January 13, 2015

Review: Bowmore Devil's Cask

It's time to continue with our Devilish malt series.  Last week we reviewed The Arran Malt's Devil's Punchbowl. It was, in a nutshell, not very devilish. So, fiending for something truly devilish, we looked to Islay - the motherland of sinfully peaty beasts - for something with a little more teeth. Enter Bowmore's Devil's Cask.

The requisite marketing pitch on this one is pretty entertaining so here it is from Bowmore:
Legend has it that the devil once visited the church in Bowmore. Now if you’ve ever seen it,you’ll know that the church is circular, built that way (so it’s said) so there would be no corner in which the devil could hide. The local congregation spotted the devil and chased him down through the village, into the gates of Bowmore Distillery. Here, the warehousemen were filling casks and loading them aboard the paddle steamer, The Maid of Islay. Gates and doors locked tight shut, every inch of the distillery was searched, but to no avail. As legend goes, the devil escaped in a cask of Bowmore bound for the mainland.

What Is It?

It's a ten year, cask strength (56.9%) malt that's exclusively sherry matured.  Bowmore is well-known for lightly peated malts that spend a decade or more in bourbon barrels.  The older Bowmore versions (15, 18, 25 year) are finished in various combinations of sherry casks. So a 100% first-fill sherry cask is very unusual for them.

Tasting Notes

Appearance: It's super dark. Like root beer dark. But we know Bowmore is heavy handed with the food coloring (seriously) so this may or may not be natural.

Nose: This smells entirely like wood polish. Super thick hot mercurial tarry phenol mess. Don't know whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

Palate: Well it's super thick on the plums/raisins old sherry and peat. We're reaching right for some water on this one.  With water it opens up to some approachable-ness. It's quite peaty, which is nice, but the overwhelming sherry and that furniture polish funk still make the taste very tight and not very pleasant. Definitely over-sherried, totally dominating what would be a nice peat, and also some weird bottom-of-the-raisin-box funk.

Finish: The finish is straight up weird. It's all of the things that come out in the nose and palate: mushy raisin funk, heavy peat, and way too much sherry, and they're all banging into each other in un-good ways.


Basically what this is - is a decent peated malt that's been over-sherried and then dumped with enough E150 caramel food coloring to give Benedict Cumberbatch a tan. If you drink enough heavily colored malts you start to develop a taste and smell for the stuff. It's that mushy raisin funk, half overripe fruit and half furniture polish. In moderation it's hard to detect, but when totally abused like with this bottle it's really obvious. And totally ruins the whisky.

While there's no shortage of beast in this one, it's not for us. Try it on for size. A lot of people love it. But for us it's just not the ticket...


Just one more note about coloring: We're not going to say that coloring is always completely evil. Lagavulin does add coloring, and it's still a star. But what does piss us off is adding coloring and then specifically talking about how beautiful and dark your whisky is. Here's what Bowmore says about Devil's Casks color:

"On the eye deep mahogany Breathe in dark fruits, birch tar, the seductive warmth of old leather, brandy, fruitcake and maple syrup." 

Ok yeah, it's like talking about how lovely the red color is on Hawaiian Punch. And not to mention that they actually named their 15 year Bowmore "Darkest" and here's the description:

"Matured in an inspired combination of both bourbon and sherry casks, it's the final three years spent in Oloroso sherry casks that gives Bowmore 15 Years Old 'Darkest', one of the most beautifully balanced Bowmores, the rich, deep colour reflected in its name, and its warming finish." 

Ok well that's a flat out lie. It's not the three years in sherry casks that give it the rich, deep color, it's the food coloring.  Sorry guys, adding a drop of color to even out the batches and make your whiskey a little more attractive is one thing, but over-doing it and then making the color a marketing gimmick is too much.    -end of rant-



Update, there was a bunch of back and forth about the issue of artificial coloring in Bowmore.  We were able to determine that Bowmore 15 "Darkest" does have e150 caramel coloring.  Bottles in Germany are required to disclose coloring on the label, and here's a shot of the "Darkest" label from a German bottle:

You can see "med karamel" clearly in the bottom left.  By that same logic, the German version of the Devil's Cask bottle should have the same label, but it doesn't (German on the left, UK on the right):

So perhaps we were wrong about this one.  Maybe it is in fact natural color!  Well you can't accuse us of lacking an opinion...  We'd still like to see "Darkest" come clean, ditch the e150, and go natural!

Let us know your thoughts on the Devil's Cask.  It certainly wasn't our favorite, but maybe that was just due to too much sherry or something in the wood...  Have you tried it?  What do you think?  cheers/sb

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