Tis a long story this one, with many factions developing along the way. It began in 2013 when the first batch of Bowmore Devil’s Cask was released. With 6,000 bottles and an RRP of about £60, it was sold out before most people even knew it was available. What was so special about this bottling that made people go wild? Well I guess the marketting was spot on and the packaging didn’t hurt. But probably the big deal was that it was a Bowmore fully matured in first fill sherry casks and bottled at cask strength. These kinds of things tend to excite the whisky geeks (definitely excited me). And that colour!
Well naturally the bottles started showing up at auction for 3-4 times the original price and that started a kind of feeding frenzy around the expression. And when they release batch 2 in 2014 for about the same price, the whole cycle repeated itself. Sold out before anyone knew about it and auction prices soaring. So what did Bowmore do about their third and final release? Somewhat understandably they raised the price. In fact they raised it to about the same level as what batch 1 and 2 were doing on the auctions (£190). But the strange thing was that for some reason this batch didn’t come with an age statement like the previous two. Seeing as how batch 1 and 2 were 10 years old, not releasing an age statement pretty much assures that there is some very young whisky in this. These two decisions, raising the price and removing the age, seemed to epitomize the growing trend in the whisky industry. And it’s a trend very few people like.
So what happened when batch 3 became available? Not much. Unlike the past two releases, batch 3 did not fly off the shelves. In fact as I write this it is still very much available. And as a result the auction prices have dropped to below RRP. And quite understandably a lot of people complained about the whole thing. But’s it’s a tricky line to walk for the whisky companies. If the price is too low, people hoard the whiskies and they become unavailable and everyone who didn’t get a bottle complains. If the price is too high the bottles stick around on the shelves long enough to give everyone a chance but no one wants the shell out the cash. So what should they have done? You’ll no doubt get a whole slew of answers from every which way if you ask a group of whisky nerds.
Personally, I think they could have gotten away with it if they had only made one change. Either change the price or change the age statement. Doing both was pushing it and surely they must have known there would be backlash to this. But if you think about the greater scheme of things, what difference does it make to their business that a bunch of whisky geeks got upset? Are they really going to boycott the brand? Maybe some of them but probably not enough to make a dent. And what does Bowmore get in return? Free publicity. So I guess from a business stand point they win. From a short term perspective anyway.
In the long run, these run away pricing schemes will probably hurt the whisky industry. Whisky is hot right now but as the drinks industry knows, people can switch pretty rapidly to a new trend and then almost overnight you’ll have bottles sitting on shelves, filling up that whisky loch. At the current rate of whisky price increases, that turn over will probably happen a lot sooner and a lot more violently. It already seems like whisky buying for collection is outgrowing whisky buying for consumption and what that equates to is a lot of unopened bottles on the shelves which makes it easier to justify not purchasing more bottles later down the road.
Anyway, enough of the rant, let’s drink!
Distillery: Bowmore Distillery
Cask: Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso Sherry Casks First Fill
Price: £190 from the Master of Malt
Deep dark ripe berry jam. Lingonberries, dried blueberries, raspberries, blackberries. Savoury sweet wood like licking the last of dango and sweet soy sauce off the stick. Pineapples and other lively tropical fruits. A dry clean smoke that floats on the high end throughout. The sweetness is so saturated like the smell of the stationary at a hello kitty shop. Dried flowers with the intense sweetness and a slight bit of stinkiness, like from potpourri.
An immense saturation of dark berry jam sweetness, chutney, ginger, anise, nutmeg, slight cinnamon. It then becomes cedary woody japanese paper style house. Some greenness like cut grass. Dango with sweet soy sauce. Tangy like japanese pickled plums.
Dry smoke from a hibachi grill, with grilled sweet soy sauce yellowtail collar.
This dram certainly brings up a lot of deep and dark aromas. There is an exotic nature to it which makes it mysterious and intriguing. While the sherry influence is definitely there it seems to have it’s own kind of complexity. The way the dry clean smoke interacts with the rich flavours gives it a different dimension as compared to the typical peaty sherry bombs. Even though it’s cask strength it doesn’t feel that way. Actually I wanted it to be stronger. It had a finesse to it that made it seem like an older whisky. The lack of the fierceness of young peaty whiskies made it seem tamer and older and also lower in ABV for some reason. It’s definitely a nice treat and if I had to classify it I would say it’s sort of a more refined peaty sherry dram. It feels like a James Bond kind of peaty whisky. If I were at a black tie event, I’d like a dram of this in my hands.
Sweet dried fruits, peat and wood.
Rum raisins, syrupy sultanas and some nutty notes, like a trail mix. A flush of phenols and back to sweet rich raisin.
Smooth finish with lingering wisps of peat amongst the sweetness.
Really liked this dram. The sweet raisiny notes are like the raisins our of hot crossed buns. Lots of nostalgia for me. Loved the peat but with a strong homage to the sherry cask.
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