We’re back on Islay with Bowmore for its latest Global Traveller Exclusive, aimed at folk fortunate enough to be able to afford to fly somewhere this year. Menacingly titled Black Rock, this edition is to showcase the best of Bowmore through the finest sherry and bourbon casks.
As with all marketing bull nowadays the whisky is named after a local landmark. I’m sure the distilleries on Islay must have a secret meeting place where they carve up the island and local mythology to ensure they have enough material for the forthcoming season. For Bowmore its Black rock is an outcrop located in Loch Indaal and is a symbol of the dangerous environment that surrounds Islay. Anyone who has been on the Cal Mac ferry to Islay will testify to the skill of the ferrymen when the waves become a little choppy.
It is hard sometimes to keep up with the onslaught of No Age Statement whiskies for travel retail. New for 2014 the Black Rock forms the entry point for a trio of new traveller exclusives from the distillery. Next up the chain is Gold Reef (mostly first fill bourbon casks) before we reach the summit in the shape of the 17 year old White Sands, which is just the staple 17 year old rebranded. Odd really, we’re told age statements don’t really matter yet for the flagship release they’ll put it on the label anyway?
I have previously reviewed the 100 Degrees Proof traveller exclusive here and although it was a little fierce I found it for the asking price to be one of the better options whilst parading through an airport. Sadly that expression is no more and Black Rock comes in at a much lower strength but the same price point. The foundations are the same with a mixture of bourbon and sherry casks, but there are more drawbacks in Black Rock which I’ll come back to after the tasting notes.
Distilled: a No Age Statement whisky
Strength: 40% vol.
Price: expect to pay around £50 for a 1 litre bottle at travel retail or it is available via some online websites
Casks: predominantly first fill ex-Spanish sherry casks
Bowmore Black Rock – review
Colour: overdone cinder toffee
On the nose: from the off it’s that familiar and comforting aroma of fruit loaf with a touch of spicing. Then dark chocolate with a twist of black pepper before the arrival of those crispy thin wafers you’d always christen an ice cream cone with. More sweetness with fresh blackcurrant jam and a faint echo of peat. With the addition of water more sweetness comes through with dried oranges and floral notes.
In the mouth: initially this is too watery, even with lots of brown sugar and caramelised figs with that peat influence carrying through onto the palate. There is a slight metallic edge to proceedings that I can only characterise as Irn Bru; the most famous of Scottish fizzy drinks. With water the fragile nature of the taste profile is utterly torpedoed, so be very gentle when adding.
Even for travel retail I find this overpriced and far too watery at 40% alcohol strength. The nose is a lovely piece of engineering and very engaging. Sadly it sets the bar too high and the palate is pretty tame in comparison. Then we have that slight metallic edge which brings me back to the colour of this whisky; there is far too much caramel colouring (E150) added and I’m sure that’s what I am picking upon the palate. The sherry casks will only give you so much colouring at a young age and there’s plenty of young whisky in here, but to achieve that rich darkness to mirror the name, Bowmore has overdone the colouring.
My frustration with Bowmore Distillery and its continuing avoidance of true greatness (that it should warrant) looks set to continue for a little while longer. I’m unable to recommend this whisky and I’ll do my best to pick up the other 2 bottles in this series to complete a thorough examination. Here’s hoping as we move up the chain that the higher price points improve the whisky.
Lead image from The Whisky Exchange.