Bowmore is one of Islay’s distillation underdogs. It’s less peaty, and therefore less gushed over by the whisky community versus its heavy-hitting neighbours. And like Bruichladdich, it has a lot of expectations to overcome when using the word “Islay” to describe itself.
However don’t let its massively understated packaging and design fool you (the “Laphroaig” school of branding, no doubt). Bowmore have truly mastered the art of malt blending and produce some of the most expertly balanced single malts money can buy.
I got a sampler pack of the 12, 15 and 18, and did them all side-by-side in a sitting. Starting with the 12, we have an (allegedly) entirely first-fill bourbon matured spirit bottled at 43%. Hit it!
First whiff gives you Bowmore’s brand of utterly unique peat – a rich, floral, slightly medicinal barbeque smoke. Really great. There’s a grainy, cornflakes vibe going on here – not negative at all – and a honeyed sweetness, some fresh cut grass and good dose of Glenfiddich apples. It’s vaguely reminiscent of The Balvenie, but smokier. And better.
Deeeeelish. Initially peatier than the subsequent sips, and likely too smoked for the peat-deniers. It softens with a little time in the glass. Fresh fruits (green bananas?), grass, charcoal. Not an easy drinking dram – a little hot, “raw” tasting. Like Compass Box could take this and blend it into something earth-shattering. But for whisky nerds it’s a real treat of a 12 – robust and chunky, unlike the wussy 12s from other distilleries. The finish is really exceptional – gut warming and medicinal, an easy alternative to Strepsils.
Cucumber. If you like your whisky tasting like cucumber, add some water to Bowmore 12. That being said, it’s not a huge change, but you do get a sort of watery vegetable taste at the back of the throat that some might enjoy. I’m not a fan 🙂
A no-brainer of a 12. While I might be tempted more towards Highland Park’s “unique peat matured for 12 years” equivalent, Bowmore puts up some seriously stiff competition. Great value too!