Nestled on the eastern coast of Loch Indaal on Islay, Bowmore sits proudly as one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland. It was founded in 1779, making it almost as old as the U.S. The distillery is currently owned by Beam Suntory. Each batch is overseen by Master Blender Rachel Barrie.
Bowmore produces a peaty whiskey, but it’s not as full and heavy as Laphroaig or Ardbeg whiskies. The distillery still manages a small amount of traditional floor maltings, but the majority of malted barley comes from the mainland.
Their standard range includes Bowmore Small Batch along with 12-year, 15-year, 18-year and 25-year-old expressions. Let’s take a look at their expressions.
Bowmore Small Batch
Bottled at 40% and available for a suggested price of $39.99, Bowmore Small Batch is the only non-age stated (NAS) whisky in their core lineup. It’s composed of whiskies aged in first and second fill ex-bourbon casks. The nose is a tad on the younger side, and gives soft vanilla and fruit notes under a blanket of easy going peat. The peat comes across like a bandage. Taste-wise, I get a saccharine sweetness carrying spice, vanilla, and peat. A crisp citrus note shows up in the mid-palate and follows through into the medium length finish.
After a couple of tastings, I can’t get into this expression. It tastes okay, but isn’t spectacular or memorable.
My problem isn’t the lack of age statement on the label – that never really bothers me. After all, the Scotch industry is headed that way regardless, so it’s best to get on board now.
In the case of this expression of Bowmore, I think it’s a combination of NAS and low proof. A 46% abv version of this might give this whisky a much needed shot in the arm.
The nose on this 12-year-old expression of Bowmore is a bit punchier than it’s younger NAS sibling. The peat is showcased more here, providing a slightly ashy smoke and iodine combination. There’s a nice honey note providing the sweetness, along with lemon zest. I best describe the entry as a “sweet bandage”. That may be the strangest tasting note I’ve ever written. There’s clover honey and smoky ash accompanied by vanilla. Mid-palate, lemon curd provides a tartness and creaminess to the tasting experience. The sweet/ashy/citrus finish hangs around for a few minutes. This is one of the few times the official distillery tasting notes are on par with my own tasting notes.
Bowmore 12-year-old is a much more refined and “complete” expression when compared to the Small Batch whisky. Sure it’s peaty, but this whisky retains a light and crisp quality I don’t normally associate with Islay whiskies. While it’s a nice dram, Bowmore 12 year isn’t one to dissect for an hour. Pour a glass, sip, and enjoy. A bottle should cost around $50.
Bowmore 15-Year-Old “The Darkest”
This darker colored 15-year-old expression from Bowmore is aged in a combination of ex-bourbon casks and ex-sherry casks, giving it the nickname of “The Darkest.” Also of note is the slight raise in proof – 43% abv.
Those sherry casks provide a nice fruitiness and richness on the nose. Dried fruits, vanilla, citrus and peat are the prominent aromas. Toffee provides the rich sweet note. On the palate, a quick hit of spice opens into a blast of orange zest and tropical fruit. The peat note is not as prevalent as it is in the younger Bowmore expressions. Again, the toffee note from the nose adds some sweet creaminess. An ashy smoke note turns up at the back palate going into the long finish.
Bowmore 15-year is my favorite of the bunch. I have a soft spot for sherried Islay whiskies. The sherry casks provide another layer of complexity that I think this whisky benefits from. It’s not as light in style as the Small Batch or 12-year-old, but that’s okay. This expression carries a $65 price tag, making it $15 more expensive than the 12-year-old. Totally worth it, as far as I’m concerned. Recommended!
(Note: Review samples were provided by Bowmore.)