Bowmore 15YO Darkest Tasting Notes

Bowmore 15yo DarkestIn my evolution as a Scotch aficionado, I discovered Bowmore far too late… but better late than never!

I believe my first introduction was a gift from my good friend Rick, whom you may remember from my post about scotches for a special occasion (he had the good fortune of filling his own Aberlour bottle), and he gifted me one of Bowmore’s travel retail gems – Bowmore Enigma (no longer available, they’ve revamped their travel retail lineup for 2014).

With Bowmore Enigma I had my doubts – it had kind of a hokey name. Enigma. Ok, it’s mysterious, ooooh big deal, your marketing won’t fool me!

But the moment hit my lips I realized how much I appreciated sherry matured whiskies. It was sweet but not bourbon sugary sweet, it was a rich sweetness and that’s something I found in Darkest, which is part of their regular lineup. Since then, I’ve been a huge fan of Bowmore.

Darkest is enjoyable if you aren’t expecting the smoky punch of your typical Islay.

Darkest iss matured in a combo of bourbon and sherry casks but then finished in Oloroso sherry casks in its final 3 years. I’m a sucker for finishes like port and Oloroso sherry and as a result, I’m a sucker for this. I like the rich flavors the finishing passes on and given a choice between the smokiness of Islay, which I love, and the rich sweetness of a port finish, I’ll go with a port finish (which is why a Laphroaig Cairdeas, which is an Islay finished in port, tops my list of favorites).

Tasting Notes

  • Color: Darkest. Ha just kidding, definitely a richer amber color similar to a Macallan 18 (I believe it has caramel coloring so take that for what it’s worth).
  • Nose: Dark chocolate, dry fruit/raisin, very little smoke on the fringe, little cherry
  • Palate: Toffee and raisins all day long, a big pow from the alcohol though (it is 43% abv), hint of spice and raspberry
  • Finish: Chocolate (mmm!) and long, spice and a little kick

It’s priced at $80 at my local store, which seems a little bit on the high side, but I did enjoy it because I’m a sucker for chocolate, dry fruit, and a reminder that it’s an Islay.

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Best Scotch for a Special Occasion

Credit: Herkie

Credit: Herkie

“What is the best scotch for a special occasion?”

A reader recently emailed me that question and I absolutely loved it. In Chinese culture (and many many others), alcohol features prominently in celebrations of any kind. Almost every family has a few bottles of something (usually Remy Martin XO, a cognac, for whatever reason) they reserve for a special occasion.

So I loved this question and here’s my stab at answering it.

First, special occasions come in all shapes and sizes. Is it an important business meeting? Celebration of a monumental achievement like a graduation or a wedding? Or perhaps it’s an old friend you haven’t seen in years coming over? Different occasions call for different things.

It’s important to remember that there is no right answer to this question. Celebrations are about the people in attendance, not what they’re drinking, and so you really can’t go wrong with the scotch if you’re right about the people.

Whatever You LOVE

I had the idea that you need to spend a ton of money in the name of a “celebration.” Just buy a bottle of whatever you absolutely love, that puts a smile on your face whenever a drop touches your lips, and keep that around for special occasions. Good scotch doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars and chances are you’ve developed a love of something that doesn’t break the bank.

Buy that, pour it in a glencairn, sip and celebrate.

OK, now that I’m off the soapbox… :)

An Affordable Scotch for a Special Occasion

Credit: guzzphoto

Credit: guzzphoto

Some can spend $27,000 on a bottle of scotch and others find it difficult to spend $100, which is nearly fourteen hours of minimum wage work before you take out taxes.

I want to offer two options for a delicious affordable Scotch you can break out for a special occasion – the first is The Macallan 12. Macallan has a rich history and a pedigree that boosts it’s price tag by a few dollars, but it’s a history and pedigree that most are familiar with. For $50-60 a bottle (Glenlivet 12 is under $40), you bring that majesty to your celebration.

The next one is one I chose because it’s unique – Talisker 10 Year (~$50 also). It’s not difficult to find but I like it for special occasions because it’s so different. It’s the only distillery on Skye and the mix of the seaweed/seasalt and the smokiness make for a really intriguing single malt. It’s special in flavor and while I’d drink it more often than on special occasions, it does make for a distinctive experience.

A Less-Affordable Scotch

Credit: sentxd

Credit: sentxd

What if your price points jump higher – to say under $200?

At this point, I’d say go with Macallan 18 or Johnnie Walker Blue.

I enjoy Johnnie Walker Blue but I think it’s overpriced for what it is. It’s definitely marked up because of the brand name (to be fair, many are but JW Blue carries that luxury premium unlike any other) and so I mention it simply because it’s a good blended scotch that universally recognized. If you’re celebrating this with folks, they know you’re celebrating.

Macallan 18 is my pick for a $200 bottle celebratory scotch whisky. For many of the same non-Scotch reasons as the 12 but now you add the fact that Macallan 18 is delicious. You will find no argument on that score, the only arguments are typically around price as you can find other delicious scotch whiskies for less.

An “Extravagant” Scotch

For this, you could pick any number of whiskies that have big age statement numbers or high price tags, but I wanted to go in a different direction with this. Here are some ideas of extravagance that refer not to the price tag necessarily but to the emotion.

First, if you’ve ever traveled to a distillery and they offer a way to bottle your own – do it. My friend Rick went to Aberlour and was able to hand fill his own bottle of cask strength whisky. That’s pretty cool, unique, and it’s not that much more expensive (not counting airfare and lodging!).

Rick: It was exclusive to the tour and hand fill process. If I remember correctly, the bottle was around £50-75 which isn’t crazy for scotch, especially for 15-yr single barrel expression. My memory is of an A’bunadh like scotch, but cleaner, smoother, and nicer. A’bunadh goes for £40 retail and £32 on sale so a bit of markup on the hand fill for a similar bottle, but not too bad.

Plus it is in a nice wooden presentation case. If I paid 75 for a nice bottle right now retail I wouldn’t think as highly of it (the retail bottle) so there is an intrinsic value of the experience.

Reader David from Italy shared an idea in the Facebook group (free to join) about buying a bottle distilled in the year you were born (or a significant year). If you’re aiming to open the bottle for when your kid graduates college, buy it now when it’s cheaper and then wait to open it. Personally, being born in 1980, I can find one with that date and not have it be exorbitant.

Good luck you folks who have a few years on me. :)

Finally, next time you’re in duty free, buy something that looks sexy on the shelf. Maybe it’s something in a wooden case or some other accoutrement, but it just looks bad ass. It’s something that, when you look at it on the shelf, you’re reminded of what’s to come and what’s worth celebrating.

For me, I bought a bottle of Glenlivet Archive 21 because I love Glenlivet and it came in this beautiful box. I also bought it at a time when spending $180 on a bottle of anything was a huge stretch. It acts as a reminder of an earlier time and I love seeing it.

What scotch do you have saved up for a special occasion? (And what’s the occasion?)

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Highland Park Dark Origins Tasting Notes

Look how far north that is!

Look how far north that is!

I haven’t written many tasting notes from Highland Park, though I’ve had my fair share, and today I get a chance to remedy that with a look at Highland Park Dark Origins.

A little background on Highland Park, it’s the northern most distillery in Scotland and located in Kirkwall, Orkney. There it is on the right under the red location marker! The biggest confusion about it is that it’s not from the Highlands, which is the area that surrounds Speyside. The name comes from the local area being named “High Park” because it’s higher than the area around it. The confusion is significant because Highland uses locally cut peat and that imparts distinct flavors to the spirit, a flavor that is absent from traditional Highland and Speyside malts.

In terms of peatiness, it’s believed that Highland Park peats their malt to 20 ppm, which puts it well into the realm of Islays when it comes to peatiness (at least measured scientifically).

Highland Park Dark Origins 750ml

Highland Park Dark Origins 750ml

Where does Dark Origins fit it? The name Dark Origins refers to the illicit distillery run by founder Magnus “Mansie” Eunson that would later become Highland Park. What separates it from Highland Park 12 is that they used twice as many first fill sherry casks and so much of what is passed along to the spirit is more intense.

Dark Origins has no age statment (NAS) and the bottle looks awesome. I had mentioned that I thought Bruichladdich Octomore’s matte black bottle looked sexy as hell and it looks like HP took a page out of that book, going with a black matte bottle as well.

  • Color: A dark amber, not quite what I’d call mahogany (also, Highland Park does not use distiller’s caramel so the color is all from the cask)
  • Nose: Initial light smoke that’s familiar with HP with spice, sherried notes of dry fruit, and a hint of banana.
  • Palate: Nice body, smoke on the front and then many of flavors associated with a sherry maturation like spices, walnuts, almond, and some orange peel.
  • Finish: Dry, chocolatey, medium finish

Dark Origins is bottled at 46.8% ABV (non-chillfiltered, though it wouldn’t have to be) and I found it listed for $89.99 locally. It’s currently unavailable though.

That puts the price above the 15 YO ($88) but below the 18 YO ($140). General impressions is that the increased use of sherry gives his a lot more flavor, punch, and body; I’m a little hesitant about the price tag though, $90 for a NAS with its aged cousins so close by makes me pause. That said, if I knew nothing and purchased this on name alone, I wouldn’t be disappointed and I wouldn’t think I overpaid – it’s definitely worth it.

Update: For what it’s worth, the suggested retail price is only $79.99… the local store was marking it up by ten bucks! I retract my earlier hesitation. You might ask – “does $10 make a big difference?” The answer is no, not really, but when you’re in the store, $89.99 and $79.99 look very different.

If see Bowmore Darkest 15 YO at $79.99 and Highland Park Dark Origins at $89.99 (they are not the same but singing familiar tunes), maybe I pick up the cheaper one with the age statement. If they’re both similarly priced, I might go with HP Dark Origins simply because it’s new (FWIW, I am impartial to age statements… i.e. I’m not a snob about it).

And the bottle looks badass!

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What is chill filtering and why do they chill filter whisky?

Credit: laszlo-photo

Credit: laszlo-photo

Chill filtering is the practice of cooling the whisky all the way down to 0°C, or lower for blended whisky, so you can filter out potential sediments (fatty acids, proteins and esters) created in the distillation process or passed along by maturation in the casks. If you don’t chill filter, those particles can precipitate and make the whisky cloudy. They can also create a sediment at the bottom of a bottle if it sits for some time.

So the benefit to doing this is that you get a clearer whisky with no potential sediment… what’s the downside? When you take anything out of the whisky, you affect it’s taste!

Some people claim that it’s all cosmetic, that taking out those particles won’t have an impact but I find that difficult to believe. I might not be able to taste the difference because my palate isn’t refined enough, that’s I can buy, but to say the two are identical in every way is unbelievable.

Here’s another fun factoid, a chill filtered whisky is more expensive to produce because you have to go through the chill filtering process. Every extra step means more time, equipment, and person hours – all of which cost more money. It’s in the best interest of the distillery to NOT chill filter because it gets the product out the door faster.

Funny enough, if your alcohol by volume is greater than 46%, you don’t need to chill filter because the higher alcohol content prevents the cloudiness from forming. So anyone with a 46%+ abv will often advertise that they are “un-chill filtered” or “non-chill filtered” as a selling point even though they know that 1) they wouldn’t have needed to and, 2) it’s cheaper to produce!

What do you think about chill filtration?

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SIA Scotch Whisky Tasting Notes

SIA in good company

SIA in good company

It’s not often that you see a “new” scotch whisky.

Many scotch whisky distillers were “founded” in 1824, which is to really say they were officially recognized in 1824 when they paid for a legitimate license under the Excise Act of 1823 but SIA got its start more recently after a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for distribution at the end of 2012.

Most people look at Kickstarter as a way for companies to raise cash for projects not yet completed but I’ve noticed more and more companies are going on there to promote and spread awareness about their product. That said, the video on Kickstarter is a nice look into Carin’s mindset in creating SIA and what she hopes to do with it.

SIA is a blended scotch whisky with 40% malt and 60% grain, with a 50/40/10 blend of Speyside, Highlands and Islay. It also weighs in at 43% ABV.

  • Color: Pale gold yellow
  • Nose: A bit of fruit and grass and sea salt spray, a really interesting medley of aromas I’m not used to nosing. There’s definitely a hint of that Islay heather and peat, but not enough that you think it.
  • Palate: There’s definitely a bite to it on the onset with a strong grassiness but it mellows out, there’s vanilla and toffee/caramel and hazelnut flavors. A bare hint of florals followed by familiar spices like cloves and a minor citrus element that blends in with the spices.
  • Finish: Long, warm with a bit of peat smoke and honeycomb. Lingering aftertaste of honey and vanilla.

This blended scotch is fascinating. I don’t do a lot of tasting notes of blends but I wanted to do this one because it forces you to be more deliberate in your exploration. I’ve had Johnnie Walker and Chivas Regal and several other well known, well marketed blends… but I never did tasting notes of them.

I really enjoyed this because I felt like I was exploring a house. When I first took a sniff, I found the fruit and vanilla I know well from Speysides. I thought to myself, I don’t get a sense at all of the 10% Islay that’s supposed to be inside. So I went looking for it… and found it immediately. So I started looking even more and found that sea salt spray I love and most identify with Talisker.

On the palate, it was the same experience and what was novel for me was that the start and finish exhibited different characteristics. In the beginning it was vanilla and toffee but near the end, once I let it linger, I saw the Islay influence creep through.

Retail price of around $49.99 for 750mL puts it on the same price point as Chivas Regal 18yo and Compass Box Asyla and I think SIA more than holds its own in that company.

SIA Founder - Carin Luna-Ostaseski

SIA Founder – Carin Luna-Ostaseski

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