Thursday, June 9, 2011

Bowmore 18 Year Scotch






I must admit to a familiar preference for Islay scotches, over and above the highland or Campbeltown varieties. There's a decided advantage to the Islays among serious dramming enthusiasts, and for very good reason.



Irish whiskies, for instance, have a characteristic lightness and floweriness, so if that's the way your taste tends, you probably will like the best of the Highland scotches. Islay distilleries, on the contrary, traditionally have produced stronger, saltier, peatier whiskies. Islay is a large island to the west of mainland Scotland, and its distilleries are sited right on the shoreline, which is popularly regarded as part of the reason for their characteristic "saltiness"--though their intense flavors have many other familiarly powerful componants. Strength, in speaking of whisky, generally refers to the percentage of alcohol content, but I use the word here in both that sense, as well as in the sense of the overall fullness and intensity of the flavor. If the effect of a liquor were only dependent upon its proof, then the highest proofs would inevitably be the most widely admired, but of course that isn't the case at all. Still, limited "barrel-strength" batches of Single Malt are highly coveted, in part (I think), because they are frequently 6-15% more alcoholic than the standard 43%, which is the usual bottled proof sold on the market.



I have tasted hundreds of single malts, but I have nowhere near the numbers serious malt tasters do, with thousands on their record. But I have a good grounding, and I think I have a clear notion of the kinds of goods that represent each region of production, and have tasted enough of the great batches to know the difference between the good, the great, and the also rans. I have probably tasted a dozen Bowmore bottlings, since it is an Islay scotch, and I like those kinds the best. When it comes to describing what makes a great single malt scotch, words fail me. But I suspect that this is a quite common problem, not just for the uninitiated, but for the experts themselves, who, though they follow a universally accepted panoply of descriptives (terms and familiar shorthand), they often end up with quite different sensations--or is it simply a failure to specify the subtle nuances in the liquor? As a test, I thought I'd print out a sequence of online tasting reports for this malt, and compare them with my own impressions. I wrote down my own description first, without looking at the others, so that I wouldn't be influenced by theirs. I think this is best, though when shopping for liquor, it's quite common to accept the word of "experts" in choosing and estimating the probable quality and experience to come.


Bowmore 18 Year Single Malt 43% alc. vol.
Voted "Best in Show" for Single Malt category of 2007 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

My taste expression:

Nose: charcoal-graphite ripe wheat wood-smoke apple-skin maple-y faint soapy-bleachy shellac-resin

Taste: Toffee-caramel chocolate-vanilla salty/sea-air burnt meringue burnt oats

Finish Candied raisins lingering dry burnt heat sugary bacon-onion

Scotch Hobbyist's Blog expression:

On the nose, I think the 18 offers pretty much the same profile, but it’s stronger, with quite a bit more fruit. I’m not getting that “hot tea” thing as much with this one. Just peat, smoke and mixed fruit.

On the palate, again you can tell this is in the same family as the 12. However, there’s more body. Additionally, there’s some spice in the form of a peppery grip on the tongue. It’s not as strong as a talisker, but it’s there, and I like it.

DrunkUpNY expression:

Beautifully balanced, yet incredibly complex, Bowmore 18 Year displays rich notes of toffee, caramel, and dried fruit accentuated by dark chocolate and a light smokiness. Hints of sea salt and fine sherry appear on the lingering finish.

RoyalMileWhiskies.com expression:

Nose: Autumn leaves on a damp woodland floor. Heather, woodsmoke, and waxy apple peelings, with a citrus fruitiness becoming more evident with time.
Palate: A broader feel on the mouth than the nose suggested, with more evidence of sherry casks. Intensely floral with more citrus and chocolate.
Finish: A burnt-floral character.
Overall: Complex and very changeable in the glass, this took time to settle but was very satisfying when it did.

Dramming Everything Whisky expression:

Color: Dark amber
Nose: Cherries, blackberries, dark chocolate, a little smoke.
Palate: Mild peat, cherries, cocoa, smooth.
Finish: Medium long, fruity peat.
Overall: The character is not unlike the 15 yo Darkest, but I think the 18yo lacks some of the richness without offering much in return. Especially the finish is a bit on the weak side.

Wardrobe Whisky expression:

This is a complex, enigmatic and interesting Bowmore. One to ponder over at a leisurely "Islay-time" pace, as it won't be rushed and takes a little time to open up and reveal its true quality.
This dram has a white-like color.
Nose: Sweet, peat, sea, citrus freshness, coffee, cocoa.
Taste: Sweet, peat, iodine, coffee, floral, citrus, dates, nuts.
Finish: Peat, iodine, sweet, citrus.
The peat on this truly Islay malt lives together with a delicious citrus freshness altogether with some great notes of cocoa and nuts.

ScothHunter expression:

Color: Full gold.
Nose: Peaty, smoky, malty.
Body: Light, dry, nutty, malty, smooth.
Palate: Cookie-like maltiness, ferny, smoky, then the sea air gradually emerges.
Finish: Sweet smoky nuttiness.

Liquorama expression:

[Wine Enthusiast Review] The nose has loads of chocolate covered cherries and orange peel, honey, sherry, s'mores, cocoa, black coffee and dark fudge. All these fragrances are present in the mouth. Ends luscious, sweet and generous.

What Does John Know? expression:

The fruit (orange marmalade, tangerine, fresh pineapple) is nearly as dominant as the leafy smoke. Sweet notes of nutty caramel, honeyed barley, toffee, and nougat round out the palate. Ginger, cinnamon, telicherry pepper, tobacco, and ash play a supporting role. Lingering fruity, smoky finish. For those who like sherried Islay whiskies.

For Peat' Sake expression:

Color: amber.
Nose: Smoky, with some peat, nougat and cookie-dough. Slightly briny.
Body: Full, chewy.
Palate: Nougat and caramel are followed by smoke, some salt, a whiff of sherry, chocolate, ripe banana. Definitely some wood as well.
Finish: Long and dry. Salty, peaty and smoky, some nutty flavours (almonds?) and wood.



You could say, reading these reviews, that different people have different taste sensations, but there's also a common thread running through all of them. The words smoky, salty, sherry, chocolate, citrus, nuts recur again and again. Are people who can detect faint variations in different fruit tastes more subtle in their apprehensions? Are the predominant sensations the "correct" ones? Could we say, with justice, that this malt spirit has a smoky, burnt, or charcoal-y quality, without reservation? I think so. Caramel, after all, is nothing more than sugar heated to a melting point ("burnt sugar" or "brown sugar" sensations). No one said "molasses."

Another question on my lips would be: What would a "cask strength" version of this malt taste like? Usually, cask aging results in a higher alcoholic content. This imparts what is sometimes referred to in the trade as a "rough" or "unruly" or "uneven" quality. "Finishing" a whisky often involves nothing more than bringing down the alcoholic content through distilling to a mean 43%+/- level, which is how these spirits are typically sold. But "barrel batches"--small as they may be--often offer the most interesting and powerful flavors. Like wines, the best whiskies may be best constructed of elements which can effectively "balance" a higher (hotter) alcoholic presence. "Bigger" wines, like "bigger" whiskies, may be the result of higher concentrations of separate effects--though, again, stronger spirits as such aren't necessarily better.

Going back to my somewhat amateurish description(s), any suggestion of soap, resin or animal fats in spirit language is definitely frowned on. Yet I think these descriptions are accurate to my own palate. Perhaps I'm just an uneducated dunce who hasn't learned to discriminate hia tastes according to the accepted wisdom of centuries of whisky knowledge! But that kind of haughty condescension belongs in the promotional departments of whisky wholesalers and retailers. As an ordinary bloke following his nose, so to speak, I'm perfectly free to judge according to my own standards of flavor. I can make my own categories of flavor. One of my old single malt friends once said he'd created a separate category of flavor, which he called "smashed bugs"--and, sure enough, the more I thought about it, the more I detected this flavor in malts.

Smashed bugs, anyone?




30 comments:

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ACravan said...

I loved reading through this piece and your notes. I also prefer Islay malts. Very uplifting on a scorching, sweltering afternoon near Philadelphia. Curtis Roberts

Conrad DiDiodato said...

Curtis,

this Bowmore scotch post is pure poetry!

J said...

expensive booze--one of the most refined indulgences of the ....literary bourgeois (and british zionists, in particular).

That said, Sir F. does spin prose quite effectively...Taste: Toffee-caramel chocolate-vanilla salty/sea-air burnt meringue burnt oats

chocolate AND vanilla?? whoa

Anonymous said...

twasn't me who deleted that first comment

I was too drunk from my noseinthemalt
to find the de-lete button

it was all I could do to crawl to the Ice-box
to get some ice to drop in the empty glass

and to pur another triple-shot from the bottle
that I keep in the freezer


43 % alcohol sound goodtome... it sure beats the hell out of Near Beer or Near Scotch

Geof Huth said...

Before reading this post, I drank a bit of Lagavulin 16 year last night. We prefer Islay scotches in this household, though I lean to the Lagavulin strongly, and Nancy to the Caol Ila. I think the latter smells something of used motor oil in a hot engine, but Nancy says it reminds her of the sea. No idea how. Caol Ila is too hard core for me, reduced to flatout peatiness, so I prefer the Lagavulin, which cuts that peatiness with something a bit gentler, without going over to full sweetness. I can drink a wide range of scotches, but many seem unpotable to me. I can drink only one bourbon, never really have had Irish whiskey, consider rye a scary thought.

My word verification is "cowilwa," which is reminiscent of "Caol Ila" even if that is pronounced "Cull Eela."

Geof

Anonymous said...

I am partial to that
clear "stuff" that we get up in West 'By Gawd' Virginia
from Mr. Dingess (& his tree sons who got those abnormally huge heads

in Ball Jars it comes
& is clear & is called

White Lightening

I thing it is made from potatoes a Potato Mash
and is also called Grain Alcohol
Lil Abner called it
Kick-A-Poo Joy Juice

they say it can cause blindness ... When is sooooo smothly first goes in/down you can hardly taste it

then
43 seconds late POW !

There is now a very famous song about it
that they play at funerals:

"I oncet was blind
but now I see

then they play the bag-pipes
and open up their Ball Jars

&
hotNholler so's that you can hear 'em
in the next Valley of the Shaddow

jh said...

smashed bugs
the nature of the last indications
of torchered digestion peaty scotch
making a case right to the first
morning fart which
if anyone would be honest might well
be likened to bugs smashed and rotting on the floor
take a moment to sniff that
and some preoccupation with man's dedication to inebriation as a means of insight

that gas one feels after a night of scotch drinking that's the thing that gas that slight headachey contentedness and intestinal cleansing that must ensue and the hinging of the desire upon the possibility of finishing the bottle tonite

soem coffee first
some clear cool water for drainage
and then gas
maybe stains
not unlike smashed bugs
on a rug

cigars
anyone want cigars

ah what poison so mildly delights as this

jh

Curtis Faville said...

Geof:

Lagavulin's so big, it's routinely rated in the top 5, and many people think it's hands down the best single malt commonly available.

The Malt Maniacs site documents thousands of bottlings, and there are certainly rare and wonderful tastes to be had there, unavailable to the average person.

The Islay scotches are wondrous. I have some fabulous Port Charlotte, and Caol Ila. When I went to the UK some years back, I bought all I could carry back on the plane with me. Laphroaig is probably a bit over the top in terms of salty-peatiness. I usually refer to its flavor as "old catcher's mitt."

Ardbeg produces some of the strongest tasting malts in the world. Many experts and scotch afficionados rate their private bottlings among the best. I like it, but not as much as Lagavulin, Bowmore and Caol Ila.

J said...

For getting f-ed up, one can't beat Everclear and 7-up on ice, lemon juice, large like Carl Jr. plastic cup, shot of grenadine if you got 'er. Beautifully unbalanced, yet not incredibly complex, with scents of...citris, and desert zephyrs, the 5 freeway, with hints of diesel, and a hot young mamacita from like Monterey Park.

for gonzo whisky, the good Jim Beam (in moderation). Don't phuck around with the overpriced blimey scotch BS--for like Tory wannabes.

Curtis Faville said...

MacDonald's, anyone?

Clearly the shortest route to inebriation is a bottle of 180 proof whatchamacallit. But for those of us who actually taste what we put in our mouths, that hardly seems like an experience to emulate.

I think your populist disdain has let you down a bit, here, J. Good food and drink aren't the province of the rich. Eating overprocessed and underwhelming mass produced fodder is a recipe for mediocrity. I think you're better than that.

J said...

I think your preoccupation with faux-epicurean delights such as scotch reveals a lot about the pompous Favillean ideology--for that matter, Jim Beam tastes better than Dewars or the rest. And yeah I eat fast food and avoid westside or SF sort of chi chi eateries. Cheap, hot, has protein. Tommy's---ay. You aren't what you eat, Sir F.

Im sure you don't see many working class--or even middle class--at those posh Bay Area scotch/whiskey sipping events (or wine sipping ). So, yes I stick to my original assertion--expensive booze, like expensive cigars--bourgeois, like Schwarzenegger style bourgeois. Nouveau riche

Ti Jean Kerouac was content with tokay. Bukowski stuck with vodka, mainly--later a wino, perhaps. Maybe stoli when he had some scratch.

Curtis Faville said...

J:

Does one need to be rich to eat healthy?

Obviously not.

Is eating pretentiously exclusively the province of the rich?

Obviously not.

Wines and spirits can be expensive, but there are hundreds of cheap very good wines out there, if you're willing to look.

Hard stuff mixed with fruit juice. Well, what can I say? Variety is the spice of life. If all you needed from booze was to get high, like Bukowski, then it wouldn't matter, would it? That's one thing I never liked about Buk--the drunk for drunk's sake business. Alcoholism doesn't have much to recommend it.

Nor does eating hamburgers and fries and burritos, all the time, either.

Defending that kind of behavior is probably even weirder. I mean, if you have to dumb down your palate, for financial reasons, it's just a necessity.

"As freedom is a breakfast food..."

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J said...

Non sequitur. I don't eat fast food all the time. And some--say del taco breakfast food, bean/rice/cheese/egg burritos--as healthy as most get in Ozzie and Harrietland.

But let me reiterate. Brothers smashing in liquor stores--and I nearly join 'em in spirit (maybe save a bottle or vino. or not). Where the F. is my bow tie??

Allah akbar

Geof Huth said...

Haven't had Ardberg or Port Charlotte (Florida?), but I'll try them sometime. Had a Talisker 20 the other night that was quite good. And even enjoy the much different quality, the smoothness, of a Macallan 18.

Anonymous said...

where does Boone's Farm &
Inglenook
& Cutty & Captain Morgan
fit into this diet ?

I mean

I NEED something to dip my
El Producto

how about that Red White and Blue
or
Miller's High Life or for the RICH

a frosty COORS

to wash down this Big Mac ?

J said...

icy Coors--the original sort, not lite-krap-- and a Big Mac. Ja, Anny. that's authentic, unlike Sir Fagville's gaelick singlemalt and what radicchio and escargot. Or something.

Fancy booze decadence?? don't f**k around with anglos--aquavit and some oysters, or kipper, or the good stoli, iced...few puffs chiba....chi-white when its around

Craig said...

Isn't there like a Single Malt Bible, a reference or guide book that tells what to look, smell and taste for when you tipple a malt? I think it's even got a rating system with individual numerical grades for the various outputs of nearly every known label.

John McPhee wrote an essay on scotch whisky. I think it was in Pieces of the Frame. He was on his way to Dunsinane Castle and stopped in at a distillery enroute.

jh said...

such decadence and high noble sensibility on the same page
would we think the same if there were no labels

we're deceived by ikons

no wonder there's no point to poetry anymore

taste requires humility
and not epicurean delectation

to have to place a value on this stuff is quite silly
i mean if someone broke in and stole all your precious scotch would it be a devastation or a slight misfortune
it gives the truly wretched an excuse for trash talk and little else

the false romanticsm of inbibing is the doorway to AA

if you're going to drink screw taste screw poetry become a social liability and give the cops something to do

the good news is

WV -nonymoda:
an anti modal dispensation commonly associated with art that claims no purpose

TIME FOR BED

jh

J said...

Booze is a big part of WASP-zionist ideology, IMHE, jhita. Distilleries were part of the Reformation, really. Cat.s did allow for some wine/vineyards (and are not entirely innocent), yet...liquor was a WASP invention, really, or at least a WASP-hustle--often used to trick/beguile natives in early America (ie, the colonialists would ply the Iroquois or whoever with some firewater a few times, make them happy... after a few months of pseudo-harmony....surreptiously put a bit of turpentine...or arsenic in it, and when they're sick and dying...rob and kill them, abduct/rape their squaws, etc. That happened on numerous occasions--out west as well, e.g. in battles with apaches).

Curtis Faville said...

"Wasp-Zionist"?

Spirits a "WASP invention"?

Alcoholism has been a big problem for Native Americans, but you can hardly lay the responsibility for that on the doorstep of Irish peasants monkeying around with secret stills in the mud bairns of Ireland four centuries ago. That's nonsense.

Your thinking is very confused here, mixing apples and oranges. You can't pull a Burbank on things that have no common DNA.

Trying to defend a junk food diet as if it were a form of honest rebellion against upper class pretension is really a pretty silly maneuver, even for you. Just drop it.

J said...

Irish? English-scots, mainly, ie WASPs. And zionist in the sense that the puritans/WASPs were closer to jewish than were the irish/catholic immigrants--not anti-semitic, merely a historical fact. Cromwell wanted the jews in England--he was borrowing money from them for one (and jews were involved in the distillery business early on) . Really at times I wonder if you completed any history coursework, CF

Had the pilgrims not brought the booze, it wouldn't have been here. And you ignored completely my point on WASPs plying the natives with booze--that may sound corny or "F-troopish" to hipsters, but that happened quite frequently. Like....Pocahontas, CF. Read a wiki for starters: poisoning.

For that matter, imbibing hard booze is considered a sin by quite a few religious sects--not only muslims, methodists, some catholics, mormons. Even John Wesley had a point on occasion.


Your health-cop concerns are BS, Curtis, though typical of Bay Area liberals.

Curtis Faville said...

Okay, let's try it one more time, just for courtesy.

The consumption or appreciation of spirits invented in Europe centuries before, doesn't connect the colonials in America to some white anglo-saxon plot to exploit native peoples. The two events are not connected. That's sheer nonsense. You're conflating things which have no relation at all. As a conspiracy theorist, your hunches are bogus.

It's not clear what you're trying to make of this crypto-racial connection between Jews and American Indians.

And now I'm the "health cop"? Oh--because I disdain junk food. Well, I guess I'll just have to accept that role gracefully, and move on. If you're so attached to burgers that you can't see the caviar for the vodka, I guess that's a big cross to bear.

If you're not interested in single malt scotch, why comment anyway? Jeez. It just sounds like sour grapes. You're still all wet.

J said...

Non sequitur, not to say your typical pop-nihilist perspective. I said WASPs, not jews (but did say the WASPs had connections to jews). First, alcohol is a commodity--a concept you continue to overlook. And its production and consumption does involve exploitation--some perhaps not so egregious (ie, the bourgeois who enjoys a shot or two), and some quite egregious (ie, exploiting natives and minorities, even irish--liquor stores in poor urban areas, the workers harvesting grapes, wheat, oats, etcetc). And ...alcholism remains a problem. Anyone who dodged a drunk driver--or two or three (usually some whiskey-swilling hick, but also hispanics)--or who knows people injured--or killed by drunken drivers-- will probably change his mind about the wisdom of selling whisky and the rest to the plebes.

And at times the history of America does show that the white anglo-saxons used booze to exploit native peoples, indeed to subdue or even rob them. It's not in the George Washington type of pop-history curriculum, but one who reads a bit beyond History 101 will discover it.

Life is not just some pleasure zone for Nabakov wannabes, Faville.

I rarely eat burgers, and don't eat pork--but mex. fast food and chicken yes. What of it? Legal. Its' dead anyway, might as use the protein. Vegetarianism a typical leftist moralist fallacy.

Anonymous said...

fermented cactus juice was invented 12,233 years before thos Christian saviors hit the rock in Plymoth!

what was it called Pulque ?

and they jazzed it up with a worm..

In Quernevaca in about 1967 I in a Mexican saloon
got the last swaller out of the bottle... had to eat that worm...


I think it was some kind of Tequila or ( I forget its name)

the waitress wanted to marry me and move to America

the land of Milk and Honey



she was one of those "youwannameetmysister" girls !

Anonymous said...

here is that drink that the worm was "pickled" in

Mezcal:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mezcal

I, as I recalled, had 5 shots of this .... "stuff" ..

and ate the worm like it was an oyster ... one bite and then swallow...

J said...

pulque's like cactus wine-- mezcal's distilled, like tequila, so after the conquest. Same plant yo pienso.

much tastier than some honkay scotch eh Anny. The blue bottle tequila--Patron?? Muy sabrosa.

anglos pretty much suck in about everything except making tanks, guns, ships, planes,etc

jh said...

when i fall ill
i allow myself a dram
of dom benedictine
on ice

otherwise i guzzle
m d 20 20 preferably in dark alleys
don't bother to take the bottle out of the bag
and smash it against the wall when i'm through

OMG
i just had a flash back

doctoah is there nothing i can take

soon won't the moon be full

jh

Anonymous said...

Pomposity, fools. I just like to drink a good single malt. Go fuck ya selves.