*Sincere thanks to MS & AS at Savona Communications for the sample.
Not too long ago, I poked fun at the misuse and abuse of the term “small batch”. It’s not really my intention to beat that dead horse any further in this post, especially since there are so very many other booze marketing catch words/phrases that deserve the same amount of lampooning. “Craft”, “hand-crafted”, “reserve”, “rare” and “old” quickly come to mind. Hell, these days even “oak” has been nearly pummeled into meaningless…ness. So yeah, calling something “small batch” without offering any information on the actual size of the batch is lazy marketing at this point…especially when an expression is clearly a widely released, larger volume one. But, let us not belabor the point any further. Everyone in this game is guilty of at least a little silly hyperbole once in a while. Why, at this very moment, there’s probably some hack whisky blogger out there scribbling inane tasting notes like, “Smoky vanilla creme soda” or “faint brine-y sea breeze.” It’s a sickness not just limited to the professionals, you know.
Jim Beam is probably the most obvious scapegoat to blame for the proliferation of “small batch”. In the early 90’s, their introduction of the “Small Batch Collection” went a long ways to entrenching the phrase into the public lexicon. It’s always felt to me like a term more associated with the bourbon world. “Batch” fits in well with the rougher, Southern, less urbane, general image Bourbon likes to present, whereas Scotch usually strives for more sophisticated sounding buzzwords like “reserve” or “limited edition”. I guess this is changing, though. Perhaps bourbon’s surging popularity has Scotch marketing teams smelling cross-over appeal and lo and behold, we’re now seeing things like the Bowmore Small Batch. Actually, now that I think of it, back in 2012, Bowmore released an expression in the UK called “Small Batch Reserve.”. “Small Batch Reserve”…for crap’s sake, talk about gilding the lily with meaningless marketing speak.
Bowmore’s Small Batch is not alone in this tip of the hat to bourbon. Fellow Beam Suntory/Morrison Bowmore product, Auchentoshan American Oak showcases the influence of the ex-bourbon casks on a relatively subtle spirit, and emphasizes its bourbon-like warehousing and blending aspects. At this point, it’s beside the point as to whether or not Bowmore Small Batch is actually a small batch or not. No information relating to that is given and as it’s taking its place on the entry-level end of their range, it’s safe to assume that the batch probably isn’t too small. In any case, The expression is composed of whiskies aged in first-fill and second-fill ex-bourbon barrels. At the moment, it is not replacing anything in their core range, instead, it’s sliding into place after Bowmore Legend and before Bowmore 12 Year Old.
The Nose: Smoky vanilla creme soda, and I mean that in the best possible way. Lots of vanilla…vanilla bean, vanilla syrup, vanilla rice pudding with raisins, etc. After that, there’s salted caramel, salted almonds, Meyer lemons and Clementine oranges, and a very subtle sweet floral quality. There’s also wafting wood smoke, a little toasted barley, and brine-y sea breeze along with dusty cinnamon stick, dried orange peel, peppercorns, and sawn oak.
The Palate: This has a nice, creamy mouthfeel. More of that salted caramel and vanilla sweetness hits early, with more juicy, sweet citrus and even a bit of Juicy-Fruity tropical fruit. A handful of salted nuts follows along with a growing swell of dry wood smoke and some subdued peat. Charred oak, black pepper, and toasted vanilla bean lead to the finish.
The Finish: Very nice length, vanilla bean, salted nuts, another bloom of smoke and a faint hint of tobacco leaf and…peppermint(?!) trailing in the distance.
Thoughts: I enjoyed the hell out of this. While it’s definitely Bowmore, in a way, it’s a little un-Bowmore-ish at times, too. It’s put together very nicely and strikes a very drinkable balance of vanilla and fruit sweetness, and slightly toned-down Islay peat and smoke. I don’t usually think of this flavor profile as being fresh, but there is a certain lively freshness to it that works very well. I’d love to see this at a higher ABV, but it does manage to hold its own well at that lowly 40 %. A very appealing introduction to Bowmore and to smoky Islay whiskies in general. Recommended.