In the midst of our single malt push, you may have forgotten that we've scheduled a single barrel of cask strength Cognac as well. Mr. Nicolas Palazzi sent us this picture today - he's been over in France, listening to his iPod while slowly taking our brandy out of the barrel and putting it into a small batch of bottles. Hopefully this will be in stores very soon. Get ready for the first ever Faultline Spirits bottling. Can't wait.
Having stayed a few nights at Bowmore this last April, I feel more of a connection to this distillery today than ever before. Bowmore's style doesn't stir most single malt drinkers with excitement, despite its solid pedigree, but I was quickly won over by this legend of a building. It's the George Harrison of Islay, while Ardbeg and Lagavulin play John and Paul, and Bruichladdich seems more like Ringo. That's not a perfect analogy, but it's appropriate in that most people skip over "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" even though it's an awesome song. I tried to express this to Jamie MacKenzie while we ate dinner one night, begging him to work on a special, small batch release a la the Alligator/Cairdeas bottles. It seems that all the great bottles I've had of Bowmore in the last year have not been released by Bowmore. Both Signatory and A.D. Rattray have released outstanding single cask expressions, so why shouldn't Bowmore be able to do so as well? When Bowmore is good, it's almost unbeatable (anyone who doubts this needs to try this bottle).
The response from Bowmore to my querry was the Tempest, a small batch of ten year old, unchillfiltered and done at cask strength 56%. Does it satisfy my itch? Yes and no. It's a successful single malt in that it: tastes like Bowmore, is very complex, brings the heat, brings the peat, and stands out from the other three available products. For $79.99, however, most people will want more (even though the Alligator was pretty much just a souped-up 10 year for $99.99). The aromas are phenolic, mixed with vanilla and damp earth. There's a kiss of sweetness underlying the palate all the way through where the campfire smoke and dirty oils kick in. It's a true tempest in profile, a flurry of charcoal, peat, moss, and spice that leaves a your mouth in a thick, damp fog. The finish is all brine, green olives, and mint and you'll have to brush for hours to get it to leave. You could sit around and pick this whisky apart all day.
The Tempest fails in the sense that it could be so much more. Not that they could have done more with this particular whisky, but the guys at Bowmore could have chosen something even more impressive. Those who have tasted the Bowmore 17 (one of my favorite whiskies ever), long unavailable in the U.S., know how subtlety can sometimes be Bowmore's finest asset. An older Bowmore in a single bourbon cask would also have been quite nice. At this point, there's nothing hip, new, or modern about Bowmore, its history, or its packaging, so why not stick with something more traditional and old school, rather than a kick-you-in-the-teeth style of dram?
In the end, would I buy the Bowmore Tempest? Probably, because it tastes like a high-octance Bowmore and I like their style. However, having been to the distillery, seen how its made, tasted amazing expressions from cask, and spent hours with its staff members, I would have hoped for something a bit different. Maybe I can continue to bug Jamie MacKenzie and convince these guys to release something truly special. Bowmore has the potential to win over the Ardbeg fans, but they need to compete by separating themselves from the pack, rather than following it.
Don't get too excited just yet, we don't have any in stock. However, you can order it directly from High West Distillery. David Perkins and I did a little bottle exchange this week and I finally had a chance to get my hands on this 12 year (which is a 500ml bottle even though it doesn't say so on the website). This expression was made with another batch of whiskey taken from the old Seagram's distillery in Indiana, known now as LDI. Everything on the rye market today is pretty much three year old LDI whiskey that's being bottled under different labels (High West Double Rye, Willett Cask Strength, Templeton, Bulleit, Redemption, etc), but this is a chance to see what those whiskies might taste like were they kept in barrel a bit longer. As the notes say on the back, this is the same 95% rye and 5% barley mash bill.
If you've tasted all the other LDI ryes on the market, then the first sip of the High West 12 year will be very familiar - intense flavors of cinnamon, cloves, baking spices, and an almost pepperminty note. The difference however is that the greenness and grainy character of the younger whiskies is completely gone, replaced instead by a supple mouthfeel and sweet vanilla from the barrel. Imagine the Bulleit Rye, but spicier, richer, fuller, and sweeter - that's the High West 12 Year. It's quite good and makes me think about investing in some LDI barrels. We've talked with them in the past about doing something, maybe a day's run of 500 barrels. Hmmmm.......
I'd never seen a bottle of James MacArthur whisky until today, but I was aware that they were an old school style bottle operation. Today on my trip over to CVI, I was able to sample some of the new expressions that Paul had imported and add them to our store selection. Paul had MacArthur come up with some simple 45% expressions that would keep the prices down and I think it was a good idea in the end. All the malts are unchillfiltered and are single barrel expressions, but they're ready to drink right out of the bottle. None of these malts offer anything other than quality for the price. There are no extreme flavors, no cask enhancements, and all are aged in "bourbon oak," which I'm assuming is just a hogshead because they all taste just like hogshead whiskies - hints of vanilla, but no real richness or woody characteristics. Like I said, MacArthur puts out old school style whiskies, so if you want nothing more than some good ole' single malt, then these are for you. They must have good relations with Diageo because these are all from the empire, sans the Highland Park. Let's get to know our new whiskies in depth:
Glendullan 14 Year Old James MacArthur's Single Malt Whisky $59.99 - Glendullan is a Diageo-owned Speyside distillery that usually winds up as an 8 year available only in the UK, or the Singleton bottlings that we carry every now and then. This malt shows lots of fruit and white wine aromas with some oily textures on the palate. It's a classic Highland style - a bit of vanilla on the mid with flowers and sweet grains on the finish. Satisfying and tasty - what the majority of everyday malt drinkers are looking for.
Glen Ord 12 Year Old James MacArthur's Single Malt Whisky $59.99 - The rarely seen Glen Ord - a Diageo-owned distillery that pops its head up every now and again in the occasional independent bottle. I really like this whisky - vanilla beans on the nose, a meaty and robust palate for a malt that appears so light, hints of smoke, with a waxy finish that ends in cereal grains. I don't know who wouldn't like this. Plus, it's Glen Ord! How often do we get to drink this?
Mortlach 13 Year Old James MacArthur's Single Malt Whisky $59.99 - The normally sherried and robust Mortlach gets a bit of downsizing. This expression is completely devoid of sweetness, instead brimming with herbs and pepper, a bit of citrus peel, and spicy finish. Very unique, especially for a malt know for being Speysides most traditional!
Clynelish 12 Year Old James MacArthur's Single Malt Whisky $59.99 - One sip of this is all you need to fall in love with Clynelish - zesty citrus notes, oily flavors with that ball of Clynelish wax, vanilla undertones, and a smooth finish to wash it all down. Classic Clynelish that makes up for its lack of depth with utter charm.
Caol Ila 10 year Old James MacArthur's Single Malt Whisky $59.99 - Why should you buy this ten year old over the distillery bottle? Because this is a concentrated expression of what makes Caol Ila different than its Islay peers - peat moss on the nose rather than peat smoke, seaweed and maritime aromas, then campfire smoke on the palate. The marine flavors dominate and the heat or spice never overwelms. A great introduction to the one of Islay's most iconic distilleries.
Highland Park 12 Year Old James MacArthur's Single Malt Whisky $59.99 - To me this twelve year old is much more interesting than the standard distillery offering, even though its probably a bit more out-of-balance. There's definitely a phenolic character to the malt, but the tropical fruits and toasted cereal grains will keep you from truly deciphering it. There's creamy banana and soft vanilla everywhere and a big mouthful of malted barley on the finish. Yum!