Peaty Mini – Big Peat 46%

Next up in our peaty minis evening after the Wemyss Peat Chimney, we explored a blend from Douglas Laing.

Big Peat 46% (Douglas Laing)

  • Nose – Began with quite a sharp peat that then disappeared quickly. Baked banana or a banoffee cream pie then also settled into a surprisingly restrained fermented apple, quite sweet.
  • Palate – A delicious peat heat, black pepper, green peppercorns, liquorice root, quite fresh
  • Finish – Peat spice, sweet liquorice, changes to red chilli, cinnamon spice

What we enjoyed most about this whisky was how it kept changing. While consistently accessible – in a good way. There was overall a fresh lightness to its approach – unquestionably peat but one with a delightful ‘freshness’ and spirit.

Here’s what the folks over at Douglas Laing have to say:

Douglas Laing’s Big Peat is a feisty Islay character with a sweet side. This is a small batch bottling, without colouring or chill-filtration and only contains Islay Malt Whiskies, including Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore and (even the now closed) Port Ellen to name but a few!

And their tasting notes?

Opens fresh, salty and clean on the nose, developing to sweet malt dried over peat. On the palate, detect ashes, sweet tar, beaches and smoking chimneys. The finish is long and lingering, replicating the palate with salty, tangy liquorice, smoke, bonfire ashes and a phenolic quality.

We sampled from a closed mini bottle in October 2017. While I can’t recall the exact price, think it was around £5 or so… a full bottle will set you back approximately $55. An exceedingly reasonable price for a most enjoyable dram.

And what else did we sample in our merry mini malts evening?

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Islay Trio – Bowmore Gold Reef 43%

After being surprised by the Bunnahabhain Eirigh na Greine, our Islay trio continued with another dram that was a variation on the distillery style.

We sampled completely blind, having no idea what we were sniffing, swishing and swilling away… until the reveal…

Bowmore Gold Reef 43%

  • Nose – Soapy peat, ash, carbolic were clear initial top notes that then subsided to reveal spice and sweetness, with roasted red peppers, Mexican beans, ham and bacon, then shifting from peatier qualities to fruity sweet, then coffee nuts and raisins, new leather shoes, with a sherry quality, nice and sweet, almost herbal, then green capsicum, followed by cinnamon
  • Palate – Heavy peat, mint with a curiously ‘closed’ quality after such a multi-faceted nose. Very dry, woody, a bit sour, yet a faint feel of cod liver oil – it may seem a contradiction to have it both heavy almost oily yet be dry, but there you have it! Again the cinnamon came to the fore…
  • Finish – Very dry, long, spicy, cloves, ash oily
  • Water – This one asked for a few drops… which transformed it into cinnamon candy, that ‘is it or isn’t it oily?’ quality clearly shifted into oils, with a soft sweetness, taking it from the territory of ‘not sure about this one’ into the ‘dangerously drinkable dram’ dimension, going from bold to subtle. Remarkable.

Overall we liked it and appreciated the different layers. There was an interesting ying/yang interplay of “manly” peat with cinnamon sweet.

Speculation turned to what could have made such a dram – our sense was likely a mix of sherry and bourbon, clearly peat!

But which distillery? One member immediately piped up “Well… it doesn’t have a typical Bowmore character”…. So we moved on to other possible Islay distilleris but were stumped.

With the reveal, I simply could not believe this was the same Bowmore Gold Reef the Whisky Ladies tried a just a few months ago in April 2017. The experience was entirely different.

I had my tasting notebook and flipped back to earlier pages to read….

  • Nose – Treacle, apple, summery caramel, toasted coconut, marzipan, with tropical fruits. Maple syrup joined peat with sweet vanilla and hint of spice
  • Palate – Peat, citrus, heat, bitter chocolate, a bit of dry wood
  • Finish – The heat opens up revealing honey sweet, cinnamon then settles into a bitter finish

So we had peat, dry wood and cinnamon in common but as for the rest? It was like we were having a completely different whisky!

We then turned to the official tasting notes:

  • Nose: Vanilla, coconut milk, delicious baked peach, oranges and lemons
  • Taste: Tangy peat, pineapple, juicy mango and kiwi fruit tempered by sea salt and olive oil
  • Finish: The long, honeyed, zesty finish

Again… much puzzlement and head scratching… Other than the peat and maybe – just maybe – olive oil, the balance was… huh??

We began to try to find out more about this whisky. Sure enough – ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks…. and also caramel colour.

We all know palate is personal – my impression may be quite different than yours. Which is what makes tasting together so much fun – comparing and contrasting impressions and insights.

Two different tasting groups. Two completely different experiences. How fascinating.

What did we sample with our Islay trio?

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Islay revisit – Bunnahabhain, Bowmore + Ardbeg

Our original Mumbai based whisky tasting club has an unwritten rule – no repeats. We also taste blind so as not to be influenced by brand or pre-conceived notions about a particular whisky or distillery.

Yet after so many years, our obsession with exploring new territories presents a challenge to find something ‘new.’

So why not have an evening that deliberately sets us up to sample whiskies we’ve had (or similar to ones we’ve tried), but each with a twist… being expressions that aren’t necessarily representative of a distillery ‘house style’ – if such a thing even exists anymore!

We also observed that our impressions bore little relationship to official distillery tasting notes… Past experiments have helped provide insight into possible reasons with a range of factors including the whisky temperature, ambient aromas and environment, tasting order which can influence perceptions of the whisky to follow,  conversation and company, and frankly just the mood of the taster!!

What did our host “trick” us with?

Click on the links above to read our tasting notes, comparing with previous experiences and distillery official tasting notes…

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Bowmore 16 year “The Prestonfield” Vintage 1972 43%

The more we explore the remarkable range of whiskies out there, the more we push into sometimes quite rare territory. Even expensive territory. And yet even highly acclaimed and coveted drams can sometimes lose their lustre. Old + rare + pricy doesn’t always = mind blowingly brilliant!

And every once in a while it is good to have that reminder.

After the truly dangerously drinkable and most enjoyable Bowmore 12 year distilled in the 1970s, we were primed to be transported to celestial levels with “The Prestonfield” vintage 1972 aka Bowmore 16 year.

Yet what did we find…..?

Bowmore 16 year “The Prestonfield” Vintage 1972 (28 Feb 1972-1988), Sherry Wood, CS No 1036 – 1039, Bottle no 9861, 43%

  • Nose – Phenoylic, like walking into an old Scottish hotel with the scents of an old rug, worn leather chair and the fire burning (promising but unidimensional)
  • Palate – Sooth – like sacred ash mixed with camphor, a weird peculiar ‘queerness’ like carbolic soap
  • Finish – Limited with an almost tallow or lard-like quality

So here is the thing. The nose was promising once past the carbolic acid, an initial sip was sooty yet bland, then had a strongly ‘off’ quality. I’ll admit. I made a face. Both times I sipped. Even a bit on the 3rd when I was braced for it and ready for something decidedly different. Something like the tallow from animal fat used to make candles, that had gone slightly rancid. The most complimentary description I could think of was raw bitter chokecherries.

I had to admit it didn’t work for me and tried to understand why Prestonfield whiskies are so highly rated if this was an example. What about that strange, frankly to me quite awful tasting quality, that makes it be deemed ‘good’? Just because its rare? Costs a lot? Sorry. Doesn’t cut it for me.

Speculation turned to whether this bottle could have gone off – yet there was no rust on the cap and the miniature was opened just before we tasted. So…?

Who knows. Perhaps something had indeed gone wrong between when initially bottled and our opening… after all, nearly 30 years had passed. Or perhaps there was some small drop of something else that got into the bottle when originally filled that turned it queer over the years. Or even still, it could be that much more discerning palates than mine found something remarkable in what to me was unusual to the extent of being not enjoyable.

Do I regret trying it? Absolutely not! Would I be tempted to try again? Perhaps… just to see if something happened to this particular miniature that was not representative of the original whisky. But not enough to put a lot of effort into tracking it down.

This 5 ml bottle was purchased by Krishna Nakula for £35. On Whisky-OnlineAuctions.com, the last available miniature’s bid closed at £45 in February 2015.

What do we know about Prestonfield whiskies? Here’s what La Maison du Whisky shares:

The Prestonfield range of whiskies is without doubt one of the most well-known among connoisseurs, and yet few people are aware of its origins. Created in the 1980s by the Symington brothers, the famous label with the drawing of the Prestonfield Hotel is now available exclusively through La Maison du Whisky. The whiskies selected for this range have always been some of the best but, from 2000, the decision was made to bottle them all at cask strength from a single cask. Almost exclusively single malts, these whiskies are extremely sought after, and often appear at the major auctions.

What else did we sample in our Krishna Collection from July 2017?

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A remarkable 1970s Bowmore 12 year 40%

Much has been said about how whisky styles have changed over the decades. That opinion is widely shared by those who started their sampling journey in the 1980s where most single malts were distilled in the 1970s or earlier. Yet most of these impressions remain in memories rather than the opportunity to test the theory.

Today, obtaining a sample of such earlier styles is challenging… most are found in private collections or auctions. Which is where this lovely little Bowmore 12 year miniature from the 1970s came. A wee dark coloured squat bottle that simply stated its age, alcohol strength and that it was matured in sherry casks. No hint of further details as this was simply a standard issue bottling for its time.

Bowmore 12 year (1970s – 80s) 40%

  • NoseHing (asafetida), pomelo, passion fruit vying with grapefruit, smoke and peat yet quite restrained, subtle, as it continued to open more fruit like cashew, pineapple and mango
  • Palate – Just as hing was the 1st predominant aroma, cashew fruit was on the palate, intensely sweet and dangerously drinkable with just a kiss of peat, brilliant body for a 12 year as it really sits on your palate
  • Finish – Peaty, leather, chocolate

This may sound a bit fanciful, but it had a joyful character on the nose, bright and fruity, superbly accessible and enjoyable on the palate with peat most pronounced in the rather delicious finish.

Like the Glen Grant 60 year old just sampled, this Bowmore was matured in sherry casks – but clearly of a different calibre and character than today’s sherry. Again, much more restrained overall, even the peat quality was faint – leading to speculation of re-fill sherry casks and curiosity about how the “barely there” peat quality came into play.

It truly was such a contrast in style to any Bowmore sampled in the last few years – which are often quite bold in character. Whereas this wasn’t clamouring for attention by swaggering into our senses, instead gained exclamations of “Fantastic! Stunning! Superb!” for its much more nuanced dimensions.

For some, it was the clear favourite of the evening – no simple feat given its competition!

Krishna shared his opinion that this Bowmore 12 year has all the “beauty of the old style.”

He went on to regale us with the tale of the term “FWP” (French Whore’s Perfume) used to describe a shift in character – particularly pronounced from Bowmore post Suntory coming into the picture for a few years. First detected by some whisky enthusiasts, they identified a peculiar soapy quality that they felt ruined the whisky… later linked to the soap used to clean the stills!

Since corrected, another Malt Maniac Serge shares:

The original ‘problem’ originated in the 1980’s and was corrected at some point during the 1990s. The FWP spirit sort of worked its way through the system and you shouldn’t detect the unsavoury FWP trait any more in bottlings that were released in recent years.

This 5 ml bottle was purchased by Krishna Nakula for £8. For those interested, a 740ml bottle could be found on Whisky.Online.com for a mere £450.

Whisky.Online.com

What else did we sample in our Krishna Collection from July 2017?

PS you can contrast my sampling of a more recent incarnation of the Bowmore 12 year here.

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Bowmore Travel Trilogy – 17 year White Sands 43%

Last in our Bowmore travel trilogy was the 17 year “White Sands.”

I’d picked this bottle up in Singapore duty free back when it was 1st launched. It was one of my “speed date” sample that lead to a clear “buy” decision! And since then I’ve been patiently waiting to open the bottle with our Whisky Ladies.

Bowmore 17 year White Sands 43%

  • Nose – Rich vanilla, citrus orange, honey almonds, very floral, raspberry treacle, light peat smoke, chocolate coffee then cotton candy
  • Palate – Spices, light creamy toffee, cloves, quite a delicious curl of peat, nice and chewy without being heavy, smooth as silk
  • Finish – A long lingering sweet spice with a bitter cinnamon tail

And what did the Whisky Ladies really think?? We LOVED it!

We found it was one of those whiskies that says – “Pull up a nice comfy chair, curl up and pay attention to me. Trust me, you absolutely will not regret!”

There is something quite sophisticated about this whisky. One mentioned ballgowns and tuxedos about to take a twirl on the dance floor…. that spins into a seduction!

For others it was just nice to settle down with an amiable whisky with multiple dimensions. The nose especially has such a lovely range of aromas, it is delicious to sip and savour, with a surprisingly long finish. In short – ticks the right boxes!

Here is what the Bowmore folks have to say about this whisky:

“Inspired by Islay’s pristine white beaches.”

Islay’s coast line boasts seven miles of pristine white beaches and has been the inspiration for White Sands. Matured for seventeen long years, this is Bowmore Master Distiller’s personal favourite. Matured in the finest ex Bourbon casks, the treacle toffee and ripe exotic fruits bound together by warm peat smoke.

  • Nose: Light peat smoke, rich treacle toffee and ripe exotic fruits
  • Taste: Creamy toffee and malty sweetness, together with a delicious warm smokiness
  • Finish: The incredibly smooth, warm and comforting finish

In this case, we would agree with the tasting notes… and of the three whiskies, there was zero doubt which was our favourite! In terms of the three, Black Rock is the most readily available. While not a bad whisky, it unfortunately is outclassed by the other two. Gold Reef may be slightly more challenging to find. And White Sands? Excellent value for a beautifully balanced whisky with enough character to keep you well engaged! It is certainly one to recommend to those who enjoy their whisky with a bit of smoky sweetness.

So while it was long after the initial launch, it was still fun to explore the Bowmore ‘travel trilogy‘:

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Bowmore Travel Trilogy – Gold Reef 43%

Next up in our Bowmore travel trilogy was another NAS – Gold Reef.

This particular bottle was acquired on my partner‘s trip to Beirut, Lebanon on behalf of our host – a fellow theatre actor. Since last year we have impatiently waited for an opportunity to bring our trilogy together…

And what did the Whisky Ladies think?

Bowmore Gold Reef 43%

  • Nose – Treacle, apple, summery caramel, toasted coconut, marzipan, with tropical fruits. As it opened, particularly after sipping, a delicious maple syrup joined some peat with sweet vanilla and hint of spice
  • Palate – Peat, citrus, heat, bitter chocolate, a bit of dry wood
  • Finish – The heat opens up revealing honey sweet, cinnamon then after a few more sips settles into a bitter finish

We found it very inviting on the nose, the palate was such a contrast – in a good way. The finish remains.

Here is what the Bowmore folks have to say about this whisky:

“Inspired By The Sun’s Reflection On Islay’s Coral Seabed.”

Further out to sea and deep beneath the waves lies Gold Reef. Named for the way the glow of the sun’s rays reflect off the coral seabed, this same old catches the eye inside every bottle of Gold Reef. Predominately matured in 1st fill ex-bourbon casks, it rewards with notes of smooth vanilla, citrus fruits and sea salt.

  • Nose: Vanilla, coconut milk, delicious baked peach, oranges and lemons
  • Taste: Tangy peat, pineapple, juicy mango and kiwi fruit tempered by sea salt and olive oil
  • Finish: The long, honeyed, zesty finish

Not so sure about the kiwi fruit or olive oil but certainly the balance is more or less what we found!

Our Bowmore ‘travel trilogy‘ evening included:

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Bowmore Travel Trilogy – Black Rock 40% Revisited

1st in our Bowmore travel trilogy was an NAS whisky we sampled a few months earlier – Black Rock.

The original bottle helped inspire the Bowmore Travel Trilogy theme… as one of our ladies happened to acquire it at the same time I picked up the White Sands. However when another whisky lady picked up the very same one, it gave us an opportunity to try it in one of our “Contributor’s Choice” evenings a little earlier and revisit it side-by-side with two other Bowmores – what fun!

Bowmore Black Rock 40%

And what did the Whisky Ladies think the 2nd time around?

  • Nose – Smoked fruit, dried prunes, sun-dried currents and cranberries, burnt orange, roasted almond, a puff of smoke
  • Palate – Sweet spice, smooth peat, bit of cloves, that hint of smoke carried through
  • Finish – Cinnamon sweet, there but barely

Overall a simple straight forward whisky. We found the nose more exciting than the palate. Easy to drink though some found it a little sweet.

How did this contrast with our earlier tasting experience?

  • Nose – Initially sour curd, warm and wintry, intense and then closed, light peat, then strong sour cherry, raisins spice toasted nuts
  • Palate – Well… clearly into 40% territory here… however once we got past the ‘watered down’ dimension enjoyed the smoky, cherry and other tight dried berries, sweet dry spices
  • Finish – Much fainter than expected – just a touch of sweetness, smoke and spice

Here is what the Bowmore folks have to say about this whisky:

“Inspired by the Black Rock of Islay.”
  • Nose – Smoke infused with raisins, pepper, warm cocoa beans and burnt orange
  • Taste – Rich sherry and peat smoke followed by blackcurrant treacle toffee and cinnamon spice
  • Finish – Beautifully balanced peat smoke and sea salt

Our Bowmore ‘travel trilogy’ evening included:

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Bowmore Travel Trilogy – Black Rock, Gold Reef, White Sands

As Whisky Ladies, we enjoy celebrating the contributions of whisky women to the industry.

Rachel Barrie has a career that started with the Glenmorangie team, gaining experience to become a whisky creator and master blender for The Glenmorangie, The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, Moet Hennessy (LVMH) before joining Morrison Bowmore Distillers, Beam Suntory in 2011. As Master Blender, she described “Islay is my escape. There’s part of me that’s a free spirit and very elemental.”

As Whisky Ladies, we thought it rather apt to have a session featuring whiskies where a professional Whisky woman was involved!

So we set about early 2016 to collectively acquire a ‘travel trilogy’ from Bowmore with:

For once, it was surprisingly easy to buy… the trick turned out to be finding an evening when all three ladies who purchased the bottles were `free on the same night!

This finally happened in April 2017… by which time Rachel Barrie had changed jobs and joined BenRiach and Glendronach Distillery Company as Whisky Maker.

Didn’t matter to us – we toasted her in spirit anyways!

Other Bowmore‘s tasted over the years include:

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Bowmore 12 year 40%

When I spotted this bottle, I knew the Whisky Ladies were already gearing up for a special Bowmore session. So thought why not take a sample to compare…

However as the months went by, our Bowmore Travel Trilogy evening kept getting delayed. And there was no way I wanted this sample to suffer neglect.

Bowmore just so happens to be lead by a woman master distiller – Rachel Bowie.

Bowmore 12

Bowmore 12 year 40%

  • Nose – Sweet citrus with a hint of sweet leather with a curl of smoke.
  • Palate – A tingle of peat with a nice chewy quality, lots of oak and some sweet spices thrown in for good measure – particularly clove
  • Finish – More dry spices and a hint of bitter chocolate

Overall it was a treat to enjoy a solid Bowmore dram.

Other Bowmore’s sampled include:

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