It's generally believed that the cask a whisky is aged in accounts for more than 50 percent of the spirit's taste. Proof can be found in the "Bowmore Trilogy." In 1964, the Islay distillery filled three casks—one fino sherry, one bourbon and one oloroso sherry—with the same spirit. Forty years later, the Bowmore Fino Cask 1964, Bowmore Bourbon Cask 1964 and Bowmore Oloroso Sherry Cask 1964 ($2,000 each) are astonshng. The three casks relinquished three perfectly diverse products. Each is immensely compex, but each has a different appearance, nose and taste. You'd never know they were born of the same origin.
As is the fate of many great bottlings, the trilogy is incredibly hard to obtain—only forty bottles from each cask were destined stateside. A more accessible—and equally impressive—case study of a cask's infuence is Bowmore's Dawn, Dusk and Darkest (around $50 each). All three spent their first twelve or thirteen years in bourbon barrels but were finished in different casks that dramatically changed their character.
Darkest, which was finished in oloroso sherry butts, expresses itself like a robust black coffee might, though salt and smoke give away its island heritage. Dawn, polished off in port casks, has delicate red fruit notes that are unexpected in an Islay malt. Dusk, because of its Bordeaux red wine cask, has a distinct toffee note.
It's hard to belieeve that such a range all started from the same raw spirit. But they epitomize the diversity of taste that good malt whisky is capable of. Contact White Rock Distilleries Inc. at 800-628-5441.