Review: Bowmore Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 12 Years

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Image from the Bowmore Website

Bowmore is on the island of Islay, renown for its quality and often smoky and peaty malts. It is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, having been around since 1779. They also contain a malting floor which they use – one of only a handful to do so. This whisky is part of their standard range, and is the youngest expression with an age statement. And, as winter is coming on, there is little like some smoky malt….

Bottle + Presentation: 4.5/5.

Nose: Smoke! There’s a nice edge of vanilla and apples, with even a bit of orange peel and a slight floral nature. The smoke has much the character of ash, and the peaty note is a slight bit medicinal as well. The smoke is a bit dry on the nose, and at times seems to seek too much or too little dominance, being not perfectly integrated. There’s a slight spicy edge too of red chillies and black pepper. There’s even a bit of dried apricot in the mix, too. 26.5/30 (88%)

Taste: Comes in with a moderate citrus and light vanilla pudding and caramel background before giving way to smoke and some black pepper. There’s a bit of smoked meat in the smoke, as well. I hope for just a bit more body to balance out the smoke in this one, and perhaps just a touch more sugar to balance out the salty tinge. 25/30 (83%)

Finish: Smoke, mixed with a light fruity character, including even some pomegranates, and some light vanilla and caramel. At this point, the smoke seems to separate a bit too much from the rest for my liking. And, interestingly, I get some artichokes to supplement it all. Some of the medicinal and iodine-like character of the Islay peat also comes through a bit on the finish. I find more apples and slightly more sweetness comes through as the finish starts to break down and develop. I find the finish improves as it changes in the mouth. 13.5/15 (90%)

Conclusion: Quite a nice dram, though in this tasting less impressive than I remember. I wish for a bit more of a full-bodied nature in the body surrounding the smoke, and a touch more sweetness. However, still a nice introduction to the smoky Islay malts, and, at least in Canada, it comes in a bit cheaper than the others, which I certainly won’t complain about. 17.5/20 (88%)

Overall Score: 87/100

Review: Highland Park Aged 18 Years Single Malt Scotch Whisky

HP18 This whisky has won many accolades due to its high quality, but one problem with this is batch quality – both from what I’ve read and experienced. I have only sampled from three bottles, and even then, the first bottle I had didn’t impress me much at all (I even ended up giving the bottle away!). In a direct comparison with the 12 year old, I found that it wasn’t nearly as lively or interesting and failed to dazzle on the palate like the other. Later, at a whisky pub in Toronto (The Caledonian, definitely worth a visit if you’re in the city), I was discussing this with the owner and she convinced me to re-try and I absolutely loved it, and the third bottle I tried from (this review) was also fantastic. So, this stuff can be really good, but if you can get a sample of the bottle you are buying from first, that’s best.

Bottle + Presentation: 4.5/5. I do like this, but for the price you pay in Ontario, it needs a little more (about 180$).

Nose: Apple, very light smokiness, honey, daisies, toffee, walnut, vanilla, raisins, cacao, light banana, buttercream, with a bit of a spicy edge to it. Rich, and the vanilla character in particular appears to be deep and rich. And so deep! It feels as though you can just inhale deeper and deeper with this stuff. And the balance is just brilliant. Develops too, with more vanilla and peaches coming forward. 28.5/30 (95%)

Taste: Oh my! A light, honeyed entrance with a touch of peppery smoke (like chipotle peppers), some building spice, fruitiness (including maraschino cherry), and smoke – with the perfect vanilla sweetness in the background. The richness is retained in full, and the finish ends in a brilliant flourish of heather, smoke, vanilla, oak, and pepper. There are even touches of grain, like those diet fiber crisps. 29.5/30 (98%)

Finish: The smoke builds up to a honey, malt, apple, finish that lingers strongly and slowly dries out. There is also a light touch of cinnamon and banana. The dry smoke and the sweet vanilla endure and just are simply delicious for a long time. Wonderful. even some light banana! 14/15 (93%)

HP18 (5)Conclusion: This whisky is absolutely brilliant – for the balance, feel, flavour, and finish. I found that as I continued to sip it I kept being surprised at how it developed, and the number of new flavours that I noticed. An absolutely brilliant creation. 19.5/20 (98%)

Overall: 96/100

Review: Highland Park Aged 12 Years Single Malt Scotch Whisky

HP 12 (2)Highland Park is one of my favourite distilleries – I think all their products are phenomenal, though I think price doesn’t always mean more quality for some of their expensive no-age-statement releases. Highland park self-malts about 20% of their barley, using Orcadian peat, which is largely comprised of heather as Orkney is so windy that not many trees grow there. This malt adds a phenomenal floral, smoky quality to their releases. A lot of their maturation is done in sherry oak casks, which also contributes particular dryness and dried fruit notes to their products – and I like their usage of these. The 12 year old is often what I recommend for a high quality Scotch which has medium smokiness, lots of complexity, and isn’t too pricy. It’s one of my absolute favourites, and one of the best whiskies I have ever tasted was from a batch of this.

Bottle + Presentation:5/5. I like the box!

Nose: Wonderfully fruity, with light peat in the background, heather, raisins, apple, marmelade, toffee, and very light smoke. Lots of honey. It’s quite bright, and quite lively! Vanilla comes out more as the whisky sits, and the smoke is so fragrant and floral. All the major players in the nose – the orange, the honey, the smoke, the heather, and the earthiness from the peat – are all quite large, and yet balanced brilliantly which is certainly no small feat. 27/30 (90%)

Taste: A sweet entry, with malt, apple, raisin, lots of honey, and some tingling spices. The smoke isn’t that present until the end, where it simply comes alive. The balance is quite nice, and the sweetness, smoke, and fruity notes are all complementing each other beautifully. The end of the palate dries out very lightly, leaving the mouth with smoke and a spicy feel before the finish starts to develop. The smoke also has some brilliant earthiness taking me back to childhood smells of a creek by our house. 27.5/30 (92%)

Finish: The spicy feel tingles on, and mingle with the peat, which is wonderfully earthy and smoky. There’s some apple and light orange and cinnamon in the mix, and a touch of nuttiness in almonds and the sharp nuttiness of cashews. The subtle sweetness makes you want to just keep tasting the lingering flavours. Brilliant. Agave notes on the finish too. 13/15 (87%)

Conclusion: This is a very good bottling, and is still one of my favourites. However, this bottle that I am reviewing doesn’t compare to the other one, which frankly, was one of the best single malts I have tasted (and I have tasted some of the best) simply because of the way the smoke was largely hidden in the palate until the mouth seriously dried out and the smoke came out in a giant puff, bursting with flavour – but different than the rest which was still so rich. HP12 (4)That whisky I would have rated probably a 95, though this rating is in line with this tasting and my current bottle. This is still a brilliant dram (though I am still hoping for another bottling like that first one next time). 18.5/20 (93%)

Overall: 91.5/100

Review: Crown Royal Monarch Canadian Whisky (75th Anniversary Limited Edition)

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Crown Royal started out of a blend created in 1939 for the visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. We are now 75 years from that point, and this limited bottling was produced to commemorate the 75th anniversary. It comes complete with a batch and bottling number certificate (I have batch 0060, bottle U84X8).

The core of this whisky is crafted in a “coffey” still, which, at the Crown Royal plant in Gimli manitoba is a copper kettle and column still – basically the liquid to be distilled is collected in a receiver which heats it before it enters the column still, and a cut is still collected – that is, only part of the distillation is actually used to put into barrels. This whisky has been available in the US for some time, and has recently come to Ontario (at a convenient 75$).

Bottle + Presentation: 5/5. The presentation is all fabulous- except the bottle, which is no better than a regular crown royal bottle with a new cap.

Nose: Rich and complex, as one can often expect from special Crown Royal releases. Dark caramel, light orange, pineapple, plum jam, dried apricot, light cola and root beer notes, and a light, creamy elegance which smells as if its contributed through corn. There’s also some fresh orange – and a bit of dusty rye does indeed come out. Vanilla starts to emerge with time. along with some oak and hints of oaky earthiness. A fair bit is going on, but, frankly, the cola and root beer notes seem to detract a bit from it all for me – they just seem a bit “cheaper” than the rest of the nose. 26.5/30 (88%)

Taste: Very thick, and showing some decent caramel and oak. It’s quite full and creamy in feel, with some interesting rye – both the candied rye notes of straight ryes and the grassy and sharp rye notes too. At times there is a touch of bitterness, as if some slightly over-oaked whisky has been blended in this – and sometimes this drifts a little into the finish. It’s very rich, and I quite enjoy the flavour integration in this – but sometimes I think it is a bit underpowered – I think you could still get much of the same elegance and creaminess with a bit more ABV. There’s a bit of spice that drifts in towards the finish – some clove, and a bit of nutmeg. It’s well balanced, and it goes down quite easily. 26.5/30 (88%)

Finish: The development from the taste continues, and the feel is fantastic – creamy indeed. Light oak, caramel, orange, corn, grapefruit peel, and some cinnamon and clove are all present. It has a bit of a zesty feel to it after time, and slowly seems to “cleanse” your mouth leaving it to feel quite fresh. The quality is very nice of this, but it is too short, despite the nice corn that lingers for some time. 13/15 (87%)

Conclusion: This whisky has some incredible elements to it, but a few things that detract, unfortunately – strands of oaky bitterness on the palate and some detracting elements on the nose. But, CR Monarch 5beyond that, it is very nice and the rest of this bottle will definitely be enjoyed. It’s extremely drinkable and one of those whiskies that begs for another pour again and again…18/20 (90%)

Overall Score: 89/100

 

Review: Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

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From the Woodford Reserve Website

If you ever visit Kentucky, the most beautiful distillery (in my opinion) is Woodford Reserve. Found amidst cattle area where you can see some Kentucky thoroughbreds,the distillery boasts big stone barrel aging houses, which are cool due to the insulation from the thick walls. The company also has its own cooperage enabling them to be involved in the crafting of the whisky on the wood side as well. But, the biggest difference comes directly in distillation – they use pot stills (originally imported from Scotland) rather than the column stills used in the other Kentucky distilleries. As the distillery was founded by a Scotsman, it follows that they use the traditional Scottish pot still distillation. They have three pot stills, and their spirit is triple distilled.

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The pot stills at Woodford Reserve

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Rails to roll barrels along, beside a stone barrel aging house

This reviewed whisky is from batch 10, and it was bottle 2915.

Bottle + Presentation: 4.5/5.

Nose: Dried corn, vanilla, maraschino cherries, grapefruit, light honey, with a wonderful slight oaky earthiness. This element reminds me some of compost, not a bad smell – but the sweet earthiness of decomposing vegetation. It also has some notes of new leather, even the slightly chemical nature of that. The way the oak is integrated, with the grains, earthiness, and almost floral sweet honey – very engaging. 27/30 (90%)

Taste: Honey and oak lead the start, with some fruitiness – there’s kick of gingery rye on the back along with some light oily sweetness- quite nice. Sweetness builds gradually until the end, when the oak comes right in and develops through to the finish. It is, I find, a touch sour and there’s a bit of an off-key bitter edge to this. 25/30 (83%)

Finish: It develops nicely for some time before starting to fade. There’s some oak, apricot, cherry, banana, leading to some nectar-laden honey with a slightly drying tannic effect – though there’s lots of fruitiness, the finish isn’t that light – it’s a bit dense. However, the feel is quite nice – dense, and slightly concentrated, and eventually seems to “cleanse” itself as the flavour slowly unpacks and your mouth feels refreshed. The flavour does, however, dissipate a bit too quickly in my opinion. 13/15 (87%)

Conclusion: I do quite like this – especially the nose. However, with all that, I don’t think I’d pay the price (in Ontario anyway, $50) for this, though I will very much enjoy the rest of the bottle. 17/20 (85%)

Overall: 86.5/100

Review: Te Bheag Blended Scotch Whisky

Te BheagThis is a blend marketed towards connoisseurs, presented very nicely and non-chillfiltered – which means that many of the natural oils from the whisky aren’t stripped out providing a bit better body to the whisky. It is pronounced “Chey-Vek”, which, in gaelic, means “a wee dram”. It, according to the back label, contains a high percentage (40%) of single malt in the blend (blended scotch is composed of both single malts and other grain whiskies) and was originally produced for the Hebridean Islands (a group which includes Islay, Skye, and Jura).

Bottle + Presentiation: 5/5. It is very well done. I suppose I’d have to get a friend who speaks gaelic to translate the front label.

Nose: Apple, with a slight smoky and peaty background note which has a bit of floral heather in it and some lovely light vanilla which is nicely integrated. There’s a bit of a ginger note, too, a decent amount of maltiness, and lots of nuttiness. In a big glass it’s a bit out of sync – there’s a bit of bitterness and the peat doesn’t really fit into the whole whisky very well. The detracting bitterness is a bit annoying, unfortunately – but it is better in a smaller glass like a glencairn. It does seem to take its time to develop, with some creaminess coming through with some time and even some green-pepper like vegetal notes. 24/30 (80%)

Taste: Soft, with a very nice mouthfeel, a decent amount of sweetness, and a slightly earthy, slightly smoky, peaty backbone. There is a reasonable maltiness to it as well, which balances out the peat fairly nicely. Some smoke and spices take off a bit towards the end. The texture of the whisky is great, and the balance is quite nice as well. It’s medium bodied – but constructed in such a way that it is really easy to almost drink it rather than sip it – which is nice. There’s also a very nice, light, heathery note to this which is very pleasant too. The sweetness, if I sip slowly, is at a bit higher level than I would like – and sometimes it feels a bit too light for the sweetness level – but if I sip a bit faster I find it fine. Interesting. 26/30 (87%)

Finish: Light smoke, apple, some nuttiness, raisins, and some lightly sweet malt. It is still nicely balanced, but not overly-complex. As often with finishes, as you drink more it develops a bit and some more spice, jasmine tea, and light vanilla come through. 13/15 (87%)

Conclusion: Sometimes, frankly, blends are too much for me – they can be an incredible barrage of flavour because the blenders have so many options/tools to work with. I likeTe Bheag (4) this because it is well constructed and plays its role well without trying to do too much. The nose, unfortunately, didn’t work too well for me – but the taste certainly does compensate. It’s very comfortable – probably one of the best casual drams I can think of. Best drunk with friends… 17/20 (85%)

Overall: 85/100

Review: Maker’s Mark Cask Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Maker's Cask 1If you ever make it to Maker’s Mark distillery – an attractive and quite beautiful distillery – they let you dip your own bottles in their signature red wax. It was so with these bottles for me, after a trip down to Kentucky – a bit of a personal touch. However, really the treasure of this bottle has to do with what is inside. This whisky was only released this fall – a surprise, perhaps, for a distillery that has been long known for only having 1 brand (nearly for 50 years, before Maker’s 46 came out in 2010). Initially, it has just been sold in the distillery and in limited quantities elsewhere, but soon it will be a bit more widespread, though, undoubtedly, hard to find. I have batch 14-02.

The whisky is bottled at cask strength, or 56.7%, so either you’ll get a lot of flavour (in some cases it can be too intense), or you’re looking to add some water to this (not so bad to stretch the bottle out!). This is compared to the 45% that the standard Maker’s is bottled at, or the 47% that Maker’s 46 is bottled at. Many followers of the distillery are quite happy to see this, as many people find the standard Maker’s bottling a bit light.

Bottle + Presentation: 4.5/5. I do like the bottle, but I also find it the worst presentation of all the maker’s bottles, which doesn’t seem right for their most limited and expensive offering. But, I must say, I do like that they put this in small bottles – both for the sake of greater distribution and availability in this extremely competitive market and for my own preference of having two half bottles at two times rather than just splurging on a single, bigger bottle.

Nose: Coconut jumps right out of the glass, along with some rich dried corn husks. There’s much more of an elegant feel to this one than to the other maker’s bottlings – it is rich and very engaging. There are some sweeter fruit notes of pineapple, some rich caramel in the background, and then some apricot jam and marmelade too. Then, there’s also a very nice oaky earthiness which keeps growing – but never takes over. Mint, also is hanging about this one. Brilliant. Though rich and complicated, sometimes there’s a bit of stale bitterness coming up which is too bad. 27.5/30 (92%)

Taste: Lots of pineapple, and a good kick of dense earthy oak alongside dark chocolate. It is big, but quite controlled and I have no trouble drinking it without any water (though I have drunk whisky at 86% without the need to add water, so I may not be the typical drinker). Certainly much bigger than the other two Maker’s expressions. There’s some more coconut and a light sweetness to this too – together they remind me a bit of coconut hard candies (which I don’t really like, but I like this here). Just like on the nose, there’s a touch of mint on the end and the sweetness picks up towards the end. 27/30 (90%)

Finish: The oak and earthiness grow, unfolding to some pineapple, vanilla bean (a bit more intense and sweet than the typical vanilla you get), black pekoe tea, caramel, dried corn husks. It has good weight and length. The oak seems to be bordering on too much bitterness but usually doesn’t pass into anything unpleasant. Regardless, the quality is good enough that it doesn’t diminish the finish much. 14/15 (93%)

Conclusion: It is a good whisky, for sure – and a nice take on Maker’s too because it is a much bigger whisky. Though very good, I found it wasn’t quite as balanced and put together as I was hoping. The bitter tang on the finish is unfortunate, but, as you can see from my scores, this really is very nice and, overall, it is an excellent and interesting. Compared to Maker’s 46, which I also really like – it is bigger, more tannic, and sweeter. I think my Maker's Cask 2choice between the two is probably mood-dependent over anything – I find 46 to be a bit softer and more elegant than this. Both are very nice, and share some melodies – but both play two very different sorts of music, and at different volumes. 18/20 (90%)

Overall Score: 91/100