Whisky and Words Number 20: Bowmore 12

Bowmore's legacy

Bowmore’s legacy

Up next in our Island series is Bowmore 12. Bowmore certainly talks up its heritage on its packaging — founded in 1779, almost a century before the majority of distilleries on the island. Located on Loch Indaal (in the bight that nearly bisects Islay), the distillery is unique in that it has been in near-constant production since inception.

The Bowmore folks are proud of several key points: the balance of their whisky, the peatiness and smoke, and the use of their own malting floor. Note, however, like other distilleries (the Balvenie for example), modern production volumes outstrip the capacity of the island to produce barley or the old malting floors malt. At 2M liters produced yearly, Bowmore imports some of its malt. Still, the retention of their own floor malting shows a commitment to maintaining the old traditions and skills.

As for the flavors, Bowmore is, to this malt maniac, a fairly subtle introduction to both peat (in the guise of earthy flavors from the water) and smoke. I can’t argue with the packaging — the front side of the box says “Puffs of peat smoke and pools of honey, sharpened by lemon zest.” And I agree it is balanced. But on the whole, the Islay character of this ‘first malt’ is subtly played. Bowmore is no peat monster, and in fact, when I tried a bottle a year ago, I was disappointed. I was in the throes of peat-craziness at the time and Bowmore came across as a bit muted. This year, having tried a number of Highland and Speyside malts in the interim, I can appreciate the more light-handed approach to peated malt. So, if you are a fan of big, brawny smoke-filled drams like Laphroaig, you might give Bowmore a pass. But for the drinker of Highland and Speyside whiskies who is just starting to investigate the Island expressions, Bowmore 12 would be a good start. In fact, if you know someone who is interested in Islay whiskies, and they like Johnny Walker Black, this is a reasonable step up from JWB in complexity and smoke.

Tasting Notes

Bowmore 12-year old Islay single malt, 40% ABV

Bowmore 12 "the most perfectly balanced" in the world. Well, is it just marketing?

Bowmore 12 “the most perfectly balanced” in the world. Well, is it just marketing?

Nose: Very light smoke, subtle earthy peat, citrus, prunes, dry cocoa.
Palate: Earthy peat, honeysuckle, a touch of smoke. Decent complexity, but not much depth. An easy drinker.
Finish: Fairly quick sweetness (sucrose) balanced with a touch of tannic bitterness, light smoke that lingers nicely and fades into just a touch of ash.
Bottom Line: This is not a phenol-boosted monster. The smoke in Bowmore is delicate and not accompanied by oil, iodine or diesel, as are some of the more powerful Islay malts, and thus the finish doesn’t linger quite as long. A lot of folks will think that is a good thing. It’s better suited for a summer evening on the porch than a cold blow huddling indoors. At $52 a bottle in my area, it’s competing with Caol Ila 12, Ardbeg 10 and Highland Park 12. Those expressions have more depth and more character, and I think they reward a more adventurous palate. But for a relaxing dram while chatting with friends or watching the game, the promise of “the most perfectly balanced” single malt is certainly delivered.

Posted in Scotch-single malt, Whisky | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Whisky and Words Number 19: Caol Ila 12-year

This whisky is one of my wife’s favorites, which is odd, since she’s a real Irish fan and never been a proponent of phenolic (tarry, smoky) whiskies. But Caol Ila, as you might guess from the name, is very much an Islay whisky (it’s name means ‘Islay Strait’ in Gaelic) and it indeed has a peaty nose and a considerable dose of phenols which is typical for Islay expressions. It’s the kind of whisky you can open for a moment and then smell it for an hour. It’s a stinker!

Caol Ila 12 and some old-timey books

Caol Ila 12 and some old-timey books

The label says the distillery is not an easy place to find, and that its “secret malt” is highly prized among Islay whisky fans. I don’t know what’s secret about it, but Caol Ila certainly has a unique flavor profile. I found it herby and medicinal under that whiff of peat and (light) smoke. It is a unique taste and aroma and that has earned it a number of medals in the current century (double gold at SF). There is a full flavor profile on their website, below the soundbite “a delicate balance of tastes.” Note they did not say a ‘balance of delicate tastes.’ In fact, they describe in addition to citrus fruit, ‘a dentist’s mouthwash.’ A lot of folks find it medicinal, like a Listerine or other antiseptic mouthwash on the palate. Strange, but it works with the citrus. As for phenols, they claim just a trace of smoke and bath oil — for me, it’s more like machine oil. Altogether, their guide is pretty accurate. Note, although Caol Ila 12 has a phenolic profile, you never get that ashy taste you do from a Lagavulin 10, for example.

Continue reading

Posted in Scotch-single malt, Whisky | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Fear of Flying by Erica Jong

Note to the reader: this is a review of an adult book, and there are rude words and adult topics. If you think you might be offended by this, please visit the bunnies sub-Reddit.

I continue my reading of women writers with Erica Jong. I picked Jong for a couple reasons. One, I knew she wrote about the human condition from a woman’s point of view. She’d be helpful to me in depicting realistic female characters — especially ones who are in conflict with their society. Also, I’d picked up this book years back when I was working and, reading part of it, found it accessible and fun. I always wanted to read the whole thing. Coming after Nin, Jong was in many ways a continuum: very psychological, presents a character who is steeped in psychoanalysis and surrounded by psychoanalysts, facing an essential duality, and who is preoccupied with sexual fulfillment. D. H. Lawrence is a major figure in both works as well, oddly enough.

Compared to Anais Nin, I found Jong an easier read. In contrast to Nin, this is not a journal, but a fictional memoir, a vehicle for Jong to explore her own passage into fully-realized adulthood. Whereas Nin was a predator, like a tiger-cum-tasmanian devil rampaging through the jungle (well, France) like a trucker at an all-you-can-eat buffet, Jong’s protagonist Isadora is more of a furry little woodland animal that, knowing where her burrow is, and how cozy it might be, is driven to search out new climes. Isadora’s is a circular story: she starts with husband Bennett, goes on an excursion with another man, exploring her past along the way, is dropped off and abandoned, hits rock bottom and climbs out, finding completion as a fully actualized adult, back with her husband. Nin’s Diary is by definition a slice of life, with growth along the way, for sure, but no closure.

Another difference is that Nin had as many quotable lines on a page as Jong has in a chapter. That’s not a slight on Jong, she has some trenchant quotes, such as “Never fuck a psychoanalyst is my advice to all you young things out there” and, regarding her husband’s silent approach to sex: “How did I know that a few years later, I’d feel like I was fucking Helen Keller?” (p. 30). And, of course, it was in this book she introduced the ‘zipless fuck,’ a classic Jong-ism which entered the mainstream in the seventies. But Jong’s book is a narrative, she tells a tale, more so than Nin, who analyzed every moment of her life in her journals.

In addition to her disarming frankness, Jong has a wonderful sense of pathos, and weaves it with black humor. Entranced by the ashing Adrian, who grabs her butt, the lonely, unfulfilled and Jewish Isadora writes “All I wanted was for him to press my ass again. I would have followed him anywhere. Dachau, Auschwitz, anywhere” (p. 24).

And there is the lyrical Jong. Like her protagonist, Isadora, Jong was a poet, and now and then she really lets loose, often delivering sensitive subjects with both resounding frankness and lyricism, often mixing the raw and the delicate in the same passage. She introduces the essence of Isadora’s disaffection thus:

But what about all those other longings which after a while marriage did nothing to appease? The restlessness, the hunger, the thump in the gut, the thump in the cunt, the longing to be filled up, to be fucked through every hole, the yearning for dry champagne and wet kisses, for the smell of peonies in a penthouse on a June night, for the light at the end of the pier in Gatsby…”

Heady stuff.

Continue reading

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The feminine and masculine in Anaïs Nin’s Diaries vol 1

Note: I winnowed this theme from the Diaries vol1 of Nin, and found it fascinating enough to break into its own post. As an observer, I’m commenting on how Nin presented masculinity and femininity as clearly as I can from her own concepts as she discussed them in her diaries. Clearly, the concepts of the feminine and masculine have changed since Nin’s Diaries were written. The entire notion of a binary gender categorization is being dismantled by writers and commentators today.

It makes sense to note that she was a product of a Catholic upbringing in an era where gender roles were strictly defined — and that her views would have changed between the 1930s (when the Diaries v 1 were written) and her death in the 1970s.

The value in this exercise was, as a fiction writer, to learn how a woman operated in a society with strictly defined gender roles while she simultaneously turned conventions on their head. The insights are valuable when writing my own depiction of a woman who is finding her way in a dramatic shift of role and ability to self-actualize (Mayana, in the Pat Hayden Jones book).

The love triangle and a psychological triangle

Of interest to me as a reader of both Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller is Nin’s contrasting of Miller’s manifestation of self to June’s and her own. The relationship is taken in context of Nin’s romance with both Miller and June, which is clear from the unexpurgated Henry and June and hinted at in Diaries v 1 (though she seems more free to admit in the Diaries dalliances with June than with Miller or any other man).

Miller is described from her first meeting as a sensual being (in the classical sense): “warm, joyous, relaxed, natural” but simple in some ways. He is depicted as flummoxed by June, an ephemeral personality who hard to pin down. June spins, in his words “…such complicated stories, intrigues, miraculous barters.” With Nin’s description of herself as a being with only passion and compassion, the one to whom others come in order to discover their true potential, we have the setup for an incredible love triangle, and Nin does not disappoint — at least, from the psychological side (no steamy sex scenes in the Diaries).

TL:DR: In a historical context, the concepts of feminine and masculine were for the most part binary and prescribed by social mores and convention. As Diaries v 1 begins (first 100 pages or so), the story of Nin, June and Henry illustrates elemental forces in apposition. On one side, the force is (in historical context) elementally feminine — the sex with less physical strength which, in the world at the time, did not control instruments of power,  exercised its influence with persuasion, verbal acuity, concealment, subterfuge. The two women secretly mock the masculine Henry’s slowness and June asserts “the perfidious alliance of our lucidities, our quickness, our subtleties.” Henry is like a bull, often placid but at times confused or frustrated; he lashes out in anger at a world which escapes his ability to grasp.

Continue reading

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Olá brasileiros, por favor me diga por que assim que muitos vêm a este site. Obrigado.

Muitos brasileiros pousar neste site, e todos é bem-vindos aqui. Mas eu não sei porque os brasileiros lia neste site. Por favor me diga por que você está aqui. (Talvez, haja um link ruim que posso consertar?) Obrigado.


Posted in Culture | Tagged | Leave a comment

Book Review: Diaries of Anaïs Nin Vol 1

Note: I can’t annotate with page numbers here as my Kindle version has only ‘locations.’

TL;DR: The Diaries reveal an impassioned but (compared to the unexpurgated diaries)  composed Nin. She starts with the story from Henry and June. It is presented in a more linear, if incomplete, fashion and loses much of the impact as Nin excised all references to the steaming hot sex she was having with her lovers. Those relations lose depth as a result. The book livens up near the middle as she becomes more confessional regarding Antonine Artaud, with whom she conveniently did not sleep with. The last two-thirds of the book contain lengthy retrospectives of her first psychoanalyst, her father and her second psychoanalyst, who tries to convince her to stop with the diaries (!). The psych bits don’t interest that much and there is a lot of repetition. The story of her father is unsettling but very interesting and reveals much of her history. She closes with a tale of her pregnancy which is heartbreaking in several dimensions, finding God at the hospital, losing him when she must choose between God and psychiatry, which she’s chosen to study. Then it’s off to New York. Finis.

The Diaries vs. the unexpurgated journals

The Diaries are a fascinating read after reading the unexpurgated journal of the same time period (Henry and June, hereafter referred to as H&J for brevity). In that review, I wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek TL;DR describing Nin as ‘overwrought.’ I used that word for both its definitions — in a high state of excitement or anxiety, and as referring to a work which is overly elaborate. The unexpurgated diary is very stream-of-consciousnesss and records extreme levels of emotion and absorption. Here, in the originally published (and heavily-edited) Diaries, her story is more linear, more composed. She tells of her engagement with life as being at a high order of awareness: “Ordinary life does not interest me. I seek only the high moments. I am in accord with the surrealists, searching for the marvelous.” In the first third of the book, she’s a bit stiff, and as a result, Nin comes off as a a bit precious for us normal folks, we who “never awaken.” She’s living off a stipend, after all, and for her, life is not a struggle to make the rent. (When talking of giving money to June, Nin mentions a monthly allowance). However, that changes as the book progresses and she bares more of her soul to the reader in sections about Artaud and her father.

Continue reading

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Whisky and Words Number 18: Laphroaig 10

The label says it all

The label says it all

Ah, Laphroaig. They advertise themselves as “The most richly flavoured of all Scotch whiskies” on their website and on their bottle (at right). And when they say ‘flavour’ they mean smoke, peat, seaweed and iodine. Oh, there’s malt in there, too. Quite a bit actually.

I think Laphroaig is great for chasing mothers-in-law from the room. Just crack open a bottle, pour a little, and the more delicate souls will run for the hills. If you’ve never had this whisky, this superlative might get the message across. During the U.S. Prohibition, Laphroaig whisky was (famously) still being imported to the U.S., as “Such was the pungent seaweedy nose of Laphroaig that Ian persuaded the officials that the “Iodine” smell surely meant that Laphroaig had medical properties.”

Medicinal is one of the words used to express what folks taste in this whisky, but despite the billows of smoke, peat, iodine and phenolics, Laphroaig 10 is a quite well-balanced whisky. The malt that hits your palate at first is full, sweet and well-rounded, forming a pleasant base for the tar and iodine to expand into your nasal cavities and sinuses. So, too  are the medicinal aspects balanced. Medicinal, yes, but there is much more going on than that — I never would compare this to Caol Ila 12, for example (review coming) which I do think of medicinal.

Continue reading

Posted in Scotch-single malt, Whisky | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment