For Feis Ile 2016, Bowmore offered 3 distinct bottlings: a 25 year old “finished” in wine casks for 12 years, a “bottle your own” 17 year old PX sherry cask matured, and a NAS Virgin Oak and Sherry Cask bottling. This review is for the NAS expression which is a vatting of 4 American virgin oak barrels and a first fill Oloroso sherry butt. Some of you may remember that Bowmore released a similar expression for last year’s Feis Ile which was comprised of purely virgin oak casks. What’s with the extra sherry butt thrown into the mix this year? I dunno. Maybe they were just trying to get rid of those virgin casks? Maybe it’s a bit of an experiment? Maybe they thought it just tasted good? Mysteries abound.
While it seems last year’s bottling didn’t elicit too much excitement, I think this year’s Bowmore Feis Ile NAS expression should really be praised. While we did not sample all of the Feis Ile bottlings this year, I feel fairly confident in saying that this is the standout best value whisky of the Islay festival. At £55 it certainly is the most affordable and even though it is an NAS whisky, it’s undoubtedly unique. Virgin oak and peated spirit is rare. I think part of the reason this was overlooked last year was because of the big excitment from Ardbeg’s and Laphroaig’s 200th anniversary. Or maybe it also has to do with the lackluster reviews for virgin oak whiskies from other Scottish distilleries. Some people think it’s too much like Bourbon.
I have to admit that I didn’t pay too much attention to last year’s release or this year’s for that matter. That was until I actually tried it. It’s a powerhouse of a dram. Packed with flavour and complexity. Yes it feels young but in all the right ways! I’ve been disappointed with other virgin oak whiskies but the layers and levels on this one puts all the rest to shame. One caveat is that it’s quite a unique tasting dram so it may not be to everyone’s taste. However, I definitely recommend trying this if you get the chance. The mixture of virgin oak and sherry influence really made something special here. Even if you don’t like it, I believe it will be an eye opening experience. It certainly was for me.
Distillery: Bowmore Distillery
Number of Bottles: 1500
Price: £55 at Bowmore Distillery during Feis Ile 2016
Warm honey and cinnamon with red fruits and berries. Treacle sweetness and vanilla bean extract. A mix of milk and dark chocolate. Red licorice. Star anise. Mulled wine. A bit metallic like tomatoes or ketchup. Steady mellow peat in the background.
A blast of fruity berry sweetness and spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and anise just floods your mouth. Evolves into toasted oak, charcoal, honey lemon, red licorice. Then becomes a mellow caramel with wisps of dry and herbal smoke.
Tangy sweet with milk chocolate, caramel, dried raspeberries and toasted oak. Mild herbal peat like a roasted tea.
Wow, the palate just hits you out of nowhere. The intensity of the sweetness is unrivaled by any other whisky I’ve tried. The epitome of sweet and spicy. The nose is a bit coy with lots going on but no indication of the explosion that happens when the whisky reaches your taste buds. It’s like being overtaken by a wave on the beach. It leaves you breathless. Then it rolls through with an evolving palate and eventually leaves you with a sweet lingering memory of the rush. Drinking this feels like surfing to me. It just gives you thrills after thrills and then mellows you out. A truly unique and inspiring whisky and a rare value among Feis Ile bottlings. I think the addition of the sherry cask helped bring an extra dimension to what could have been another virgin oak bourbony type whisky. However, if you are not a fan of virgin oak whiskies then this might be a tad bit too much for you but you should still try it because this might convert you. It’s slightly unbalanced in the forcefulness of the sweet and spicy flavours but it’s totally gnarly dude so it might just be the wave you’re looking for. This spirit definitely has an individuality to be reckoned with. Vaya con dios!
Sweet BBQ sauce over the fire. Earth and smoke. Lingering sweet, vanilla bark and honey.
Sugary sweet out the gates moving quickly to peat smoke and chared wood. Bitter and moody.
Spices to finish ginger root and cinnamon heart candy.
A meaty robust dram with an intriguing sweetness. Great dram for cool summer nights.