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Friday 11 November 2011

Game, Set and Batch

As the end of the year approaches, drinks companies are finally showing their hand with releases designed to satisfy the market moving into Christmas.

One aspect of bottling which various distilleries have been embracing recently is the idea of batches.

As (hopefully) the malt-ready consumer becomes more educated about their purchases, it is great to see certain distilleries celebrate inconsistency in their bottlings by means of a batch number.

In Speyside, The Balvenie are letting us all know which issue of Signature we’re slugging back (thankfully, batch two onwards is far more drinkable than batch one; very much their Star Wars to the largely forgotten THX 1138. Let’s hope there isn’t a Howard The Duck lurking around the corner).

Howard The Duck. What the F**K was George Lucas thinking?

Over on Islay, Laphroaig have been at it for a couple of years with their Cask Strength 10 Year Old and now their relatively peaty neighbour, Bowmore are well on the road to success with Tempest, who saw their third batch launched recently.

Batch Two was a huge fav of ours, making it into our Best In Glass list of the top ten whiskies released in 2010, as well landing the gong of Best Islay Single Malt 2011 at the World Whisky Awards. So the third release has a lot to live up to.

With Batch Two maintaining its status as a really excellent bottling, we were intrigued to compare the two releases side-by-side to see which should take the crown as THE Bowmore in our cabinet. So we sat down with a dram of each to decide…

Bowmore Tempest - 10 years old - BATCH TWO - 56%

Nose: Woody, with pronounced sweet maple/vanilla notes, butterscotch and hints of sweet sherry. The smoke is sweet, like burning freshly sawn pine. Indeed, there is a distinctly resinous note to this batch. Given time in the glass, the whisky develops a fruit crumble-like note and the vanilla becomes more pronounced. With water, the fruit and a huge citrus burst jump from the glass, with some orange blossom in tow. Lovely stuff.

Palate: Sweet, with candied apple sweets, toffee apple, lemon zest and a slightly peppery/prickly spice. The smoke is delicate and bacon-like, with slight charred/coal-dust notes.

Finish: Lingering soft, sweet smoke notes and an air of creamy toffee helps to complete a complex and well- developed dram.

Overall: This batch really shines on every level; it has enough smoke to satisfy the devotees, but the fruit, vanilla and zest, balance the overall picture fantastically well. High marks indeed.

Bowmore - Tempest – 10 Years Old – BATCH THREE - 55.6% abv

Note: The first thing to say is that batch three is noticeably lighter than batch two. The smoke on the nose of batch two is dustier and comes across as older, less energetic and more relaxed.

Nose: Coal dust smoke (a la Caol Ila) Cream soda and lemon zest, with a hint of lemon meringue pie on the nose. Some cut grass, butterscotch and white flowers.

Palate: Very sweet with smoked chedder and white sugar. With water, the palate develops a lovely elderflower note which grows in volume, so the addition of a few drops is a real must. Some blackberry cordial notes begin to develop too.

Finish: The smoke lingers leaving butterscotch and elderflower wine.

Overall: Batch three is much more akin to the Caol Ila Moch or Port Askaig 17, but without their confidence and assured nature. If batch two has the lolloping attitude of an old Labrador, batch three has the exuberant energy of a golden retriever puppy but without the experience. For us, it’s Batch two all the way...

So there you have it. Batch three is a solid whisky, but it doesn’t quite punch the weight of the previous batch which is richer, more assured and possesses a greater complexity.