Well, well, well. This was a pleasant surprise, to say the least. The past few bottles of Bowmore 18 I’ve bumped heads with have been grossly underwhelming. And no, sorry…I’ve not kept track of bottle codes, batches or years of those particular incarnations. Suffice it to say that this bottle is definitely much more in my wheelhouse. Much more harmonious and multi-dimensional.
The biggest criticisms I’ve levied at Bowmore have been reserved for the period of production that encapsulated most of the 1980s and 90s and which seemed to carry an overwhelming floral edge to it. I’ve heard it referred to as a hint of lavender or lilac, but either way…it was a departure from the smoked fruits that once made Bowmore so magical in the eyes of many of my mates and I. Fortunately, recent iterations seem to be veering back towards those less perfumed profiles that balance a sweet tang and deep, smoky complexity.
I think it might actually be worth digging a little deeper into this Bowmore phenomenon of fruit versus floral, but that’s a piece for another day. For now let’s be content just curling up with a seductive and smoky whisky from Islay’s oldest distillery.
Bowmore sits pretty much middle of the pack in terms of peating levels of the island’s malts; much bolder than Bunna or Laddie (standard releases at least), but lacking the bombast of others such as Ardbeg, Laphroaig or Lagavulin. I believe the oft-quoted phenol levels for Bowmore are around 25 ppm. It should be noted that when we talk about peaty ppm, we’re almost always referring to the phenolic levels in the malted barley prior to distillation. Phenols are rarely measured in the glass after distillation and maturation.
Bowmore 18 boasts pretty much what I’d expect in terms of profile for a mature Islay malt (well…this bottling does anyway). And by that I mean a receding – yet omnipresent and held-in-check – smokiness and an abundance of emerging sweet fruity notes. This is oceanside campfires, seaspray and grape juice. I’m guessing this is a marriage of bourbon and sherry barrels. Nice blending here. If only it were stronger in terms of bottling strength.
Overall, a much improved Bowmore 18, and more in line with the jammy fruits that characterize recent sherried Bowmore releases like Laimrig and the Maltman’s Selection. And to say it again…thankfully a departure from the florals. Nice to see this one coming back to something like its former glory. A ‘most improved’ candidate, to be sure.
Nose: Smoky grape juice. A sweet citrus note. The tiniest hint of sweet BBQ sauce. A hint of licorice and coffee. Somewhat jammy (raspberry-ish?). A nice rising fruitiness and ebbing peat. Good balance, and better than I remember this one being. How ’bout a concoction of cola with a drop or two of both cherry and vanilla and a light dusting of pepper. Yep.
Palate: A great smoky, jammy note right up front. A hefty dollop of peat (more than expected and more than the nose belies). Some orange. Anise. Slightly medicinal. Leaves a drying, wet rock feeling. Nice mix of fruit and smoke.
Thoughts: A little closer to the Bowmore of old, and I like that. A LOT.
– Reviewed by: Curt
– Photo: Curt
Interesting! Another surprisingly good review of relatively recent Bowmore.
Having tasted and bought some Laimrig, Devils cask, and various Tempest batches, I’m thinking its probably a good time to stock up while Bowmore prices remain relatively attractive – probably due to low demand among geeks following the “bad years”. The 18 year old retails for less than lagavulin 16, and considerably less than most other 18’s.
You in agreement, then? Recent Bowmore (like the ones you’ve listed) seem to have turned a corner. Loving it.
I poured a dram of this (bottled +/- 2012) to sip as I read your review. We’re not enjoying the same whisky. Everything yours is, mine isn’t. I find that your and my engines normally click along on the same cylinders, but not this time. I’m sure it’s my bottling. You said, “fruitiness” and I’m smelling/tasting big, too-sweet flowers. You said, “drying” and mine’s anything but. Funny how the batches run so different, although they don’t acknowledge that fact. Perhaps Rachel Barrie has made some very good changes in her role, having been appointed master blender (likely) after my bottle was filled. I’m certainly encouraged by your review.
Ok change drams. Around the “holidays” I found this bottle of 17 yo (likely bottled 1997-2004, based on its label). I’d never been exposed to Bowmore’s oft-criticized FWP whiskies and wondered if this might be one. Oh, it most certainly must be. Now I ‘get’ what everyone’s talking about. Wow. Makes my 18 yo seem nearly palatable.
I poured a glass of Kilchoman Original Cask Strength to cleanse my palate. Whew! Back to reality.
This bottle was bought mid to late 2014. But I’m entirely with you. The earlier ones I tried were all just as you described. I think Rachel’s influence probably DOES have something to do with it. Recent Bowmore profiles have balanced smoke and sweet in a way that sort of reminds me of Uigeadail et al from Ardbeg. These malts were, of course, produced under her watchful eye (nose?).
Would love to try that 17 you mention.
And, man…that Kilchoman Original Cask Strength is a beast, isn’t it? Did you get to try the Port Cask?
I hadn’t made the connection: Rachel’s departure from LVMH and the recently noted declining quality of Uigy and Corry. Hmmmm.
Bar none, Kilchoman is my favorite distillery. Consistently great releases, most especially the single cask releases and other stuff bottled at higher strengths. I love the beasts, and they’re always scarily drinkable.
We did have the Port Cask (55%) — stunning! and simply delicious. Gorgeous grapey color too. It was gone before we could say Kilchoman. I was nervous about bringing it in because we had tried a “prototype” in January 2014 that was pretty awful. Now I simply can’t wait for the Madiera Cask that will be out late this year, according to the distillery’s site.