Reviews Scotch By Jim Bonomo / June 4, 2018 Bowmore, one of the many arms of spirits giant Suntory, is known for producing Islay Scotch whiskies with robust peat notes and a unique hint of salinity. The latter comes from the liquid’s aging process; Bowmore’s No. 1 Vault is a damp cellar below sea level which is imbued with salty ocean breezes and constantly slapped by crashing waves. The inspiration to add yet another layer of complexity to the rare whiskies stored in those oceanside barrels came in the form of ex-sherry, wine, and bourbon casks inside which this inspired whisky sees a second round of oak maturation. Both products tasted here spent the first 13 years of their life as more conventional Bowmore’s fare, aging patiently in ex-Bourbon barrels. The secondary aging happens in the more experimental wood, and varies depending on the product (Manzanilla cask for an additional five years, Wine barrique for a whopping additional 13.) The upcoming Port barrel finished edition, slated to be released this year, spent a mind-blowing 14 additional years in secondary maturation. We reported on these releases back in November of last year, and finally had the opportunity to taste the first two releases here at the Whiskey Wash. For a distillery steeped in Islay tradition and hanging on to their history as a legacy producer of regional single malt, such experimental behavior seems like an attempt to keep up with the changing landscape of spirits today. It will be interesting to see how traditional floor malting and smoky sea air mingle with the exotic European nuances of Spanish sherry and French wine. Tasting Notes: Bowmore Vintner’s Trilogy Manzanilla Cask Aged 18 Years. 105 Proof. $127/750ml. This whisky pours with a unique golden hue, dark from age and oak, and bearing rose-colored highlights peppered through the glass. Texturally, this single malt is a beast. It wobbles with heft in the glass, swirls slowly, and leaves the stickiest, most steadfast, trippy and drippy legs on the Glencairn’s interior. The aroma is bold and heady, and brings together the richness of burnt caramel with fruity notes of lychee and clove. There is certainly some alcohol sting here, and it is almost spicy in its ability to clear my sinuses. When it hits the palate, there’s a hammering of peat right up front, enrobed in a pleasant sweetness to carry the soft, smoky flavor while limiting acrid or dusty notes. Apricot and cinnamon waves pass over the palate as well, leaving one to wonder what exactly the sherry casks contributed to this dram. Either way, this is an amazing Islay single malt; expertly crafted with balance and boldness. Really difficult to find flaws in, except for the lack of oxidative wine notes on the palate. Score: 4.5/5 Tasting Notes: Bowmore Vintner’s Trilogy French Oak Barrique Aged 26 Years. Vital Stats: 97.4 Proof. $540/750ml. The color on this whisky is more vibrant, a brighter gold that shines brilliantly in the sunlight. Clarity and strong, thick legs are present here just like in the last glass. It does, however, seem a little more lighter and pixyish, bouncing spritely in the glass when swirled. The first inhale of this single malt is all about the oak. It’s almost as if someone was cutting up an oak barrel and I walked right through a cloud of sawdust. Bright notes of Italian plum and a hint of new car mingle with the burly wood aroma. Smoke is present but not overwhelming, like the wisps from a morning-after campfire. When it hits your palate, though, the brightness is gone and you’re smacked over the head by a real bold, intense, and obviously long-aged cellar dweller. Mouthwatering bursts of iodine mingle with ashy smoke char, burnt cocoa nibs, thin but sharp jabs of booziness, and a pleasant old wood and sherry quality strangely missing from the actual sherry-aged whisky. The salinity associated with Bowmore shines in the finish here. It enhances that sherry-like sweetness and accentuates the iodine notes, leaving you thirsty for another sip. This whisky is serious business and a real stone sipper for a dark, quiet, and preferably cold night. Score: 4.5/5 Final Thoughts: Often, the process of secondary or experimental oak maturation is put in place to introduce the flavor of what was in said barrel in to an already existing product. What Bowmore and the folks at Suntory have done here, however, is different. They’ve created a couple of unique, standalone products that play off the nuances in these unconventional barrels but are not defined by the descriptors you’d assume. The Manzanilla contributed sweetness and stonefruit notes, and the French Barrique a balance to the smoke with fruitier oak and dark chocolate notes. Unexpected in both cases, and surprising in the best possible way. Both recommended.