Sometimes older is better. Sometimes it’s worse. Other time it’s neither, just different.
I was pleasantly surprised when I tasted the “Double Barrel” Ardbeg whiskies released last year which were distilled in 1974. Ardbeg fans will know that 1974 was the same vintage as the great Ardbeg “Provenance” whiskies releaseed around a decade ago. The bar was set pretty high, but the two Double Barrel whiskies were as good as the Provenance releases, if not better.
The original Provenance whiskies ranged from $300-500. The two Double Barrel whiskies, which must be purchased as a set (along with other shooting-related goodies), will set you back about $20,000.
Now it’s Bowmore’s turn. But with the Bowmore whiskies, the younger, original releases back in the 1990s and the new release are all older in age across the board when compared to the Ardbeg whiskies (the younger ones being 30 years old, plus or minus a year, and the new one being 42 years old). Let’s face it, 42 years is a long time in oak.
Last night I had a chance to taste the new Black Bowmore, for which–at $4,500 a bottle–I already consider my self very fortunate. How does it taste? For those of you with deep pockets, you will want to know whether to buy a bottle. For the rest of us, what are you missing out on?
Here’s what I think of this new whisky.
First, some stats on this new Black Bowmore. It consists of five casks, distilled November 5, 1964, 42 years old and 40.5% ABV. It’s from the same distillation (and stored in the same casks in the same warehouse) as the original three Black Bowmore whiskies. These are also the last of the Black Bowmore casks. There will be no more after this. (They still have whisky from 1964, but they are not from the same Black Bowmore pedigree, which I explain below.)
Total yield: 827 bottles, of which only 80 are destined for the U.S. The current scheduled landing date here in the U.S. is March 3, 2008. Suggested retail price: $4,500. This might seem like a lot of money, but let’s put this in proper perspective. Christie’s in New York recently auctioned a set of the original trio for $18,000 ($6,000 per bottle), and the Bowmore 40 year old, which was released about a decade ago or so, listed at $7,000. Yes, the packaging for the Bowmore 40 was fancier, but this still shows the relative value of the new Black Bowmore.
What really matters is how the whisky tastes. I feared for the worst. Let’s face it, 42 years is a long time in oak. Plus, the original Black Bowmore whiskies tasted so good, I couldn’t imagine this one tasting better. It’s hard to compete with a Legend.
In short, this is one of the most fascinating whiskies I have ever tasted! It’s better than the original Black Bowmore trio. I know that many of you don’t want to hear me say this, because it’s so damned expensive. You would prefer I say that it tastes old and woody, far past its prime, not as good as the original Black Bowmore whiskies, and should only be purchased by wealthy collectors who don’t care how the whisky tastes. But I can’t.
Those of you who tasted one of the original Black Bowmore whiskies will instantly recognize this one as being from the same family as soon as you nose it. No other Bowmore whisky smells or tastes like this. I think it’s partly from where the whisky was stored (The No. 1 Vaults). More importantly, I think what really gives the Black Bowmore whiskies their distinctive personality is the type of sherry casks they were matured in. The casks were from William & Humbert who described them as “walnut sherry” casks.
The damp, earthen warehouse, its proximity to the sea, these specific sherry casks, and the distinctive Bowmore spirit all combine to make this a very individualistic whisky. And the oak, while always present, never dominates.
What I think impresses me most is how the whisky evolves. On the nose and palate, this is a thick, viscous, whisky, with notes of sticky toffee, earthy oak, fig cake, roasted nuts, fallen fruit, pancake batter, black cherry, ripe peach, dark chocolate covered espresso bean, polished leather, tobacco, a hint of wild game and lingering, leafy damp kiln smoke. Flavors continue on the palate long after swallowing. This is what we all hope for (and dream of) in an older whisky!
I have now tasted this whisky twice: last night before dinner with Iain McCallum, Bowmore’s whisky “nose”, and this morning, in my hotel room before posting this. My opinion is the same. My rating for this whisky, which will be published in the next issue of Malt Advocate magazine, is: 97. (That’s the highest rating I have ever given a whisky.)
And stay tuned. I will have more breaking news on Bowmore in my blog tomorrow!