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Friday, 29 June 2012

Bowmore 1964 Fino Cask Preview Tasting

Hot on the heels of The Balvenie's fabulous Tun 1401 Batch 5 (which we reviewed yesterday), comes another brand new whisky release, albeit in a slightly more audacious bottle.

Bowmore has steadily become one of the most collectible whiskies in recent years - the Bowmore Trilogy collection now fetching a tidy sum at auction, alongside many of their other limited release and elderly bottlings.

All this seems a shame.  Old Bowmore seems destined never to be opened, poured between friends and enjoyed, which somewhat misses the point.  Without doubt, several of the best whiskies Caskstrength have ever experienced have been Bowmore bottlings from the 60's or 70's and there is something truly remarkable about this era of whisky making at the distillery.  The legendary Bowmore 'tropical fruit' has been hotly debated by malt enthusiasts for years, making it one of the most unique flavour profiles for any distillery, let alone one sitting amongst the smoky giants of Islay.

On Wednesday this week,  'a brand new' old Bowmore was unveiled for release later this month -  a 1964 Fino cask release, bottled at 46 years old.  The distillery have previously bottled a cask of this style (a 38 year old) but in keeping with the 40 year old release in 2010, this new release, with an outturn of only 72 bottles, has been bottled into an exquisite hand blown vessel, crafted by Brodie Nairn and Nichola Burns, two of Scotland's most renowned glassblowers. The sterling silver stopper was produced on commission by Hamilton & Inches (Jewellers to the Queen no less) and the whole package looks suitably impressive.

But as we like to remind ourselves on an almost daily basis, clearly the liquid within must be the star of the show and at the tasting, the whisky was poured from a simple sample bottle by Bowmore's knowledgable brand ambassador Gordon Dundas, leaving the rest to the imagination.

The benchmark for top end Bowmore releases has been set extremely high by the likes of Black, White and Gold Bowmore and this Fino cask bottling comes from a parcel of stock laid down at the same time -  and at £8,000 a bottle, this is certainly not a whisky which can afford to be a bit 'meh'.  At 42.9% it is also getting dangerously close to being lost forever.  The mind boggles at the thought of something this old being vatted into oblivion.

Bowmore - 1964 - Fino Cask Bottling -  42.9% - 72 bottles - £8,000

Nose: Well, there it is. An explosion of tropical fruit. Papaya, passion fruit, banana, coconut, fresh peach and kiwi. Place this next to a bowl of freshly prepared fruit salad and with a blindfold, I doubt you'd be able to pick the two apart from one another. It is perhaps more fruity than the aforementioned Bowmore Trilogy releases, but has an additional, unusual aromatic dryness, fresh, crisp notes of clean linen, lemon zest and light oak.  Given a little time, a faint waft of smoke also emerges, making this about as perfect a nose as you could probably get from a Bowmore.  Amazing stuff. 

Palate:  Initially dry and salty, but then snapping back into the fanfare of fruit. Passion fruit, cream soda and parma violets (without the soapiness) mix with zesty Amalfi lemon tart and fragrant wafts of smoke.  Blackcurrant notes also emerge after a few minutes, alongside a creamy vanilla custard. Jam-packed with flavour.

Finish:  The light smoke begins to fade, leaving peaches and cream, some sweet blackcurrant and a slight return of the passion fruit.  I was experiencing echoes of this for about an hour after we had finished at the tasting, which gives you an indication of where this whisky is coming from.

Overall:  Yes, this costs £8,000 a bottle, which is an extraordinary amount of money, (you can buy the 38 year old release here for a lot cheaper - well a mere snip at £4,999) but it is no doubt a landmark whisky in the history of Bowmore releases.  Elegant, delicate and superbly balanced, this is up there with the likes of Black, Gold and White and dare I say it, probably eclipses them all for the sheer fruitiness it displays.