When we visited the Signatory warehouse last March, I left thinking that our Balmenach and Benrinnes casks were going to be the best-received from this first wave of whiskies. Experience has taught me, however, that things often change when the bottles actually arrive (which is why I'm always in a hurry to open them up and spend a few days tasting through them again). The Balmenach is still hung up in customs, so I haven't been able to check back on that one. The Benrinnes (now in stock, by the way) is just as good as I remembered (maybe even better) and I think we did well in hyping it as a sleeper hit. It's so elegant and ethereal in its flavor and the layers continue to unpeel, like an onion, with vanilla, then fruit, then lovely flavors of sweet barley and, yes, that little hint of sweet tea I remembered.
The whisky that completely caught me off guard this morning, however, was the 2002 Bowmore (also in stock as of now). My colleague Jeff Garneau apparently felt the same way, as he approached me earlier today and said, "WOW! That Bowmore is out of this world." Part of the reason I don't remember the soft and flowing flavors of this Bowmore cask is because the whisky has indeed changed since we tasted it in Pitlochry. This was one of two casks (the Glenlivet 16 being the other) that we chose to have bottled at 46%. Therefore, this is the first time we've tasted the whisky since it's been reduced—and MAN is it good.
Bowmore is always a tricky whisky to sell; mainly because its reputation garners a high price tag, yet the style and quality of the single cask selection can be all over the map. It can be really peaty, or only slightly smoky. Sometimes it can taste like lavender, and sometimes like a dirty engine. It can be sherried and decadent, or light and easy. This 11 year old hogshead cask, however, is my favorite type of Bowmore cask: it's oily, supple, and round with a load of fat fruit in the mid-palate and a heavy dose of smokestack on the backend. It's hypnotic and awe-inspiring whisky, reminiscent of some of my early Bowmore tastings when we first visited the distillery back in 2010. It's soooo much better than I remember it tasting.
More on the other casks soon!