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Sunday, 26 May 2019

Caol Ila Distillery Exclusive Whisky Review!

The last time I tasted this glorious liquid was at the distillery during my first trip to Islay back in 2017, shortly before literally running back to the bus stop to get back to Port Ellen. Time for a trip down memory lane, then!

Caol Ila Distillery may be the largest distillery on Islay, producing over four million litres of spirit per year, but it's actually somewhat of an underdog. It's not the easiest of the island's distilleries to visit, despite being a quick turn off from the main road to & from the main ferry terminal of Port Askaig. When staying in any of Islay's main towns or villages, you'll either need to catch one of the island's two buses, or you'll need to drive or arrange an expensive taxi. It's not the prettiest of the island's distilleries, despite having one of the best views across the Sound to the Isle of Jura. While Caol Ila was originally founded in 1846, the distillery was completely demolished and rebuilt in 1972, with the aesthetics you can expect from that era. And it's certainly not the most celebrated and appreciated of the island's distilleries, in fact it's quite the opposite, despite it being a major contributor to some of the highest selling blended whiskies in the world. It's safe to say that most of those blends, and maybe even the island itself, would not be the same if this workhorse distillery wasn't there quietly doing its thing. Blends aside, single malt bottlings of Caol Ila can be truly exceptional, and absolutely on par with Islay's most popular producers.

There are a large amount of independent bottlings of Caol Ila out there, and some can be fantastic, but as far as Diageo's official bottlings go, the distillery doesn't get the chance to shine as often as it should. The most easily obtained expressions, the standard 12-year old and the moscatel-finished Distiller's Edition, are very enjoyable whiskies, and they're reasonably priced to boot, but they're held back a little by chill filtration, added colouring, and the relatively low bottling strength of 43% ABV. There are a few options for higher-strength official bottlings, such as the annual unpeated releases, the generally fantastic but very scarce Feis Ile bottlings, and the highly lauded 30- and 35-year old special releases. But in 2017, along with a few other Diageo distilleries, Caol Ila took an unexpected step by releasing a Distillery Exclusive bottling, available only from the distillery shop itself. Bottled at cask strength, without chill filtration or added colouring, and with a maturation regimen that is still unusual for Islay, it was a fitting reward for those who made the effort to visit the distillery. And then subsequently, as is the unfortunate state of the whisky scene at the moment, those who purchased unwanted and unappreciated bottles from flippers at secondary auction or with huge mark-ups from certain retailers. The last time that Caol Ila offered a distillery exclusive (not Feis Ile) bottling was in 2007, so this is a special whisky! With Lagavulin's equivalent bottling released at the same time, this leaves Ardbeg as the only distillery on Islay (not including the newborn Ardnahoe) that does not offer a distillery exclusive bottling of any sort, which is a sorry state of affairs...

There have been two versions of this Caol Ila Distillery Exclusive bottling to date, the first 2017 release of 3,000 bottles, and a 2018 release of 6,000 bottles. Both are bottled at natural cask strength, and both are a little mysterious, with no age statement and precious little detail being made available. The former, which is the subject of this review, was bottled at 58.8% ABV, and was matured in both refill ex-bourbon casks and first-fill red wine casks. Which made this the first official bottling of Caol Ila to feature red wine cask-matured whisky, something that is still uncommon for most of the Islay stalwarts. But that was the extent of the official information on the bottle's contents, and you won't even find that last part listed anywhere on the bottle. The latter 2018 release was bottled at 57.4% ABV, and had a small piece of text added to it's front label: "A vatting of refill, first-fill Kentucky bourbon, and first-fill specially-charred Californian red wine casks". Having tasted both bottlings, the 2017 during my first visit to Islay, and the 2018 during the outstanding 'Cask Strength Experience' at the distillery on my second pilgrimage (see here), they are markedly different. The 2018 bottling is sweeter, brighter and a little more rounded, which I assume to be due to the addition of those first-fill bourbon casks, and possibly the different treatment used on the wine casks, although there could also be a higher proportion of wine casks in the vatting. Both were only sold from the distillery shop, at a reasonable price of 90 GBP. This sample of the 2017 release came from a swap with a generous fellow whisky geek. Let's get stuck in!

Caol Ila Distillery Exclusive, 2017. NAS, 58.8%. Islay, Scotland.
Matured in refill ex-bourbon and first-fill red wine casks. Natural cask strength, non-chill filtered, natural colour. 3,000 bottles.

Colour: Gold.

Nose: Lovely. Lightly peaty, a muddy and slightly sweet peat, also quite salty and very coastal. Lightly medicinal too, like old bandages and a little iodine, and a nice bright tropical fruit sweetness behind. A little ripe banana, vanilla cake batter, some seaweed and a couple of dried strawberries. Slightly fatty & greasy too.

Texture: Medium weight, oily & rich with plenty of flavour. A little heat, but pleasant.

Taste: That lovely muddy peat again, and the sweet fruit, then it turns drier with white pepper, a dry earthy peat and grassy smoke. Medicinal again too, more old bandages. Pancake batter and more red berries in the background. A little fatty smoked bacon too.

Finish: Long length. More white pepper, more smoked bacon, a little sweet licorice and iodine. That muddy peat returns, with the old bandages and a light rubbery note as well. Grassy smoke, fatty bacon rind and some husky malt towards the finish.

Score: 4 out of 5.

Notes: Really tasty stuff! It's all too easy to forget just how great Caol Ila can be if you haven't tasted it at high strength for a while. It certainly belongs on the same level of reverence as the Islay stalwarts on the southern coast. There are plenty of coastal and medicinal notes, and plenty of peat and salt, but it's all well-balanced and relaxed. I can't say that I found a distinctly overt red wine character here, just a few subtle hints. Which is no bad thing, they've obviously added some depth and complexity, and haven't been allowed to dominate anything else, and it's all worked very well together. This 2017 release of the Distillery Exclusive is definitely different to the 2018 version, at least if memory serves. I think there's more Caol Ila distillery character on display in this one, while the 2018 had more sweetness, more fruit and more oak.

Another great release from Caol Ila here, and it's well worth hunting down. Distillery Exclusive bottlings like this are yet another reason that we all need to visit Islay more often. And all of the distilleries should be jumping on board!


Sunday, 19 May 2019

Talisker House Greyjoy Select Reserve Whisky Review!

I must confess that I'm a huge fan of Game of Thrones. Even more so the books the show was based on (hurry up George!). While that had very little to do with this purchasing decision for me personally, there's no denying that this series of commemorative whisky bottlings have been a monumental success for Diageo.

As one of the biggest TV shows in recent years, Game of Thrones already had its own massive following, and there was a good chance that a portion of that following were partial to the odd whisky. But come release time the amount of 'GOT' fans, who were not necessarily also whisky fans, that were hunting down the full set of bottlings was very surprising. Even more surprising and a little sad was the insane numbers of those full sets that were then listed for resale on whisky auction websites in short order. But while a few of these bottlings were simply renamed & repackaged standard bottlings (the Cardhu, Lochnagar, and Dalwhinnie), the others were new expressions which seemed quite promising. Unfortunately one of those, and probably the most promising, the Clynelish expression, has not yet made it to Australia because of a potential trademark issue. Apparently it may still be coming at a later date, and I hope that's the case, because it was the only bottling in the series to be bottled at over 46%, and higher-strength official bottlings of Clynelish are few and far between. That gap in the line-up left two of these bottlings on my wish list; the Talisker and the Lagavulin. Both were bottled at a decent strength (45.8% and 46% respectively) and had favourable reviews from the US, where these bottlings were released in the latter half of 2018, and the Lagavulin is the only bottling in the entire series to feature an age statement. The series took considerably more than six months to arrive in Australia, which left the door open for opportunistic retailers to parallel import and then ask ridiculous prices, and while other opportunistic retailers have now decided to reach for the stars with their pricing because of the demand, the majority were selling for quite reasonable amounts at $100-130 AUD across the range.

Each of the Game of Thrones whiskies was named to represent a 'house' or family from the series, but rather than matching the distillery styles with the those families, Diageo decided to try and match the geographical locations of the distilleries with that of the families' seats in the fictitious country of Westeros, which roughly follows the layout of the British Isles. So while a few bottlings didn't seem to suit their namesake characters, one in particular just happened to be pretty much perfect. Which was Talisker Distillery on the Inner Hebridean Isle of Skye, off the west coast of Scotland. This release was named for House Greyjoy, whose seat is on Pyke in the Iron Islands. I haven't yet had the pleasure of visiting Skye, but from what I've seen it looks almost exactly like the mental image you imagine (or briefly see on your TV screen) when thinking of the Iron Islands. Isolated, weather-beaten and slightly intimidating, but also unspoiled, ruggedly beautiful and strangely alluring. Likewise Talisker's character closely matches that of "The Ironborn", being proudly fierce, salt-washed and austere. The Ironborn sent raiding parties to the mainland for supplies - and also entertainment - in the story, while Talisker, despite a notable maritime influence being present in some of the bottled whiskies, freights the vast majority of its spirit to the mainland - in tanker trucks - for filling into casks for maturation, and sources all of its barley from Glen Ord Maltings on the mainland. So neither Pyke nor Talisker is quite as isolated or independent as it would seem at first glance.

Talisker Distillery has quite the unique setup, with their medium peating level of around 20 ppm, and from their odd number of five stills, two wash and three spirit, to the oddly-shaped lyne arms and purifiers on all of those stills, to the worm tub condensers used on all five of those stills. It's this setup that is thought to give Talisker its signature peppery flavours and full-bodied style, while the salty and maritime edge is a little mysterious due to that aforementioned maturation in centralised generic warehouses on the Scottish mainland. The distillery produces some very enjoyable bottlings, particularly the 18-year old and non-age statement 57 Degrees North in my opinion, and the first Talisker whisky to feature in Diageo's annual Special Releases program, a fantastic 8-year old cask strength bottling, was released in 2018. I was lucky enough to taste it in Edinburgh during my most recent pilgrimage in October 2018, and also picked up one of the last bottles at The Whisky Exchange in London a couple of days later. It has since landed in Australia, some seven months later, and has all but sold out completely. It is actually my favourite Talisker to date, and I highly recommend attempting to chase down a bottle and/or a dram if you're a fan of the distillery.

To use its full and long-winded name (which is quite apt for Game of Thrones), Talisker Select Reserve House Greyjoy Single Malt is a non-age statement (NAS) bottling, bottled at the usual Talisker strength of 45.8% ABV. Unfortunately it has been chill filtered and artificially coloured, like almost all official bottlings from the distillery, and like all of the bottlings in the Game of Thrones series there is very little information on the actual make-up of this whisky. There's absolutely no useful or specific information to be found on the (admittedly attractive) packaging either. But a quick Google reveals that it was fully-matured in heavily charred ex-bourbon casks, although we don't know if that refers to the re-charring of refill casks or heavily charred first-fill casks. I would assume the former however, since Talisker is rarely matured in first-fill casks. What's interesting here is that Talisker's main travel-exclusive expression, Dark Storm, is also matured in heavily charred casks, and is bottled at the same strength and without an age statement. I'm not insinuating anything there, and for what it's worth - from memory - the taste of this newer whisky is different, it just strikes me as interesting that this expression seemingly follows the same recipe as a bottling that has been around for a few years now. Let's see if the Drowned God would approve...

Talisker Select Reserve House Greyjoy, NAS, 45.8%. Skye, Scotland.
Special bottling for Game of Thrones. Matured in heavily charred ex-bourbon casks. Chill filtered, artificially coloured.

*NOTE* This whisky was very closed (very little overt aromas or flavours) and uptight when first opened, and couldn't be reviewed (or enjoyed, really) like that. This review takes place four weeks after the level was below the bottle's shoulder.

Colour: E150a amber.

Nose: Very muted & closed, even after extra breathing time. An icing sugar sweetness with some vanilla bean, some freshly chopped mild green chillis, a little black pepper and honey, and a touch of sawdust. A bit prickly too, but that's probably because I'm having to bury my nose in my Glencairn to get much out of it.

Texture: Medium weight, but lightly flavoured. No prickly heat here at least, it's mild and a little flat.

Taste: Things pick up here, thankfully. That same vanilla sugar sweetness initially but it's gone in a split second, turning quite dry with a puff of dry, earthy peat, more black pepper and a slight salinity. A nice savoury game-y meaty-ness as well, something like salted roast beef.

Finish: Short, and flat. That fresh green chilli note comes through, and the black pepper & honey do too, along with a dry minerality. But that's all folks.

Score: 2.5 out of 5.

Notes: Easily the mildest Talisker I've tasted to date, in terms of volume of flavour and aroma. Even compared to the NAS entry level 'Skye' expression, which was already very sedate. The nose on this GOT bottling is barley there, and although it's definitely improved since first opening it takes quite a lot of work to get anything substantial from it. The palate is much more enjoyable, and surprisingly dry and savoury too which I enjoyed. And then it all falls over when it comes to the finish. Given a choice between this House Greyjoy expression and the flagship Talisker 10-year old, I'd be reaching for the 10 every day of the week. It's also $20-25 AUD cheaper, bottled at the same strength, and in my opinion also a little older. And it's definitely a far better example of Talisker's distillery character and house style.

I'm a Talisker fan, but despite their reasonable bottling strength some expressions can feel like they've been diluted down, almost as if they're trying to hide or reduce the distillery character in order to appeal to a wider audience. And that seems to be the case here, which is a shame, but plenty of other distilleries do the same with some of their expressions. All is not lost for distillery fans though, aside from the dependable 10-year old there's also the excellent 18-year old and the 57 North expressions to go for, and the excellent 8-year old cask strength bottling that only recently landed in Australia, and sold out very quickly. The wine cask-finished Distiller's Edition is enjoyable as well, offering a different twist without overwhelming the whisky.

But let's remember, in the big scheme of things it doesn't really matter how good this whisky is. It would have sold out just as quickly regardless. This Game of Thrones bottling series wasn't aimed squarely at us hardcore whisky geeks, or at the weekend enthusiasts. It was aimed at fans of the show and also general collectors, who may occasionally drink whisky. And with that in mind, they've definitely ace'd it. This Talisker expression included. All of these whiskies sold out very quickly, which has probably opened doors (or floodgates) for more of this style of commemorative bottling in the future. Although a good portion of that stock subsequently appeared on auction sites in short order, which is unfortunately becoming par for the course with any special release whisky these days.


Sunday, 12 May 2019

Benriach 25 Year Old Single Port Cask Whisky Review!

A quarter of a century in a single first-fill ex-port Hogshead? This should be interesting!

Benriach's single cask range is getting a little more time in the spotlight in Australia than it has in the past, largely thanks to Brown Forman's purchase of the distillery, along with Glendronach and Glenglassaugh, from Billy Walker & friends back in 2016, and subsequently taking over distribution down under. They're generally more reasonably priced than the equivalent bottles from Glendronach, and they offer a wider variety with some heavily peated whiskies, a good mix of older and younger ages, and a much wider variety of cask types in each batch of releases. It's not uncommon to find a 25-year old peated sherry cask, or a Sauternes, Marsala or Rum cask release, or even a triple-distilled release. Benriach has always been more experimental and somewhat of a chameleon than its sister distilleries, something that I would say stems from three main factors. Their spirit is, or rather was, in higher demand for blended whiskies rather than single malts, and in comparison to Glendronach there is less commercial pressure to keep pumping out consistently delicious sherry bombs to satisfy the demand of their cult following. There's also less pressure on the existing stocks since Benriach's most recent shut down only lasted for two years, compared to Glendronach's six and Glenglassaugh's twenty-two years. 

Located around a 10-minute drive south of Elgin in Speyside, Benriach had a very difficult past. Production originally began in 1898, but the distillery operated for just two years before being shut down amid the period of mass overproduction and subsequent closures known as the Pattison Crisis. The distillery was comatose for a massive sixty-five years, only being kept alive by the use of its malting floors by neighbouring distillery Longmorn. Benriach was purchased, rebuilt and revived by Glenlivet Distillers in 1965, and subsequently by Seagrams in 1978. The floor maltings were decommissioned in 1998, and soon after Seagrams became part of Pernod Ricard in 2001 Benriach was slated to only distill for three months of the year, before being shut down again in 2002.. But things began to look up in 2004 when industry stalwart Billy Walker and a couple of South African business partners purchased the distillery and nursed it back to health, which included re-opening those malting floors in 2012, albeit for only one month per year. Interestingly the plan is to keep the floor-malted barley separate from the commercially sourced malt, rather than mixing it in like most distilleries, which means that we can probably expect some Benriach local barley single malts to be released in a few years' time. After the Brown-Forman purchase in 2016 and the instalment of Rachel Barrie as master blender, things certainly don't seem to be slowing down!

The subject of this review is an un-peated 25-year old single cask, part of Batch 15 which was released in Europe in mid-2018. A selection of those releases arrived in Australia a few months later, although this particular cask, which was fully matured in an ex-port hogshead, doesn't seem to have been among them. For a whisky to spend 25 years in a port cask is unusual enough already, but even more so in this case because that cask was a 250-litre hogshead, not the much larger 500-550 litre port pipe, which all other things being equal means more cask influence. Cask number 979 was distilled in February 1992 and bottled in 2018, and like all of Benriach's single cask releases it is non-chill filtered, naturally coloured, and was bottled at natural cask strength, which in this case was 53.9% ABV with a yield of 275 bottles. It seems to be largely sold out, with only a couple of Canadian websites still having stock, and selling for the equivalent of $640 AUD. Which is quite the financial outlay, but is reasonable for a single cask bottling of this age. I've found un-peated port-matured whiskies to be a little hit & miss in the past, but those have all been significantly younger than this example, so I'm very interested to see how it goes. The sample for this review came from a swap with a generous fellow whisky geek. Let's get to it!

Benriach 25-year old un-peated single Port cask, 53.9%. Speyside, Scotland.
Distilled Feb 1992, fully matured in a single ex-Port hogshead, bottled 2018. Cask strength, non-chill filtered, natural colour. 275 bottles, released in Batch 15. 

Colour: Dark amber. 

Nose: Sweet, chocolate-y and lightly spicy. Surprisingly fresh & bright too for a 25-year old whisky, a really lovely nose. There's something very Benriach to it as well, with a fruity freshness and a great balance, it's not as heavily oaked or as heavily cask influenced as I expected. There's loads of stewed & fresh stone fruit, particularly plum & nectarine and a little apricot, with toffee sauce. Some stem ginger and a little spearmint around the edges. More time brings out some fresh toffee apple.

Texture: Heavy weight, thick & rich, but still with a surprisingly fresh feel. A slight heat, but very pleasant. 

Taste: Rich & spicy, there's much more stem ginger here, and it's not as sweet as I expected after the nose. It still has that stone fruit note, but it's all stewed now, and there's less apple and more toffee, with the toffee now lightly burnt.

Finish: Long length. The ginger note carries through, and there's an added touch of white pepper. It's still not as sweet as expected but there's more of the toffee apples and fresh stone fruit coming back here. That light oak and minty freshness returns as well with a lovely milk chocolate-coated licorice following through. 

Score: 4 out of 5. 

Notes: Truly very tasty stuff this. This would certainly be the best of the Benriach single casks that I've tasted to date. In fact it's quite possibly the best Benriach that I've tasted to date. The nose is definitely the highlight, but there isn't much wrong with the rest of the experience either! It's very well-balanced between fresh & bright Speyside spirit and spicy oak, with plenty of character to boot. I did expect more cask influence, and particularly more port influence, from those 25 long years of full maturation, but that's not a complaint by any means. It's a different experience, and it's certainly been well looked after over that quarter of a century. I can see why it was selected for bottling as a single cask. 

Being distilled in '92 this would've contained a portion of the distillery's own floor-malted barley, but it was also distilled under Seagrams ownership, and before Benriach existed as a single malt, at least as far as official bottlings go. So I'd say there was also an element of luck to this one, where everything came together just right. There aren't many 25-year old single cask bottlings around, let alone bottlings of this standard. Really great stuff. Well done Benriach & Ms. Barrie!


Sunday, 5 May 2019

Bowmore Vault Edition Atlantic Sea Salt Whisky Review!

This one seems like a logical replacement for the excellent 10-year old cask strength 'Tempest' series of bottlings from Bowmore. But it's lost the age statement, and it doesn't seem to be cask strength. While we shouldn't judge a whisky by its cover, it's a little hard to resist in this case...

Bowmore is one of the quieter Islay distilleries, and it's frequently overlooked in favour of its more outspoken neighbours. I haven't exactly been shy in mentioning that it tends to be my least-favourite Islay distillery, and its position on my ranking doesn't change very often. The vast majority of their core range is bottled at 40% or 43%, and is chill filtered and artificially coloured, and frankly is also pretty boring. The 15-year old, previously named 'Darkest', is still my pick of these regular bottlings, but even it doesn't quite belong on the same level as most of the similarly-priced efforts from the other Islay distilleries. On paper the distillery has plenty of promise, with its floor maltings, medium peating level (20-25 ppm) and regular use of wine and sherry casks (more details here). But in reality the majority of Bowmore's official offerings are often hobbled by the aforementioned low bottling strength, chill filtration and artificial colouring, and their overall approach & philosophy seems very different to that of their sister distillery on the southern shore of the island.

But all of that doesn't apply to every single bottling that Bowmore release. There are a few that escape intact, and a few that are bottled at a decent strength. These days they're mostly the hand-filled distillery exclusive and Feis Ile (Islay festival) bottlings though, which are basically unobtainable unless you're extremely lucky when you visit Islay. A few years back there were more options though, particularly with the Devil's Cask series and the Tempest series, which were released in reasonably-sized batches. The three 'Devil's Cask' bottlings were cask strength first-fill sherry cask whiskies, and the six 'Tempest' bottlings (re-named to 'Dorus Mor' in the U.S.) were cask strength 10-year old first-fill bourbon cask whiskies. Both of these expressions were dependably tasty, and almost all were reasonably priced at the time of release -  the third and final "Devil's" bottling was far more expensive that the previous two, and it had lost the age statement and added some PX sherry casks into the mix, making it the exception to that statement. The sixth and final batch of the Tempest series and that last Devil's Cask release were bottled back in 2015, which left a cask strength-sized hole in Bowmore's official line-up. And predictably both of those expressions have since drastically increased in value on the secondary market.

Enter the supposedly four-part 'Vault Edition' series, which was promoted as an annual release at the time, although to date only one bottling has seen the light of day. It was named 'Atlantic Sea Salt', and was bottled in 2016. Without an age statement and with none of the transparency that the Tempest releases had regarding their maturation regimen or their presentation, and a lower bottling strength to boot, this one seems to be at a disadvantage in comparison. It's also significantly more expensive, at around $210 AUD here in Australia, compared to the absolute bargain price of around $110 for the bottling that it ostensibly replaced. But the Tempest series doesn't seem to be coming back any time soon, unfortunately, so let's leave the past behind for now. Vault Edition Atlantic Sea Salt was matured in "hand selected" ex-bourbon casks (no mention of whether they were first- or re-fill), and was bottled at 51.5% ABV. There's no mention of whether that's cask strength or not, so I'd have to assume it isn't, but that's still a very decent strength and is nothing to sneeze at. The name "Vault Edition" refers to Bowmore's famous No. 1 Vaults dunnage warehouse, which sits on the shore of Loch Indaal. A small area of that warehouse does sit slightly below sea level, and Atlantic Sea Salt refers to the sea water that washes over said area and purportedly influences the maturing casks within. Whether or not this bottling was actually matured in said warehouse, where space is in high demand and is generally (and understandably) reserved for the high-end whiskies, or is just named that way, I couldn't say. But we shouldn't judge a whisky by its cover, so let's take a closer look!

Bowmore Vault Edition Atlantic Sea Salt, NAS, 51.5%. Islay, Scotland.
Matured in ex-bourbon casks. Presumed natural colour & non-chill filtered, but not stated anywhere.

Colour: Gold.

Nose: A little shy (after breathing), but what is on show is very enjoyable! This may sound a little odd, but it's salt crust-baked tropical fruit. There's a dry and "ozone-y" minerality to it, plus some dried mango, nectarine and a little lemon, and a very distant bonfire smoke. With extra time there's a little dusty golden oak and a nice damp (steeped & spread) husky malt, or even draff (the leftover solids after the wort has been drained).

Texture: Medium weight, quite dry and definitely salty but somehow also juicy. A slight peppery heat, but very slight.

Taste: Overtly salty. It certainly does what it says on the tin (box). Astringent and lightly drying, but with a lovely juicy tropical fruit behind that. There's more mango and nectarine, a little lemon again, but also a couple of pomegranate seeds. A little dry, dirty peat smoke as well.

Finish: Medium length. The saltiness continues, and a little white pepper peeks through, but that tropical fruit is still there as well, and there's a slight touch of sour grapefruit juice added now. Still astringent and sour overall, but it works, and some salted licorice and a light cocoa powder come through as it fades.

Score: 3.5 out of 5. But with pricing taken into account it'd be a 3 out of 5.

Notes: Well, colour me impressed. In all honesty, I didn't expect to enjoy this whisky as much as I did. It's an impressive dram, and it's strangely disarming and quite reassuring. Reassuring, that is, to see that contemporary Bowmore is still capable of releasing a whisky like this to the masses. Their distillery exclusives have always been of a high standard, although not exactly a bargain buy and certainly not easily obtainable, and this release is probably as close as you can get to that standard of Bowmore without travelling to the Queen of the Hebrides. If you were compare any of the distillery's standard core offerings to most of the other Islay distilleries' equivalents, it probably wouldn't be pretty. But if you were to throw this Vault Edition, or any other higher strength, probably non-chill filtered and naturally coloured - just print it on the damn packaging people! - expression of Bowmore into the ring instead, it'd be a far fairer fight. I do suspect that there were some refill casks thrown into the mix for this expression, which is fine of course, it's just a different experience to its predecessor that it seems to be styled after.

Speaking of whiskies that aren't exactly bargain buys though, at over double the price of the final bottling of the Tempest series, for what is a more dilute (although still tasty) experience, this whisky isn't one either. Yes, you're right, the Tempest series died over three years ago, so maybe that's not a fair comparison. What is probably a fairer comparison is that this Vault Edition is also around 10% more expensive than the distillery's 18-year old core bottling, which is already notably more expensive than the majority of its readily-available competition. So I'd unfortunately have to say this Bowmore is a little overpriced. But for a general release with a more natural presentation and a higher strength, it's a tasty expression that deserves its spot next to the other Islays on the shelves. I wonder if we're going to see the other three editions in the series? Let's hope so.