Following on in alphabetical order from Ardbeg, is one of the oldest distilleries on Islay and in Scotland, Bowmore. I have a bit of a thing going for Bowmore at the moment, entirely due to IBs and single casks, as I find the OB expressions a little tired compared to the glory that’s coming out of of the independents. I was going to put the OBs in here (Tempest, which I’ve always thought was excellent, and Devil’s casks, which I’ve always thought was overrated although correctly priced by Bowmore) but I’ll save them for another post. There are just so many Bowmores to try, particularly with SMWS releasing at least one every month. The ones in this vertical are just from the open bottles I have on the shelf, there’s plenty more waiting to open (and many already reviewed on this blog).
I’ve found it really interesting to try these single casks side by side, and noting the effect of cask and age. Mid teens Bowmore is a feisty, intense but balanced thing, and the sweetness takes over from about 22 onwards but sometimes nudges in earlier. It’s a lovely progression too. There’s little chance of me running out of SMWS Bowmore now (for life, I suspect), but let’s look at some other stuff first...
Bowmore - Feis Ile 2014, 56.1% A+
There were two FI bottlings released in 2014, this (£50) and the 1989 Vintage (£350). Old Bowmore is so outrageously expensive from the distillery! This, more reasonably priced NAS bottle is from first fill American oak bourbon barrels.
Body - Sweet citrus toffee and quite intense peat. Caramel, some cardboard, quite sour, some yellow peppers and Szechuan peppercorn. With water, the pepper and pineapple starts to come through and it unlocks the higher quality Bowmore lurking inside.
Finish - Lingering toffee and a light numbing edge of peat. Good citrus development with some furniture wax and Asian notes.
What’s not good about it - Lacking the beauty and interest of the single cask Bowmore I’ve been drinking, but certainly makes up for it with a young, bitter Islay kick.
What’s good about it - It’s got balance and restraint, this whisky isn’t awkward or improperly integrated, and there are older notes of pineapple and brine in here. I like the numbing at the end and the Asian citrus notes on the nose.
Bowmore 14: Mashmen’s Selection, 1999, 55.7% A⊕
Thanks to Johnnie Stumbler for the sample!
Nose - Lovely, unexpectedly waxy and sweet with a pinch in the nose of salted lemons and jellied eels with white pepper. Intensely Islay with a creamy edge. With water, more men’s deodorant comes through and some dried bananas - and loads of toffee pennies
Body - The retronasal thing is surprisingly intense - eyewatering citrus and cereal spice. A light, sulphured balancing edge of fresh pine boards. Water takes the edge off this and leaves you with more low spec Bowmore. I prefer it neat.
Finish - Vanilla custard, pastry, almonds. Where did they come from? Long and creamy and starts the whole thing off again. Textbook. Water shows up the sulphur character and opens up some more numbing peat.
What’s not good about it - Quite crazy with the sharp notes in the nose and initial delivery, like someone dropped a bottle of smelling salts in the cask. But I can forgive it as, like putting vinegar on your chips, it makes the whole experience lip smacking and even more tasty.
What’s good about it - What a characterful, different but very Bowmore-y Bowmore. Loved this.
Bowmore Handfilled 1998 5th Edition, Bordeaux Wine Barrique, 57.1% A⊕+
Nose - Ripe, beautifully rounded, gentle peat, freshly cut oak tree, toffee apples and wham bar. Wax crayon, glace cherries, matchmakers. Seriously delicious. With water, apricots and frangipane, cumin and fig rolls.
Body - Sweeter and darker than Devils Casks, but with an unexpectedly savoury edge from the wine cask and none of the catching in the back of the throat. The intense peat is apparent now in the delivery and balanced by the sweet wine notes and that top of mouth musk that’s also apparent in the Glenmorangie Companta. If you’ve had that, this isn’t far off a Bowmore version. With water, a little more wet cardboard and a little less of that red wine funk. Still wonderful.
Finish - Long, very enjoyable with balanced sweetness and wood throughout, gentle peat and lots of oils. Splendid stuff.
What’s not good about it - Red wine finishes are a divisive thing and if you don’t like them, you won’t appreciate the delivery on this.
What’s good about it - But everyone should love the nose on this. Wonderful musky sweetness and bonfires, salty and musky, and great intensity, complexity and interest in the delivery. Lovely.
Now some of the glut of amazing SMWS Bowmores I’ve been buying every month. I now cover these with proper, monthly tasting notes (which I’ve recently made a lot more proper than the one liners I was using before), but these have been on my shelf for a little while.
SMWS 3.193, Bowmore, Baby-faced arsonist, 14 years old, 57.7% A⊕
Refill sherry, 601 bottles. There was a lovely run of refill sherry teenage Bowmores last year, some of the best whiskies of the year. Photo credit to Matt at Guildford Whisky for the photo below – I gave my bottle to the guy I split it with.
Body - Sweet poached pears, and charred driftwood. Lovely perfumed musk. Seriously delicious. With water, less elusive but less complex and elegant too.
Finish - Long but gentle, a beautiful delivery of gentle peat and toffee.
What’s not good about it - Not the biggest blockbuster from 2014s Bowmores - quite polite really.
What’s good about it - Fresh and young, elegant and complex, excellent integration and beautifully presented. Cool name too, although doesn’t really match the profile of the whisky.
SMWS 3.194, Bowmore, Surf and Turf BBQ, 14 years old, 58.3% A⊕+
Refill sherry, thousands of 10cl bottles. This is one of the bottles in the surf and turf BBQ might mini 4 packs they were selling with a Springbank, an Ardbeg and a Laphroaig. At 60 quid for 40cl it’s a little pricey but look at the cast - and they’re all amazing.
Nose - Intense. Silky sulphur, spiky sherry and fruits - peach, overripe apple, pips. And granite, with lemon peat and long pickled Turkish chillies. It’s an epic nose, and I can see why they picked it for a 10cl bottle. I’d be tempted to buy 7 mini sets for 420 quid if they hadn’t all sold ages ago - hmm... Lots of toffee, lots of bright granite, wet rope and such beautiful sherry. Surely I can pick up another pack at auction!
Body - Intense. This is what the Devil’s Casks should have been and no doubt some of them were. Immediate bright, retronasal sulphur, matchsticks and chewed aspirin. Perfect sulphur and fruit, slightly fizzing, musky and complex. And so balanced, well integrated and juicy.
Finish - Long, sweet sulphur, insistent malted barley, and structured sherry. Balanced and epic.
What’s not good about it - Doesn’t come in 70cl bottles - or 1.5L magnums for that matter.
What’s good about it - A perfect sherried Bowmore. Just the right age to be bold, feisty and insistent. An excellent sherry cask providing the perfect balance of wood, sherry and structure. Sign me up for another mighty mini pack!
SMWS 3.221, Bowmore, Starry, starry night, 19 years old, 54.2% A⊕
Refill sherry, 538 bottles.
Nose - Just on the turn from teenager to mid-twenties lavender bomb. That intense dusty sweetness is starting to develop, alongside some fresh pine planks, rope and smouldering oak chunks. With water, an interesting and refreshing note of green apple.
Body - Intensely sweet, spicy and musky peat. Light parmas and red laces. Perfectly balanced between fizzing, bright peat, aged refreshers and intense Islay sweetness. Water develops the dusty parmas a little more. With time, just the most intense vanilla cream and pastry thing going on, particularly smelled side by side with the bourbon Bowmore below (3.232).
Finish - Very long, musky, quite spicy, wooded and coastal. It’s a little cloying actually, a single duff note in what is otherwise a total blockbuster. What saves it though, is a single note of elegant sulphur. Eventually, and particularly with water, you’re left with the echo of intense parma violets, and you can see exactly where this would go if you gave it another 7 years in cask...
What’s not good about it - That the sweetness is cloying in the finish, a bit. More age would integrate that better. Not enormously complex.
What’s good about it - Intense and delicious, well balanced and very drinkable. Also a fascinating look at the development of a Bowmore, particularly compared to the 14 year old 3.193 above.
SMWS 3.217, Bowmore, A delicatessen shopping basket, 16 years old, 55.6% A⊕
Refill sherry, 609 bottles. There was gallons of this sloshing around at one point last year and it was given away as a sweetener on joining. I’ve had a few bottles of this go through the books here and these are the last drams of this particular bottle.
Nose - Elegant, mineral, sweet fried tomatoes, tomato leaf, BBQ pork, driftwood, Marlboro lights and yesterday’s charcoal. It’s the balance between sweet vegetal notes, mineral peat and coastal that makes this so compelling. There’s a lovely light dose of the intensity that makes Devil’s Casks good in here too. With water, fresher ozone and sweeter.
Body - No mistaking this bottle’s provenance. Intensely spicy Islay, loads of toffee, mussels on the rope and burnt wood. A note of dusty parmas and sulphur. But then that long, uniquely Bowmore delivery (you know what I mean).
Finish - Long, juicy, tannic toffee and drying. Quite a lot of (good) sulphur in here, lurking, which develops over time.
What’s not good about it - If I’m being strict, it’s a little obvious\brash compared to some here.
What’s good about it - A very good, representative, refill sherry Bowmore. Young (comparatively) but balanced, and delicious.
Comparing this to the 19 year old 3.221, this is obviously younger but less complex. Still delicious though. That much sweeter, fizzing parma note on the 3.221 puts it into a different league though.
SMWS 3.225, Bowmore, Galleon attacked by pirates, 16 years old, 57.2% A⊕+
Refill butt, 617 bottles. This one really cemented my love for teenage sherry Bowmore. This is actually the first whisky I’ve reviewed three times - the first was in the “micro notes” for it’s outturn, and the second time was at the SMWS game and whisky event. Neither set of notes is complete enough! I’ve had two bottles of this, the first got split up and my remnant is almost gone. The second is sitting in the archive for deep-future-use. Kind of wish I had another...
Nose - Dark-spicy-sweet-vinegar on the nose immediately, quite arresting and very bright Bowmore. Intensely, insistently Bowmore in fact - like distilled Bowmore. Peated travel sweets on an old, wet, oak floorboard. Bright, balanced, rich cereal and salt and vinegar crisps (Pret a Manger salt and cider vinegar to be precise). Toe curlingly intense and exciting. With water, cleaner and sweeter, with floral hops, musky wax, cap gun ammo and just a hint of fizzers.
Body - Massive. Spicy oak and fresh peated cereal, bright fruit (ripe pear) and toffee right at the front of the tongue - tastes completely right.
Finish - Long, numbing, Szechuan peppercorns (which did go well with the Asian ribs at the game event), and lingering peat and fermenting wash.
What’s not good about it - This isn’t luxurious. You don’t pick up a 16 year old Bowmore asking for luxury though.
What’s good about it - Everything that’s wonderful about Bowmore. Fresh, rich, intense, sweet and has a right-ness that I think proves that sometimes, you just get very lucky with a cask of whisky and it comes together perfectly. You couldn’t plan this.
SMWS 3.232, Bowmore, An Outdoor Life for Me, 18 years old, 57.2% A+
Refill bourbon, 197 bottles. Fancy label (“to celebrate the whisky and game season”) – this was released shortly before SMWS changed their design agency and now have significantly simpler styling (which I like more, personally). Briefly mentioned here on this blog before.
Nose - Sweet air and countryside - maybe it’s the suggestive label! Refreshers, light peat, really quite sweet but no lavender on the nose (maybe the sherry brings that out?), just the fizzing sweets. Some men’s deodorant, a bit of public toilet (not in a bad way, more of a cold way - cold air blowing through a pine cleaned loo), freshly sanded oak, grass and earth.
Body - Intense: sweet, earthy, fiery peat and now the parmas. Juicy, dusty and very, very sweet. With water, much less robust and more politely presented.
Finish - Medium, intensity drops down a little, some sulphur. Bitter tannins (but not unwelcome) with water.
What’s not good about it - Just not as interesting as other SMWS Bowmores of late. Less complexity and not so well presented. Stiff competition amongst its peers though.
What’s good about it - Still a very competent Bowmore, zesty, very Islay and fun to drink. I’d happily settle down with a bottle of this in front of a good film.
Next time (if I can ever stop adding to it), the kings of expression degeneracy, Bruichladdich.