I can’t really think of a distillery I’m more polarized on than Bowmore.
A long time back, a time when I was bushy eyed and peppy, I tried the standard OB (original bottling) offerings from Bowmore. I was underwhelmed.
After that I was one of the few lucky new whisky drinkers to try some of the cask strength offerings. Tempest and Devil’s Cask were no brainers before the taters got to them. MSRP was a no-brainer given the quality. Secondary? We don’t talk about that after grandma’s involvement with bourbon and how we’re not inheriting anything.
Then I had independent bottlings and was blown away: There were floral dominant drams from the late 80s/early 90s, and honest-to-good complex peated offerings at cask strength. I started believing that Bowmore was only ever great at cask strength, and even then, only when taken away from Bowmore themselves, what with wanting money for the CEO so he can keep up with the other CEOs who mock him for only owning one yacht.
As such I don’t write a lot about Bowmore. Wait, what am I saying, it makes me more interested in them. However… It’s also tough to get them.
See what I mean about being torn on Bowmore? I even wonder about it myself, and not in that typical way where my existential dread mixes with the current economic climate and maybe my anti-anxiety pills are starting to wear down. No, this is the good type of concern, the type that shows more of what you are.
Oh, and I was able to grab a few Bowmore samples, both of OBs and IBs, drunk purely so I could write the above and also enjoy the whisky (probably). Let’s see how it turned out, shall we?
Bowmore 25 Seagulls is a now discontinued release. It’s rare for me to go out on a limb for an older OB except as a sample. You’re paying for the bottle, there’s a certain amount of hype, and they usually aren’t cask strength.
On the other hand earlier years have distillers who were able to vat older drams, work harder, and create a whisky that didn’t require it to be cask strength. It’s hard to pick some out.
But I was able to order whisky from my local whisky pub and decided it’s been awhile since I tried something older. So we have a vatted 25-year-old batch of Bowmore from the Mid-80s or Early 90s. So while music was hitting its stride and discarding the bad synthesizers (and sadly also the good synth too) as well as some of the hair metal (that’s just a plus no matter what) this was released.
Is it worth the hype? Let’s see, shall we?
Price: € 1,100.00
Estimated Bottling: Mid-80s or Early 90s
Colour: 2.5Y 8/10
Nose: Peanut brittle, chocolate covered dried fruit, brown butter, orange rind/cardamon
Nutty and sweet, lovely fruity/roasted/chocolate notes, and some citrus/floral aspects. This has less of the strong peat note and more floral elements that we associate with this period of Bowmore.
So I’m happy so far. It’s a bit light, though the nose keeps giving so much amazing complexity that it’s worth having to take a few more minutes with it.
Taste: Perfume/dandelion, orange Pekoe tea, blueberry, brown sugar
If the other was hinting at the floral aspects of the period then the taste is screaming it from the rooftop. Given the low abv. it’s not screaming in the “this is strong” sense, and some of the complexity is hurt there. Instead of getting specific perfume notes you get more of a blend of tart, floral, and sugar notes.
So I’m frankly torn: On the one hand this is more of what I call the “Bowmore” effect. I prefer it vastly when it’s stronger. On the other it’s a lot of those floral flavours that I love, with my love of ryes that have that flavour and Lowlands.
Finish: Perfume, anise, orange, grassy, brine, dry apple, passionfruit funk
Bit more to the finish over the taste, however while it’s certainly more complex the flavours are hidden behind the lower cask strength.
So I’m happy about it while also noting it could be better. Like my terrible view of my own life leading me to anxiety and depression (insert laugh track).
Conclusion: Nose is amazing, the rest is the typical “FWP” that Bowmore is known for in this period. I wish it was strong because I think this could have been epic at cask strength. I’ve had the odd FWP Bowmore at cask strength and this seemed like it was going to be as good or better than them.
So the question is: Was this worth the hype? It’s hard to say yes. Ignoring all IBs from this period on the market I’d say it’s one of the few ways to try what the company was going for during this now notorious/legendary time. Heck it’s literally an older release from that time so I think my previous statement is totally stupid but I’m leaving it there because it’s true.
On the other hand I think I’d be happy to save the sheer amount of money and pick up a variety of old Bowmores that are cask strength and have less baggage. Right now there’s a 31-year-old one that is missing the Bowmore name that is cheaper and (supposedly based on the name) has a similar flavour profile.
It’s really your call. This has the name, it’s from the company, etc. But I don’t think it holds a candle to similar whiskies from the same period given the abv.
Thanks to /u/cake_my_day for this dram.
Bowmore 14 1989 BlackAdder Raw Cask is one of those later 80s Bowmores I was just talking about, however released as part of the charcoal chewing Raw Cask line from BlackAdder.
So we have the least possible amount of filtering possible in a younger Bowmore aged in an ex-Bourbon barrel. Which is basically my wheelhouse and a chunk of the upper deck (I guess I’m a yacht in this analogy?)
That said, I always try to have a balanced view on these things: This is from 2003, when Scotch was much more affordable. Is there a chance this was put in BlackAdder’s lap because it wasn’t up to snuff? BlackAdder isn’t totally perfect either, and perhaps I react positively to their releases from the 10s because of a change of methods or ability to pick casks.
So let’s see how this tastes, shall we?
Price: € 48
Vintage: September 21, 1989
Bottled: November 2003
Cask type: Bourbon barrel
Cask number 22536
Number of bottles: 217
Colour: 10Y 9/6
Nose: Smoked pear, dry grass, black pipe candy, papaya, lemon pith
Good development on the peat here. The earthy aspect is closer to grass, the rest has gone to anise, and all of it blends with some interesting aspects of fruit. Varies quite a bit with time, having more acidity as time goes on, but also giving tropical and smoke forward notes.
Taste: Grass, black jujube, cocoa digestives, lemon juice, pineapple
I’m starting to think if you’re not an anise or cooked fruit fan then you’re going to have a bad time here.
Man that pineapple note is awesome. That happened after letting this open up quite a bit and water added (a few drops) as well. Very surprising, I had thought I coaxed everything out of this after enjoying it for quite a long time and then it got better.
Finish: Golden syrup, pear, cinnamon, roast fennel, green banana
More spice, some simpler sweet notes and an odd starch note. None of it’s bad, though less complex than the taste and the nose. Still very nice.
Conclusion: Fruity, lovely dram. Not for people that don’t love anise. Period. Yes, it’s punching way above its age. No, it’s not a floral, overly perfumed 80s/90s Bowmore. That’s probably why it’s under the radar so much.
What this acts like is Lagavulin if they tried to make Bowmore. There’s a level of smooth peat going on with interesting complexity. The finish is fun but probably the hardest part to find anything special. If this was the norm for Bowmore then they’d be selling better than the rest of Islay in a second.
Yes, I’ve had quite a few whiskies and been lucky and privileged enough to try some rare malts. That isn’t to say I’ve had everything. In the pantheon of whisky drinkers I’m closer to a casual drinker than, say, whisky review book writers, influencers, or the very rich who can afford to visit Islay yearly for Feis Ile.
Having Feis Ile releases is not something I’ve had a lot of experience with. Yes there are some that are released outside and just say Feis Ile. There are others that are bought up and auctioned off before anyone can try it. I can honestly say I can’t name which distilleries I’ve had Feis Ile releases without checking my Excel sheet.
Enter Bowmore 15 2018 Feis Ile Collection, after checking the Bowmores I’ve had I noticed none say Feis Ile, so I’m pretty sure it is the first and only Feis Ile release from Bowmore that I’ve had. So this is some ex-first fill Oloroso sherry cask aged Bowmores with the youngest being 15-years-old Bowmore.
It’s not low alcohol, and I like sherry and peat together. So let’s see if you should have been going nuts at those online auctions or not, shall we?
Price: £ 325
Cask type: 1st Fill Oloroso Sherry
Number of bottles: 3,000
Colour: 2.5YR 2/8
Nose: Starburst, cooked apple, grass, mulch (with water), cloves
Light. Very light. Takes a long time to get much, and most of it is spice, fake/cooked fruit, and grass. No real strong sherry notes beyond some spice and fruit. No real peat.
Given this blind I’d have thought it was a maybe lightly peated OB release of an Ardmore, which isn’t bad (I like Ardmore) but we’re talking about not Bowmore here.
Taste: Black pepper sauce, raspberry, bacon, plum
Good news everyone! There’s some actual peat and sherry impact in the peated and sherry whisky! What a great idea, especially from a whisky that is hard to get!
So this isn’t the Devil’s Cask (any of the batches). It’s more a strong back and forth between the sherry casks and the peat. The few strong flavours certainly don’t leave you wanting if that’s what you’re here to drink. So that’s good.
Finish: Nori, cherry, roast corn, grass
I honestly had to ask if nori and fruit was actually a thing as I didn’t want to insult any flavour combinations that I may not be a fan of since I wasn’t raised eating it. They tell me it isn’t, and I’ll go with that.
It’s salty, strong cherry, roast corn, and grass. Some of those flavours may work well together. A mad person combined this and I can’t tell if they are 20 levels higher than me on flavours or is a crazy person who was raised in a house with no sweets or salt and now can’t taste like the rest of us.
The finish is a tad too weird here.
Conclusion: Nori wrapped fruit, for better or for worse. For me that’s worse. The nose is barely there, even with time or adding water, and doesn’t mesh with a sherry aged peated whisky.
The taste is impressive. Devil’s Cask is gone. Sherried Bowmore at cask strength is pricey. This does that, though I’d argue the company has brought out better versions (like Laimrig). Not bad though.
The finish will make you search out the lost city of Atlantis and the gigantic fiend within while screaming inconsistencies as you turn into a fish person and embrace madness. It’s unique, odd, and it didn’t work for me but maybe you’re from Illsmarsh. I won’t be fighting you for this bottle in future auctions. I’m more of a King in Yellow type at the end of the day.
Thanks to /u/bradbobaggins for sharing this dram.
Bowmore 17 1997 A.D. Rattray Cask Collection is nostalgic for me. Yes, I know I’ve said nostalgia is bullshit, you should divorce yourself from ruby coloured glasses of the past, and you should (metaphorically KYLE) kill your heroes.
Yet I missed the A.D. Rattray Cask Collection because it’s brought me joy. I may not have loved all the releases from them. I may have recommended them for a Benrinnes that was the flavour of diesel. I have a coaster stating my inability to fall down in love with a Caol Ila from this range is due to having a frozen treat instead of a tongue.
So while I hadn’t had this cask strength, sherry matured Bowmore single cask I can’t help but feel a bit nostalgic when picking among Cask Collections was a fun activity that didn’t cost an arm and a leg and probably a chunk of your liver.
So did I pick correctly this time? Or did I find another one I don’t appreciate enough, or is filled with crayons and diesel again? Let’s see, shall we?
Vintage: April 30, 1997
Bottled: September 15, 2014
Cask type: Sherry Butt
Cask Number: 900017
Number of bottles: 265
Colour: 5Y 8/8
Nose: Hard candy dish, anise, birch sap, smoke, pineapple cake
Lots of sweet, some spice, some woody notes, and some smoke. It’s a fun dram to nose as it really takes time to appreciate this one. Also it eventually hands you some pineapple cake and if you haven’t had pineapple cake then what are you doing? Oh, diabetes, I’m sorry, my bad.
Let’s move on before I embarrass myself more.
Taste: Caramel apple, oak, anise, butter, plantain
Strong caramel apple note. That good bite you get when you still have the caramel as part of it, before you’re standing there eating an apple on a stick like that one uncoordinated kid who always had an eye patch.
Butter, anise, and an odd starchy note mixed with tropical. Keeps you hooked, though I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a bit less complex than the nose.
Finish: Brine, toffee, BBQ brisket, coffee, sesame
Salt goes with… toffee, briket, and some seed/nuttiness? Hells yes. Whoever picked this one needs to talk to the people who grabbed the Feis Ile and made it.
It’s complex, it’s tasty, it doesn’t quite hit insane levels of layers but frankly I just keep going back to it.
Conclusion: Man I miss these releases. I really do. Luckily some of them were bad, and I can reconcile that they all weren’t as good as this one. So I guess I can say if you find this, you should grab it.
Why? The finish and the nose. The fact that a good sherry cask is hard to find. Especially with peated whisky. There’s quality whisky here that you should try. It’s lightyears ahead of what OB Bowmore typically delivers.
Have I learned anything? Most of this has not really changed my mind on Bowmore. I’m still wary, but I feel when it works, it works really really well.
Scotch review #1459-62, Islay review #390-393, Whisky Network review #2154-57