Hot on the heels of the first Devil’s Casks release, you can now buy the much-anticipated second release of Bowmore’s highly regarded sherried 10YO here in Singapore. But not for long though.
The Second Release from Bowmore, like the first, is also a limited run, and may perhaps be even more desirable now considering the wave of anticipation and rave reviews garnered for the original release, coupled with excruciatingly limited availability.
Deservedly so, because the first release of the Devil’s Casks was a cracker of a dram, and despite its unsettlingly high price, had no trouble flying off the shelves and careening down our collective gullets (in a responsible way of course). Which brings us today to Bowmore’s sophomore effort. Does it live up to its growing reputation?
Thanks to Beam-Suntory here in Singapore, we had the opportunity to sample a host of Bowmore whiskies, including a Small Batch Reserve cocktail, the regular 12YO, and the 15YO ‘Darkest’. The highlight of the day, without doubt, was a side-by-side comparison between both batches of the Devil’s Casks.
Playing the devil’s advocate – literally – was Morrison Bowmore Distillers Global Brand Ambassador, Gordon Dundas. If that’s not dandy enough, Gordon even brought along with him several bottles of new make spirit, hot off the stills (well not really, but close enough) of the Bowmore distillery, so that we could experience and learn more about the characteristics and personality of the Bowmore spirit.
It’s not unreasonable to assume that many distillers would hesitate to present their new make spirit, naked and vulnerable, to lay folk and seasoned connoisseurs alike, be it fear of leaving a wrong impression, or for fear of revealing a not-so-flattering product, if that were the case.
But in this instance, or at least for these couple of bottles in question, what we got was a surprisingly complex and immensely drinkable spirit, despite its intimidating alcohol strength of approximately 70% ABV, which was made even better when left to breathe.
Clearly Gordon is just showing off here, or it’s simply just his way of emphasising the quality and innate characteristics of their new make spirit. I’d say both.
Par for the course these days are the inevitable pairing exercises, which I personally feel is the way to go for the complete whisky experience; plus it’s much easier to convince your friends to pick up whisky this way. You can always do the anorak stuff on your own or with like-minded buffs.
The one pairing that warrants a special mention is the oyster luge – call me a philistine, but I’ve never had oyster and whisky this way, but am glad that I started off on the right foot.
The standard Bowmore 12YO was used to pair with the oyster in an elaborate song and dance, as illustrated above (we found a video here). Well worth the effort, and if anything, it served to highlight the subtly saline quality inherent in Bowmore that lends itself well to such pairings. That being said, I’m starting (ahem) to digress a little from the whole point of this post, which was to talk about the new release of the Devil’s Casks. Without further ado then…
Better the devil you know
In this day and age of being a whisky drinker, it’s rather easy to be disillusioned and cynical when addressing new releases. Profit-driven? Check. Cost-cutting? Check. It’s depressing stuff, this thing we call reality, but all is not lost yet.
I’d concede that the Devil’s Casks isn’t cheap – S$193 recommended retail price – when you consider its 10YO status, even when taking into account that it’s entirely matured in first-fill ex-sherry butts, which are inherently more expensive.
It’s a little easier to swallow (pun not intended) when you consider how good it tastes as opposed to what it’s supposed to be priced at given its age. I’m starting to sound like I’m spewing rehashed marketing drivel, aren’t I? Oh dear. (Note: official tasting notes used, thoughts are my own)
Bowmore The Devil’s Cask First release
nose Dark fruits, birch tar, the seductive warmth of old leather, brandy, fruitcake and maple syrup
palate Rich fruitcake, tarry chocolate, lingering dark fruits, tobacco and angelica root
finish Exceptionally long, full-bodied finish
THOUGHTS It’s not difficult to see how the Devil’s Cask First Release garnered its fearsome reputation. The intensity and that unmistakable hint of chilli punts it into the annals of the weird and wonderful. I wouldn’t be out of line if I said that there are few 10YOs that will make such a strong impression on you. Admittedly, it is the perfect casting choice for Bowmore’s story about the devil escaping in the cask – flakey as hell (sorry I can’t help it), but hey, I’m a sucker for this sort of thing and I’ll bite.
The First Release is a fascinating character that’s endearing in small doses – probably the David Puddy (blatant excuse to use that devil’s facepaint thing, but hey, it sort of works) of whisky. Immensely masculine, albeit in a distinctively quirky package, and with a penchant for scaring the bejezus out of lily-livered priests with its fiery candour. It may not be your cup of tea but it definitely is infinitely memorable.
I must stress that it’s not an everyday drink for everyone. Its intense, voluptuous body gets to you soonish if you aren’t partial to the ‘heavier’ whiskies. All the same, get a bottle to experience it and another to hoard… If you can find one that isn’t exorbitantly priced.
BOWMORE THE DEVIL’S CASK second RELEASE
NOSE Rich sherried sweetness with dates and sultanas smothered in the indulgence of treacle toffee, pecan and maple syrup
PALATE Dark chocolate fudge infused with sherried dark fruit, sea-salt and walnut oil
FINISH Long-lasting finish with sun-dried raisins and salted treacle
THOUGHTS It may not match the First Release in its explosive quality, but it makes up for it by being a very well-balanced whisky; an excellent marriage of savoury, barbecued flavours and peat sweetness, with a hearty, almost juicy sherry. As good as it is straight out of the bottle, it really does come into its own after a little coaxing with water and allowed to breathe.
As much as I liked the First Release, I think that the Second Release was more accessible; there’s nothing too maverick about it, and all its elements seem to complement each other. The flavours seem better integrated than on the First Release, I suppose. Less devilish in nature, but still a feisty one. No one is going to think that Liz Hurley will go down in the annals of movie history with the best portrayal of Satan in Bedazzled, but everyone (re: men) is going to enjoy her screen time, usually more than once if opportunity permits. I expect this to move quickly as well.
To sum up: two releases, two hits. The Devil’s Casks certainly have lived up to their hype, despite the rather high price. Without taking anything away from the core range on show, the Devil’s Casks is indeed a modern tour de force and excellent showcase for the good work that’s currently being done at the Bowmore distillery.
While not the highlight of the evening, let’s not forget the rest shall we?
It’s true for pretty much everything that we do, but we do tend to ignore the ‘entry-level’ stuff once we’ve run amok in the proverbial candy store. The fact is that this category of whiskies are more indicative of the house style in most instances, and are worth revisiting. They make good daily drammers too.
NOSE Subtle lemon and honey, balanced beautifully by Bowmore’s trademark peaty smokiness
PALATE Sweet and delicious heather honey and gentle peat smoke
FINISH Long, mellow finish
THOUGHTS The standard Bowmore is, like most 12YOs, easy to drink, and makes a great daily dram. Play around with a little water, and unlock subtle citrus notes with a pleasant brine character reminiscent of the new make spirit. Fun enough to drink casually, and interesting enough to hold a ‘conversation’ with. On many occasions you may find yourself favouring this over the 15YO Darkest.
BOWMORE 15YO Darkest
The ‘typical’ modern sherried Bowmore in their portfolio, and the most affordable of the type in the core range. It would be unusual for a distillery to not have an expression that features some element of sherry in their range.
NOSE Delicious dark chocolate, sun-dried fruits and a tell-tale wisp of Islay smoke
PALATE Wonderful cedar wood and rich treacle toffee
FINISH Robust and complex finish with a hint of sherry tannin
THOUGHTS While the Devil’s Casks was a full-on explosion, the 15YO Darkest feels more middle-of-the-road; creamy toffee with a hint of saline and moderately spicy. Not quite as easy-drinking as the 12YO but still is somewhere in the ballpark. Works great when paired with dark chocolate (70% cocoa).
The Scotch whiskies featured here are available at The Beam Cellar, located at 229 Mountbatten Road, #01-03 to 07 / #01-17 to 19, Mountbatten Square, Singapore 398 007.
Photo credit: Joel Lim Photography