Feis Ile, and there were only 200 bottles released. It was matured in ex-bourbon casks for 13 years, and 'finished' for 12 years (that's a very long finishing!) in a French oak Claret red wine cask. Original sell price was 350 pounds, so not exactly cheap to begin with, and it's now worth over 1000 pounds on the secondary market. If you can find it at all! Despite the price, and like they did at this year's Feis Ile, Bowmore fans queued for hours to get their hands on a bottle of this exceedingly rare whisky. And once again it sold out in a matter of hours.
Luckily the distillery must have kept a few for themselves, because during his recent trip to Islay for the festival, a certain very lucky and very generous Australian brand ambassador grabbed a couple of samples! It's very safe to say that, just like last week's Bowmore Feis Ile review, I would never have been able to taste this whisky if not for all-round gentleman Mr. Woolley. I also realise that not many people out there will get the chance to taste it, but I can't miss the opportunity to share this experience with you all, so I'm afraid you'll just have to live vicariously through me for the next few minutes!
Before we get into it, let's have a quick look at Claret. Claret is actually a commonly used term that refers to French red wines from the Bordeaux region, or occasionally a 'Bordeaux style' red wine from elsewhere. It's most commonly used in England when referring to a dry, dark red wine. Even if we assume the cask came from Bordeaux, there are over 8000 wine producers of varying styles in the region, so that doesn't really give us much to go on. 12 years is a very long time for a finishing, especially in a first-fill French oak red wine cask, so we can safely assume that we're going to get a lot of wine influence and probably tannins in this dram, and most likely very little peat influence as well, considering the age. We'll just have to find out the not-so-hard way! Like many of Bowmore's recent cask strength bottlings it does clearly state that the whisky is naturally coloured and non-chill filtered, which is great to see. This is actually the oldest Bowmore I've tasted to date, so my curiosity is piqued!
Bowmore 25-year old Feis Ile 2016, 55.7% cask strength. Islay, Scotland.
Distilled May 1990, bottled February 2016. Matured for 13 years in first-fill ex-bourbon casks, finished for 12 years in a first-fill French oak Claret wine cask. 200 bottles released. Non-chill filtered, natural colour.
Colour: Dark copper.
Nose: Interesting! Dusty, dry earthy peat, dirty copper coins, raspberry & blackberry jams. A little sweet tropical fruit, some thick caramel sauce, and a little floral perfume (but not the famed unpleasant FWP that some older Bowmore is known for!).
Texture: Medium weight, really quite sweet. A little dab of heat but not much for 55.7%.
Taste: Sweet berry jams again, and more tropical fruit. Slightly bitter & spicy oak, and more of that dusty, earthy peat. A little sweet cough mixture & more copper coins.
Finish: Medium length, but softening quite quickly. Spicy & fruity initially, with apricot jam, some sweetened grapefruit. Hot wood spices, cinnamon & clove, maybe a little nutmeg. Finishes with lightly bitter oak, soft stewed fruits and that earthy dry peat.
Score: 3.5 out of 5.
Notes: Nice tasty stuff! There's plenty going on here, with a few interesting notes in the mix keeping things interesting. It's certainly had plenty of time in the wine cask, and it's become quite sweet in the process, although that does retreat a little with more time in the glass. Didn't find any wine tannins either which is a bit of a relief, although there was some bitterness that (in my opinion at least) was coming from the oak. I'm really starting to like that grapefruit note that some Bowmores seem to have, although this being the oldest Bowmore I've tasted, I didn't expect to find it here, so it's actually quite refreshing!
Would I pay the current asking price? Definitely not. Not that I could afford it anyway of course, but still! Like the 19-year old from this year's Feis Ile that I reviewed last week, if you managed to get your hands on one of these for the original retail price or close to it, then you got a pretty good deal. But personally I wouldn't be splurging on the secondary / auction market for a bottle.
Once again a huge thanks to Dan Woolley, Australia's national Brand Ambassador for Beam Suntory, for the 'hook-up' with this sample, I absolutely would not have got my hands on this tasty liquid otherwise. Thanks again mate!