The scotch whisky industry is awash with rules. Some are written. Others are not.
Tradition plays a huge part in the scotch business and certain names command certain traditions. Nowadays, when you say Islay, you’re pretty much gonna think of peat. When you think of core range releases, you’re gonna think 12, 15, and 18 year olds. When you think of sherry casks, you’re gonna think dark fruity drams. Bowmore hits all of those points. And why wouldn’t it? It has (officially) been making scotch whisky since 1779. There is no doubt that they are one of the players that has set the bar.
Having recently dropped the Vaults No.1 no-age-statement release, the Bowmore core range has returned to that classic 12, 15, 18 line-up along with a 25 year old. Despite that structure, the 18 year old remains a limited batch product and so it can be hard to come by – at the time of writing there are only 2 available on the Master of Malt site, for example.
The 18 year old humbly describes itself as a “masterful combination of gentle peat smoke laced with tropical fruits” and it features 65% solely Bourbon Barrel matured Bowmore, with the remaining 35% having been matured in first fill Oloroso European Oak Butts for the sherry portion.
All elements are matured for the requisite minimum 18 years and are brought together in the bottle at 43% ABV, currently retailing around £105-115 per 70cl bottle (should you be able to find it).
A slightly perfumed / piercing wood fire smoke at first but it tapers off with time into soft smoke and maritime smells and reveals some flirty citrus, rich toffee, oak, almond nuttiness, and a final nutmeg spice.
The campfire smoke arrived first on a good silky body. Then there’s little fruity bursts of orange, lemon, and pineapple(?). That toffee note is back again with some chocolate and vanilla. Heat comes from a warming stem ginger spice. There’s a final little tartness too like a lime flavour or something reminiscent of a pickle back.
A final peppery zizzle with touches of citrus, smoke, and a bittersweet tingle.
Its components may have lay dormant in casks for 18+ years but it collectively still remains pretty vibrant. There are lots of influences all melded together: citrus sharpness, puckering pineapple sweetness, and light charcoal smokiness. If I had tasted this blind and you had told me that this was 12 years old, I’d have believed you. Really citrusy and enough fruitiness to make you think it’s old but when compared to the 12yo, there is enough maturation and cask influence that it does feel like the edges have been rounded off.
Some people love it off the bat, but I think it needs more time to unwind. It just seems to keep changing in the glass. That sort of pickle kick and bitterness is not something I usually look for – but it works well with the char and oak notes.
Despite being 43% it puts up very little actual fight in the glass – the heat from the alcohol complements the oak spice well and remains a silky sipper.
I know that there are super fans of Bowmore and of this expression. I enjoyed it a lot. I’m not sure that I’d ever part with £100+ for a full bottle of it though, to be honest. Just personal preference. I would definitely buy another one at a bar though were it on the shelf.
First time around, I was expecting a tannic peat fest but it delivers so much more and seems to keep evolving! It is a comforting, warming Islay Single Malt without being a total peat brick to the head and I was pleasantly surprised by just how fresh and vibrant this remains for its 18 years.
Sample disclosure: This sample and the beer were received as part of a Bowmore Tweet Tasting event run by The Whisky Wire. All notes are intended as an honest, fair, and independent review of the whisky and beer, and not as a promotion. Please drink responsibly. Please drink wisely.
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