Whisky Odyssey
Old-fashioned with a twist of the modern 

Fruity character: the proud signature of Bowmore

On our tasting round along all the Islay classics, we have arrived at the oldest and dare I say most spectacular distillery on the island. This one has it all, the story, the famous warehouses, and bottlings that are the obsession of many. Who has not heard of the Black Bowmore, almost singlehandedly responsible for the flippers market that is so thriving today? The tropical Bowmore from the late 60s. The Bowmore Bouquet 1966, anyone? But Bowmore is also known for having a dark age. Anyone who ever tasted something from an 80s vintage knows what I mean.

But that's the past. Since 1990, Bowmore has been going from strength to strength. Always with this gentle signature of peat, without being a peat monster. Instead, a good dose of tropical fruitiness snuck in, and proprietary bottlings and independents alike have gained quite the reputation. There are even some modern-day vintages to look out for. I already quaffed some nice 1995 and 1997, which of course become now out of reach, pricewise. That is not weird since those years are creeping up to the 30s, too.

So, with all this in mind, what is the good old 12 years old like these days? Well, first of all, I am saddened to read on the label that this flagship expression is bottled at the weakest abv strength. Just like the standard Laphroaig. Let's see what we have to work with. As a bonus, we also taste a single cask bottled by The Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

Bowmore 12 years old, bottled at 40 % abv

Makeup: Matured in American and Spanish oak, colour adjusted with caramel.

General impressions: Okay, I am not fooling you, but this is already incredibly fruity on the nose. Tropical and rich. Very impressive. The liquid has no trouble being very fragrant at this abv and is therefore very easy to nose. The peat has a very subtle presence. I have become truly curious about the taste now. We let the aroma develop. It turns towards salted tea bags. Is that a thing?

My enthusiasm is only slightly dampened after taking a sip. It is indeed a little weakish, but you forget about that soon enough when the flavours burst loose on your tongue. The finish is really full of added value as well, giving off brine and saltiness, dark chocolate and chocolate-dripped oranges. This at 46 % abv would be a homerun with every bottle. I would stock up. As it is, one might turn a blind eye to that dreaded 40 %.

Conclusion: A different face on an Islay whisky. Where the Kildalton Coast distilleries fully play the peat card, Bowmore puts a lot of trust in the fruity spirit. Works like a charm. In a weird way, it reminds me of the Glen Garioch I tasted recently. Over the top fragrancy and leaning towards the honeyed, lavender side. This Bowmore is equally talkative, with the cask influences really dialled back in this expression. No-brainer if you look at price-quality ratio.

Score: 87 points
Disclaimer: taken from a sample acquired from Whiskysite.nl.

Bowmore 2004, 17 years old, bottled as 3.333 by the SMWS, at 56,7 % abv

Makeup: The 333rd Bowmore bottled by SMWS and this time a 2004 vintage distilled at 16 February. The rather tongue-in-cheek title of the bottle is “Slowly Forgetting the 1980s”. Does this mean we will still pick up an aroma sliver of French Whore Perfume (FWP) and soapy notes? This Bowmore matured in a second fill ex-bourbon cask and after 17 years that produced 268 bottles.

General impressions: A very mature and contemplative whisky. Notes of freshly cut grass, delicate peat, the smell of ‘enhanced’ water in a jar, you know, where they throw in cucumbers and lemons and the sort. So, in short, remindful of a Summer day. Also, a fruity sweetness combined with breaded aroma.

Ah yes, the title is well chosen, because you could say it hints toward a soapy note, but it does not quite tumble over the edge. And that is a very sharp edge to balance on. In this case it makes for an astoundingly sweet and fresh drinking experience. Tasty stuff, a bit dry, but the wood influence is very moderate, due to the state of the cask I presume.

Time in the glass makes this Bowmore really bloom open. And the taste turns toward a more flowery note too. I fear that putting in a drop of water will push it over into dreaded territory, but we must since the abv is quite high so there might be secrets hidden here. No horrors are revealed! Good swimmer, now a bit more friendly, but all in all the water can stay in the jar.

Conclusion: A good, naked Bowmore, where the peat is subdued and making place for gardenlike notes. Hints of the past are there, as the name suggests, but all by its own this Bowmore also manages to creep up to a very decent score.

Score: 87 points
Disclaimer: self-bought sample from a share with friends.

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