By Kurt Maitland
Bowmore is one of the most iconic distilleries on Islay, which says a lot considering that Islay also includes the likes of Lagavulin and Laphroaig, and it dates back to 1779. To put that into perspective, in the same year Bowmore opened its doors, the settlement that would become Chicago was founded.
An institution that old has not just stories, but myths and legends surrounding it. One of Bowmore’s is that the Devil himself once visited the village church. The building being circular, Satan had no place to hide, and the villagers chased him into the distillery, whence he disappeared. They say he slipped out in a cask bound for the mainland.
A legend like that one sounds like what a temperance preacher might use to get Bowmore closed, but the distillery chose to use it to name a series of small batch limited editions, The Devil’s Casks. This installment, Devil’s Cask III, is no age statement (NAS), and was bottled at cask strength, 56.7% ABV.
Color: Blood Orange.
Nose: Hints of peat and sea salt interwoven with the unmistakable earthy notes and raisin-like fruitiness of the double first fill casks this release was aged in
Taste: Funk, youth, fire. This release is a high octane syrupy mess, but I mean this in the best way. This is a young whisky, but one that makes up for its immaturity with brute force. Plus, the use of two first-fill sherry casks in the batch and being bottled at cask strength does much to make up for this being NAS, unlike its predecessors. The mouthfeel is even, with a spicy sugar note and hints of peat smoke
Finish: Sweet, with a bit of smoke and a hot spicy finish that grows, but doesn’t lose its sweetness along the way.
A little water does much to this whisky. It really brings the dark chocolate of the sherry casks to the fore and it smooths out the roughness of this release. The water doesn’t make this a smooth sipper by any means, but it does make it more dessert-like. How could it not with two first fill sherry casks as part of the mix?
I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Bowmore. I have friends and collectors that love Bowmore, and it took me a while to understand what drove that adoration. I did not see it in their younger releases (Bowmore Legend, Small Batch, I’m looking at you), and it wasn’t until I had the pleasure of tasting older Bowmores, such as the 15 and the 23 Year Old releases, etc. that I began to really appreciate the brand.
This release is not perfect, but what I like about it is this: if you are going to release a NAS whisky, do what you can to make it stand out. In this case, you supercharge with first-fill casks and put it out as a cask strength bottling. I can’t imagine this as being anywhere near as interesting if it was an 40% ABV release.
The Devil isn’t cheap, especially at cask strength. This fetches £190 ($275).