Bowmore The Devil’s Casks Small Batch Release II 10 y.o.
We probably all know the story of Islay’s ’round church’ by now, aye? Also known as the Kilarrow Parish Church, this place of worship was designed to a circular footprint, theoretically leaving no corner in which the devil could hide. Hmmm. Ok then.
The marketing people behind Bowmore couldn’t possibly leave a tale this rich unexploited (and let’s face it…nor would I). They expounded upon this fragmentary bit of lore, insisting that the devil had indeed been discovered in the church, from whence he was driven by the native Ileachs, running directly down the hill and through the gates of the Bowmore distillery, before sealing himself in a cask of single malt whisky bound for the mainland.
Clever gimmickry aside – and this is certainly that – I have to admit that the story isn’t the only great thing about this whisky. The malt is actually quite spectacular. If I’d have gotten ’round to tackling this review sooner, I’d also have lauded the brand for pairing their pitch with an age statement. The first and second releases of the Devil’s Casks were 10 year olds. Unfortunately – knuckling under to exactly what NAS opponents fear- after establishing a brand with a rabid following Suntory yanked the numbers off the bottle, jacked the prices sky high and hope we’ll simply accept this expression as yet another entry in the parade of NAS deceivers that continue marching past in this age of immediate financial gratification over long term reputation tarnishing.
Needless to say, I’m now on record as saying grab the first or second if you can find them, skip the third. On principle, if nothing else.
But let’s get back on topic. This particular 10 year old heavily-sherried beast is a monster. A beautiful monster. Sweet jammy fruit notes smash headlong into the oceanic peatiness we crave from Islay’s shores. The result is intoxicating (beyond the physical effects). This and the Laimrig (great bedfellows for side-by-side sipping sessions, I might add) should be the distillery’s focal point going forward. Hey, if Ardbeg can pitch Uigeadail and Corryvreckan as core range stalwarts, why can’t Bowmore do likewise with hefty cask-strength offerings?
As I’ve said before, Bowmore is killing it with their current run of releases. Perhaps the talents of Ms. Rachel Barrie at work? Who knows. Lovin’ it either way.
Nose: Lots and lots of sherry. Wow. Raspberry, strawberry, mint, pepper and smoke. Immediately enamouring. Damp hay and ocean breeze. Milk chocolate. A fair bit of iodine. Both meaty and spicy. Dark and oily. Wet soil.
Palate: Big, big arrival. And very sweet. Smoky and ashy. Mixed berry jam on burnt toast. Salty and coastal. Dries a little, letting the barley step forward a bit from behind the peat and sherry. Black Forest cake. Tea. Some licorice and plum. Leaves behind big smoky, tarry ropes of apple and barley sweetness.
Thoughts: This is one of the best contemporary 10 year old malts I’ve ever encountered. Vibrant and full of life.
Thanks to my mate, Mike M, for sharing this one. Enjoyed the hell out of it. Cheers, Mike!
– Images & Words: Curt
Bowmore is definitely back on the road to redemption with these two cask strength offerings as well as the current 10 year old Tempest after making us suffer through a lot of years of very mediocre core expressions. The 12, the 15 Darkest and the 18 are still pretty awful, but Bowmore are moving in the right direction.
Dram on, Curt.
Morning, mate. I’d argue even the core age-stated expressions you listed above are improving. The 18 I opened a few months back was miles better than the previous one I’d had, and I just opened a 12 and 15 Darkest about three weeks back. The latter in particular was surprising. I really wasn’t into that one, but the current release is nice. A thinner version of the Laimrig, slightly less fruity. I think a re-review is in order.
But yes, glad to see others feel as I do. Bowmore is quickly climbing my favorites ladder again.
Good to hear, Curt. I must admit, I haven’t tried the Darkest or the 18 for about 5 or 6 years. Might be time to give them another chance.
No worries about boycotting the DC 3 – it sells out so fast no one can get it (so who gets it?) and the aftermarket prices are double or triple. I know a guy who was trolling the LCBO website one day and a DC 3 popped up. He called the store, put a hold on it, and when he got there to buy it there had been other calls right after him. Some idiot had returned it for an exchange, and it was in pristine condition. Of course he bought it, and probably, if it were legal in Canada, he could resell it for 250% what he paid for it…THAT DAY! Now that’s a return on investment!
Ridiculous. Bottle flippers are the bane of my existence. See the recent spate of Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee Releases that are in the hundreds of Euros already? Gah!!
Agreed. I’m sure the industry loves it and encourages it. Good press and bragging rights for them, and the saps who buy at stupidly inflated prices take another good affordable whisky away from the drinkers. Gah!!! indeed.
Unsure if everybody from the industries loves it. No doubt corporate offices in London and elsewhere are very happy but people from the distilleries are not, well at least one.
I was on Islay last April and was discussing the secondary market issue with various people from Ardbeg and they were not happy. They described mini-buses arriving in Kennacraig leaving their occupants at the ferry. Once in Port Ellen these people would take taxis to Ardbeg to buy their limits of Perpetum bottles (2) and return to Port Ellen in the same taxis to take the same ferry back to the mainland where the drivers of the mini-buses were buying back the lots of bottles… Everyone was disgusted by this practice.
To be clear Bob…. Just because your “friend” can sell this bottle for a 250% profit doesn’t mean he WILL.
Personally, if I had the chance buy something at retail that I knew could be sold for more, I would probably do it if I or someone I knew wanted it, but I wouldn’t waste the opportunity by selling it…I’d drink it!
Yeah, flippers are deadly – Kallaskander would know for sure which one it was (maybe Macallan?), but flippers were even cited by one producer as a reason that initial list prices needed to be higher, because “too much money was being left on the table”. So much for the argument that the insanity of the secondary market has no effect on the primary one. Once things enter the world of what can be argued to be a “collectible” or “investment” whisky, with the added prestige angle of who can afford what whisky or what bottles command what prices, we’ve left the interests of many whisky drinkers behind – all for the price hopping of those who aren’t drinking whisky that they won’t open, or had no intention of opening from the outset.
And further to that, Jeff, would you agree with the suggestion that raising the prices on the primary market adds to the “collectability” of certain expressions which then goes on to raise the secondary prices? And so on…?
Sure – I think it adds to “collectability” in a couple of ways; the general price cycling that you’re describing, but also in the market viability of smaller and smaller runs/caskings and the “niche” products that come from them on the basis that “no matter what you’re drinking these days, you don’t know whisky until you’ve tried the latest (fill in the blank)”, as if the wheel’s constantly being reinvented with every new bottling. Things can be “rare”, and even produced to be artificially so, without really being all that different or exceptional, except in their labels and prices.
The general take these days, for example, is that pretty much anything Ardbeg makes is “collectible” on some level regardless of what’s behind the cork. There’s never a lack of someone somewhere being quoted as “this is another triumph for Ardbeg”, of course, but the beauty of “collectibility” is that it moves the discussion further and further away from questions of quality as drinkable whisky because the more “collectible” a bottle is, the less of it is actually opened/consumed by the people buying/holding it. Dalmore’s Paterson Collection is the ultimate expression of this: it’s of debatable value as an appreciating investment, but even that value completely collapses if any of the collection is actually opened and consumed; it retains its “value” only if it remains a collection of crystal doorstops with reddish-brown liquid of unknown, and unknowable, quality sealed inside. The opportunities for confidence games abound if people can be sold on the idea that the best whisky they own is also the same whisky they can never taste.
Diageo cited the secondary market as the reason that they quintupled the price of the Port Ellen and Brora Special Releases in three years.
Thanks – and, quite by accident, Whisky Sponge makes much the same as the above point about Ardbeg: http://whiskysponge.com/2016/03/16/ardbeg-makes-annual-contribution-to-stupidity-awareness/
Edrington Group with Macallan and Highland Park have made it their principle. Just look at the new Highland Park Ice Edition or the Valhalla series.
This 17yo costs 300.- € here.
But Diageo’s Nick Morgan, Head of Whisky Outrage has made statements to this effect as has Ken Grier of Edrington.
Other companies talk less about but do it all the same.
Yeah the Valhalla Collection is an interesting case in point – not only with the “so Scottish it’s Norse” hype (and thank God that Norse mythology, unlike Tolkien, is in the public domain, right, Edrington?), and questions of exactly what “rare” means (a collection in which individual offerings ranged in number from 23,000 bottles to 17,000), but also with the wonderful added twist of constantly making successive offerings artificially more “rare” as the collection progressed, to make it impossible for everyone who bought Thor, for instance, to complete “the collection” by buying Odin.
Here’s a piece on the collection (http://thecuttingspirit.com/2015/03/12/highland-park-valhalla-collection-collectable-or-not/) that argues for its collectability in terms of market reaction. It’s telling that questions of quality are answered with scepticism (“I wasn’t overly keen on the liquid either, but again that’s a purely personal thing, I know many who rate it highly.”) in showing the clear separation between superior investments and superior whisky. And, again, it all works for the industry’s advantage: if you’re in the business of making sealed doorstops that are “collectable” on the basis of how “rare” they are, and what people will pay for them based on their chances of later finding a bigger sucker looking to buy sealed doorstops, the liquid inside the doorstops becomes irrelevant.
Miles, The Prince of Darkness paired with the Devil’s Cask. Nice one, Curt.
A bit late to the party, but I believe my commentary is still relevant. First of all, I agree that Bowmore is on the road to repair in their core, age stated lineup. The levels of FWP have decreased markedly since 2010 (the earliest bottling date of any Bowmore I am aware of having tried . . . I know, I’m such a long timer). I opened a bottle of Bowmore 15 ‘Darkest’ that I took a punt on in a fit of peat/sherry madness–also a yuuuge discount helped–and am very impressed. Sure, it is probably colored and chill filtered. Bottling strength is an okay 43%. Sure, it is only sherry finished. But I can make those same charges against Lagavulin, a favorite distillery. The point of these ramblings is that while Darkest is not the most craft oriented release on the planet, I find it very good for what it is. Maybe hidden complexity will be revealed as air gets into the bottle, but for now, it is a fine example of peat/sherry. Would not have said that even four years ago.
As to Devil’s Cask releases: The U.S. price is high, but unfortunately what the market will bear at around $99. I’m enjoying Darkest enough to consider ordering a couple for a local whisky club to split. Or maybe I’ll go nuts and import a couple bottles of Laimrig as well, and pull out a couple IBs I have put away to do a sherried Bowmore taste off for the club.
Interesting Comments. Last time I tried Darkest was essentially the last time I plan to drink it. When Laimrig was for sale at LCBO it was less than 5 dollars more than the 15 and at the same age and cask strength it was a no brainer. The new Laimrig will cost more than the most recent Devil’s Cask release.
I feel the same way about Tempest. And typucally, about Bowmore as a brand.
Unfortunately, Laimrig is not available in the U.S. (at least not as far as I know. I have been actively searching for a couple of years, too). I’d have to buy it from TWE or a similar site and have it sent over. I do that on occasion, but there seems to be increasingly little that seems worth the high shipping costs.
I was turned off by the 12, 15 (Darkest) and 18 (there was a 3 mini set) that I tried in preparation for the Laimrig I had bought a while back. Then I tried the Laimrig and was blown away.
I’ve tried the Devil’s cask once and liked it, but essentially missed the releases.
I jumped on the Tempest batch 5. Unlike many of my bottles that wait for years till I get to them, I tried this at a friend’s house, really liked it, and went out and bought one to open with another friend the same week. Being even more blown away I went back and increased my holdings so I have a few for years to come. It is fantastic and at cask strength and under $90 it is a steal. Sadly only 8 bottles left in 1 store in Ontario.