The Devil’s Cask Series was launched in 2013 and ran until 2015 – three bottlings, all 10 years of age, and all influenced by 1st fill oloroso sherry. They were supposedly inspired by a legendary story about the Devil being chased around Bowmore town in scenes akin to a Benny Hill episode. But, as you’ve probably guessed already, all this amounts to is the Beam Suntory product and marketing teams running out of ideas for how to describe sherried whisky.
In essence, the Devil’s Cask Series was a sherry-led variant of the popular and previously released ex-bourbon Bowmore Tempest series (which ran for six editions). The bottlings were met with some acclaim – well at least the first two. In an effort to capitalise on the growing trend for collecting and investment, the third and final Devil’s Cask was released in October 2015 for a shy under £200 – over twice the price of the previous two releases – the addition of some Pedro Ximenez maturation in the composition totally not explaining the huge bump in price. A pretty shitty thing to do really – it went down as well with Bowmore fans as one might expect.
One year later a travel retail Devil’s Cask was released. Well kinda – rather than being part of the Devil’s Cask Series itself, the expression was merely ‘inspired’ by the Devil’s Cask Series. You know what – I don’t understand what that even means. Indeed, it probably means absolutely nothing – “here’s a litre of sherried whisky, we’re still struggling to come up with new ways of describing it, so here’s a well-known name slapped on it”.
The bottling, which to be fair was offered at a reasonable price of £45 for a whole litre was announced as a travel retail exclusive for Europe and Asia Pacific. I decided to hunt one down. This was not an easy task – after searching over a dozen European airports (and my Brother-in-Law checking out several Asia Pacific ones), this inspired bottling was seemingly nowhere to be found. 12 months later (well beyond its initial release window) I discovered where it all was – several hundred bottles stashed away in Abu Dhabi International airport. Baffling.
This travel retail variant is again a 10 year old. It’s created from 1st fill oloroso sherry casks combined with a parcel of Bowmore matured in red wine barriques. Unlike the original Devil’s Cask Series bottlings, the ABV on the travel retail version is homogenised down to 46%.
Nose: Old leather, dirty vegetal smoke and sour fruits. Tanned hides, damp cloth and sofa from a land taste forgot are combined with smoke that’s part greasy and industrial and part garden bonfire – it’s a damp and oily peat, picking up plenty of forest mosses and lichen. The fruit influence is less palpable than I was expecting from 1st fill sherry and red wine – it’s rather murky, subsumed, dry and acrid – certainly cherries and berries, along with under ripe plums. In the background, shale beaches and rocky outcroppings with a note of heavy cloying stale perfume. Reduction improves things with a brighter fruit influence as well as chocolate orange and a meatier smoke of burnt ends and beef juices.
Taste: The arrival is fresher and livelier but still quite leathery and vegetal. Blackberries, cranberries, cherries and oranges moving into car seats, handbags, damp soils and bracken. The mid-palate starts to get gloomy once again with steeped black tea, week-old spent tobacco and molten rubber. The back-palate unleashes the wood influence – bitter, tannic and with an abundance (over?) of spices – intense cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Reduction brings out some chocolate and toffee flavours as well as (after some time in the glass) reducing both the acrid and the spice notes down to more palatable levels.
Finish: Medium, leathery smoke with chilli spice, cinnamon and pepper.
Bowmore 10 year old Inspired by the Devil’s Casks Series is not my style of whisky at all. The sherry and wine cask influence feels like an overlay, not an integration. Rather than offering bright sweet defined fruitiness this delivers an experience that’s muddy, cloying and sour. As a value proposition its fine enough – a litre of smoky whisky for £45 (and indeed, recent auction results are still clocking in around this original retail price), and yet I still can’t recommend it. Sorry Bowmore – sometimes its better the Devil you know.