Rare bottlings

Rare Batch 7

by
Bowmore distillery

Dave Broom exhumes three Islay drams from the vault in preparation for Fèis Ìle, which starts tomorrow. These are whiskies which illustrate how the concept of ‘rarity’ is a relative one – and one that evolves and changes with time.

Bruichladdich’s 15-year-old distillery bottling from the 1980s represents a dipping of a toe in the water of single malts by then owner Invergordon, at a time when Laddie’s main role was in the firm’s many (mostly low-priced) blends. As that market suffered, there was plenty of old stock to use up, resulting in whiskies like this (and you can be sure there’s plenty of much older spirit here than 15 years). Nonetheless, this was nothing more than a standard – albeit not widely distributed – single malt in its day.

Independent bottler Cadenhead’s 16-year-old Bowmore is a much more recent incarnation, one that was released at full cask strength to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Campbelltoun Loch, the famous whisky bar in Tokyo. With all of Bowmore’s contradictory pleasures, it is, in the words of Dave Broom, the kind of dram that made him fall in love with Islay.

The idea that Port Ellen was once anything but rare is almost unthinkable now, but this single cask, full-strength bottling from Old Bothwell was one of three released by the bottler in 2009 alone. The days when Port Ellens were practically 10 a penny? It’s a whisky which perhaps doesn’t exactly challenge the claims to greatness of this most famous of closed distilleries, but does illustrate its ever-changing moods and fluctuating flavours.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Bruichladdich 15 Years Old

    Score 8.7/10
    Scoring explained >
    Bruichladdich 15 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    43%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Thick and sweet, with fruit syrups and custard tarts dusted with nutmeg. Some heavy blooms then come through: lily-of-the-valley, peony, then some lemon butter icing with a hint of cream cheese in the back. Water is needed just to liberate some more delicate white fruits, a buttery element, more zest and a touch of hot sand.

    Palate

    Huge, fat and ripe to the point of decadence. You alternate between vanilla slices, honeycomb and little hints of cumin. Again, water helps to perk things up and allow more of a flow, but it remains chewy and sweet.

    Finish

    Long and fruity.

    Conclusion

    Atypical for single malts of this era: first fill American oak sweetness, this can now be seen as a forerunner of what would become a major style. It’s also in line with what the Laddie is making now.

    Right place, right time

    An endless summer day, horses grazing on the machair.

    Bowmore 16 Years Old (1993; Cadenhead)

    Score 9/10
    Scoring explained >
    Bowmore 16 Years Old (1993; Cadenhead)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    57.5%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Deep amber. Immediate smokiness linked with a savoury element that dribbles dark soy sauce glaze over slow cooked meat and charred fruits. It shifts in time from Szechuan to India with notes of fenugreek and asafoetida, before some paraffin wax/firelighters. Water brings out more fruit, but never loses the overwhelming, exotic smokiness. 

    Palate

    Charred and rooty, but there’s more of Bowmore’s fruitiness now coming through. Plump and soft and constantly enveloped in smoke. There is a deep, powerful, meaty element in the centre of the tongue. Water reveals touches of salted liquorice and hot pepper, then male sweat.

    Finish

    Dense, long and smoked.

    Conclusion

    Filled with Bowmore’s contradictory complexities: smoke, salt, grunt, fruit and fragrance. Although it’s one of the smokiest Bowmores I’ve come across, it has fantastic balance. It was drams like this which made me fall in love with Islay.

    Right place, right time

    After a run, you tuck into barbecued duck beside a peat fire.

    Port Ellen 26 Years Old (1982; Old Bothwell)

    Score 8.3/10
    Scoring explained >
    Port Ellen 26 Years Old (1982; Old Bothwell)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    52%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Relatively rich but certainly oily Port Ellen, the smoke gathering like a fog bank off the Oa. Quite dry and ash-like, with plenty of burned heather roots and the start of a light smoked fish element. With water, it’s dry again, tree bark, wet roads and, in time, a sense of deep, well-oiled maturity. Excellent.

    Palate

    Softer initially than the nose suggests, but it quickly dries and crunches on the mid-palate, adding some peat fire roasted nuts which slightly disturb the developing sweetness. Starts to heat up – there’s some Turkish pepper flakes before a slightly astringent element comes through. Becomes sweeter with water, then the blast of smoke, but still that bitter edge.

    Finish

    Salt cod and smoke.

    Conclusion

    Slow release. Great nose; the palate, though, is slightly unbalanced.

    Right place, right time

    Sailing towards Islay in the teeth of a gale. Oilskins on lads, there’s a storm brewing!

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