When it comes to whisky, timing is everything and everywhere. The length of mash, fermentation and distillation all have a huge influence on the eventual character of the resultant spirit. Similarly the most commented on aspect of whisky production – maturation is, at its heart, purely a matter of time. Production is measured in hours and days. Maturation measured in months and years. For the most part, these variables are both understood and controllable – a tweak here, a change there having an fathomable knock-on effect on the rest of the whisky making ‘machine’. And yet, here were are in the midst of the biggest period of uncertainty the industry has possibly ever faced. And once again, it’s all about timing.
It’s all very well knowing how long a spirit run takes – but that matters not one jot when there’s total ambiguity as to when you’re actually going to be releasing a product. Whilst the industry is (in some quarters) quickly pivoting to embrace the virtual world (now is not the time for silence) the question as to the timing of releases is going to be an extremely difficult one for distilleries around the world. Many will likely take the view that with the prevailing situation, the coming months are completely unsuited to be launching globally distributed products – even with festivals and tastings moving online, supply chains are hugely disrupted (bottling requires materials), and bricks and mortar stores and the on-trade are simply attempting to stay afloat. Glitzy launch parties are not top of mind.
Let’s put it this way – if your website focusses solely on writing about new releases, I suggest you find a new hobby for a few months. Whilst some distilleries are going to be forced to release product to generate revenue, the vast majority are not going to want to introduce flagship products at this time. Where they are able to, they’re going to wait. The coming months are going to be light on releases to say the very least.
And that will present us with a future problem.
Once the light is spotted at the end of the tunnel (and rest assured it will be), producers will quickly move to re-establish their release schedules and promotion. Likely all at a similar time. And whilst some of the larger producers have the financial backing to weather the storm, for other, smaller, craft distilleries this could be make or break. Months of battening down the hatches, will mean that when these new releases come to market they’ll be utterly crucial to the longer term viability and success of the operation. And you thought competition was fierce before? It’s highly possible that after a long period of scant releases we’ll witness a veritable flood of new products – all vying for your attention – and potentially coming at a time when disposable incomes, and indeed motivations may well have moved elsewhere.
There’s no obvious solution to this conundrum – do you release away to generate some income and avoid the possible upcoming gridlock, all the while knowing that the market is barely poised logistically? Or do you wait it out (I’m informed that the Winchester is sadly closed) and run the risk of being unable to shine the spotlight on your expressions for all the other noise at that time? But regardless, whatever the industry does it mustn't fritter away the hours in an offhand way - now is surely a time for as much boldness as is possible.
Announced back in September 2019 with little fanfare and little real enthusiasm was the second release of Bowmore’s Vault Edition series – a quadrilogy of expressions which focus on an individual characteristic of the distillery’s style. Indeed, so low key was the announcement you could be forgiven for having missed it entirely – I did for some time. But then, the series opener - Atlantic Sea Salt was a near textbook lesson in an NAS offering being both notably young, and relatedly - being remarkably over-priced. At £100, the proposition felt decidedly poor value and whilst a few folks enjoyed it (there’s no accounting for taste), the overall consensus was that the price-point was ill-judged. This was borne out by both retailer and auction goers who are, three years later, still trying to offload it – 25-30% cheaper than its original RRP. You won’t struggle to obtain it.
The second release – ‘Peat Smoke’ (as literally named as the first) – also does not appear to be flying off the shelves. It received a much quieter promotion – possibly to avoid drawing attention to the rethought price of £70 – which unsurprisingly is where you’ll now find the fire-sale bottles of Atlantic Sea Salt. However, it is in many ways a much more artfully composed bottling.
Sticking to the higher ABV of the first release at 50.1% ABV, the casking of this release is fairly vague – ex-bourbon finished in sherry casks (frankly they could have used the leftovers from round one and just re-racked those for another two years). You can pick up a bottle from The Whisky Exchange for £69.95.
Nose: Earthy moistness – mushrooms, moss and cellars. Surprisingly expansive and expressive smoke – dry wood smoke, fence and shed preserver, axle grease, lots of leather and an array of roasted meats – a herb-crusted beef joint alongside air dried ham. Fruitiness from the sherry influence comes from cherries and berries, whilst rose hips and mint sauce sit with wood polish. Reduction continue with the ‘wettness’ theme – waterlogged wood, damp soils and petrichor.
Taste: The arrival is oily, and of slightly resinous nature, It is however quite impactful – sharp lime infused wood polish with expanding smokiness. Smoked cherries, raspberries and cranberries sit with burnt toffee and tarriness whilst a smouldering dried wood pile is joined by bung cloth and medicinal flavours from hospital cleaners and wipes. Dilution brings out the underlying herbalness of the distillate – caraway, anise and cough syrup.
Finish: Medium in length with drying wood smoke, chopped herbs, ground chocolate and mentholated oak.
Releases focussing on distillery characteristics have become near ten-a-penny. In particular, there’s been recent tranche proclaiming an increased smoky character (particularly from HP) which have failed to truly deliver on that promise. Pleasingly, Bowmore Vault Edition Second Release makes good on its literal name – the peat is up front and centre throughout, whilst the core herbal distillate style and the sherry cask finish are both allowed room to manoeuvre. The result is welcomed, both from a quality stand-point and from the re-tuned price.