A few weeks ago, Limpd and I got together at The Barthenon to sample and review the two whiskies in the above photo. Under normal circumstances, our tastings take place after my kids are asleep, which is usually after 9PM (I would have said “after our kids are asleep”, but Limpd’s urchins have a tendency to stay up late, especially on the weekends). This time around, Mrs. Limpd (aka Benita) invited the entire G-LO clan over to their house, along with another family for a casual dinner time get together. In the 11th hour, the third family (no, not one of the original Five Families) backed out due to illness, so we soldiered on without them.
My original plan was to bring over a few seasonal beers for all of the adults to sample, but since Limpd and I were the only true imbibers of the bunch, I instead opted to bring over an assortment of whisky samples that we need to review. After a brief discussion (we were deciding between two Amruts, two Auchentoshans, a Glen Garioch, and two Bowmores), we settled on two very different Bowmore samples: a 21 YO Blackadder Raw Cask and a 15 YO Bowmore Distillery release called “The Darkest”.
Under normal circumstances, our tastings occur under fairly quiet conditions, i.e. two guys seated at a table with proper glassware, whisky, water, and writing instruments (and snacks. Ya gotta have snacks!). This time around, there was a cacophony of noise and activity surrounding us. The wives were seated to the right of us, and they were discussing a whole host of topics that ranged from “what kind of pizza do you think the kids will eat?” to “have you guys decided on next year’s summer vacation yet?” to “what color cabinets were you thinking of for that kitchen renovation?”. The kids were basically just being kids, i.e. running around the house like a pack of wild animals and occasionally poking their noses in to our business with the time tested, “Hi Dad. Whatcha doin?” question.
Interestingly enough, even with all of that noise and activity going on around us, we still managed to focus our attention on the task at hand, and were able to come up with some interesting observations about these two very different Bowmores. In retrospect, this may not have been a very fair fight since the Raw Cask Bowmore is a cask strength, single barrel whisky that probably costs around $200 per bottle, while “The Darkest” which retails for between $70 and $90 per bottle, is part of Bowmore’s core range of whiskies. On the other hand, who ever said life is fair? Let the battle commence!
Before we get to our tasting notes, here is a bit more information about these whiskies:
- Blackadder Raw Cask 21 YO Bowmore: Bowmore 21 Year Old Blackadder Raw Cask Bottling Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Cask# 12861 Sherry Butt. Distilled: November 8, 1989. Bottled: April 2011. 58% Abv. 358 Bottles. Blackadder Raw Cask is whisky as it always was. Whisky as it used to be. Every drop is “Whisky from the Old School”. We wanted to bottle whisky as it would have been when served direct from the casks behind the bar in Scotland’s pubs one hundred years or so ago. Blackadder does not believe in chill-filtering or in colouring whisky. We believe that the purest is the best. Quite simply, Blackadder Raw Cask is every bit a Blackadder whisky but even more so. We use a special bottling process to make sure that each and every bottle of Blackadder Raw Cask contains its own share of the cask sediments as well as of natural oils and fats that might otherwise be left behind when filling a cask strength whisky straight from cask. This ensures the maximum possible natural flavour is in each and every bottle. The only thing we do when bottling is to use a small filter to ensure that splinters of wood from the cask do not inadvertently pass into the bottle.
- Bowmore 15 YO, “The Darkest”: Matured in an inspired combination of both bourbon and sherry casks, it’s the final three years spent in Oloroso sherry casks that gives Bowmore 15 Years Old ‘Darkest’, one of the most beautifully balanced Bowmores, the rich, deep colour reflected in its name, and its warming finish.
And now for our impressions of these two very different Bowmore whiskies…
Bowmore 15 YO. “The Darkest”
- ABV: 43%
- Appearance: Rich bronze or burnished copper color.
- Limpd: Astringent, with hints of balsamic vinegar, caramel, and dried fruit.
- G-LO: Dark brown sugar and dried fruit which mellows the usual big peatiness that I get from a Bowmore. Some cinnamon and chile pepper creep in along with some peat smoke coming in at the very end, all quiet like.
- Limpd: Sweet and sugary with a blast of sweet tobacco smokiness. After all that, there’s a little heat and a surprisingly short finish.
- G-LO: Medicinal and fruity at the same time. Starts off briny and lightly smoky, along with brown sugar and dried fruit sweetness. Spiciness builds in the middle with cinnamon and chile pepper notes. Some tobacco notes come in at the end. The finish is short with a light smokiness in the aftertaste.
Blackadder Raw Cask 1989 21 YO Bowmore, Single Refill Sherry Cask
- ABV: 58%
- Appearance: Pale golden color with bits of floating barrel char.
- Limpd: A lot of alcohol, which is to be expected when a whisky is bottled at 58% ABV. Sweet honey, a little floral, and just the faintest hint of smoke.
- G-LO: Very fruity on the nose once you push past the alcohol vapors. Vanilla, lemon oil, pressed wite grapes, and some white pepper up front. Sea spray, iodine, and subtle pipe tobacco play back up.
- Limpd: Oh boy! This one really goes from a pleasantly fruity start to an explosive finish with pepper, smoke, and a lot of heat. Definitely a sipping whisky as more than a sip at a time could be lethal! With water, the heat subsides a bit and this becomes an even more fantastic whisky.
- G-LO: Yowza! This stuff explodes on your palate with brine, vanilla, spicy white pepper, and peat smoke. The pepperiness gets even bigger at mid-palate and is firmly backed with fruity vanilla goodness. The finish is dry and peppery with a solid peat smoke backbone. The flavors are long lasting with a lingering smoky aftertaste.
While there is no denying that these were two absolutely delicious whiskies, I think you can tell from our tasting notes that the Blackadder Raw Cask was the one we enjoyed a good bit more. We found The Darkest to be a bit restrained, and it basically left us wanting more from it, i.e. more fruit, more spice, and definitely more smoke. Don’t get us wrong, The Darkest is a great whisky, and it’s also a good value at between $70 and $90 per bottle, but the Blackadder simply overpowered it, and we don’t mean from just an ABV perspective.