As much as you want to scoff at expensive whisky that seems to be captialising on a global craze in Japanese whiskies, let it be known that, unlike many pricey, novelty whiskies, the Bowmore Mizunara Cask Finish is actually decent.
It’s to our eternal shame that we weren’t able to bring ourselves to make any snarky remarks, and only regret that we aren’t earning enough silly money to be able to pay for stuff like this in a pinch. It is not helping that Bowmore is unlikely to release any more bottles in the near future. Only 2,000 bottles will be available worldwide.
John Cashman, International Brand Ambassador for Beam Suntory, says that the Bowmore Mizunara was something that Rachel Barrie, Master Blender at Morrison Bowmore (for Auchentoshan, Bowmore, Glen Garioch), had always wanted to do; or rather, Rachel always wanted to mature some whisky in mizunara casks. She did, and the rest was history: the Bowmore Mizunara was born – the first Islay whisky to be finished in mizunara oak.
Part of Japanese whisky’s charm lies in the use of mizunara oak, which instills that unique scent of sandalwood and tropical fruits to the whisky it holds and makes it unique. As it turned out, Suntory had worked with a local university to work out what people picked out from whisky that had been sitting in mizunara oak as compared to other usual suspects. The one flavour that was coming out more than anything else, was coconut. Mizunara brings a higher percentage of tropical fruit, and also savoury notes of umami.
Mizunara isn’t perfect though. Compared to its European and American counterparts, Mizunara has less lignin, and is more porous and more prone to leakage if the barrels are not well made. Without any intent to throw a damper on the lore, the use of mizunara in whisky is essentially a happy accident; one that was made out of necessity, rather than creativity. The World War had stripped Japan of its imports of European oak barrels, and in desperation, the Japanese looked inward for a solution. The answer resided in Hokkaido, and unknowingly, would chart the course for Japanese whisky to its present success.
As Bowmore is owned by Suntory, the distillery was able to source a couple of casks of mizunara for their ‘East Meets West’ shenanigans. Mizunara’s rarity is attributed to the fact that the trees are slow growing and allegedly Suntory only makes roughly 100 casks a year. John says that Rachel managed to get hold of some fresh mizunara casks to this end, and she filled them with Bowmore whisky ranging from early to mid ‘90s, mostly matured in ex-bourbon casks, and finished the whisky for a further three years.
Sadly, John opined that it’s unlikely that there will ever be more coming; he doesn’t think that they’re able to get any more casks, thanks to the huge explosion of popularity of Japanese whiskies. As it stands, paying S$1,488 for a whisky certainly needs a fair amount of justification. Many a time it’s easy to be dismissive. Not this time.
Official Tasting notes
Bowmore calls it ‘combining the best of the east and the west’, and ‘an intriguing marriage of Scottish strength and passion with Japanese elegance and refinement’. Apparently, countless visitors to Bowmore Distillery have spotted these mysterious mizunara casks in their infamous No.1 Vaults for a while, and now, the cat is officially out of the bag.
Colour Warm amber
Nose Spicy, mellow sweetness carried on a fresh ocean breeze
Palate Sweet vanilla, cedar wood, exotic mango and honey rose blossom
Finish Floral spice and fragrant smoke
Personally I can’t justify the price. It is what it is after all; an expensive one-off. What I can say is, it is rather good – this is arguably the most unique Bowmore you can ever taste, in terms of flavour profile, and it’s pretty likely that we won’t get anything like this again. This is a classic modern Bowmore with the unmistakable notes of Japanese whiskies – tropical fruits and sandalwood. We’re getting a lot of new whisky releases of late, but this is perhaps the most memorable one.