I received this Bowmore 13 in a swap with my friend Rich in St. Paul who is a few levels above me in the whisky geek universe: while he sits on the Jedi council, I am still trying to get this glass to move a few inches over so I don’t have to get up. This was a special release from Bowmore a couple of years ago and is a vatting of five sherry butts that matured in Bowmore’s legendary No. 1 Vaults, under sea-level and right up against the Atlantic.
I would not normally post an extended review of a whisky I’ve only had one ounce of, as I don’t have the chops to really get as much out of that volume of whisky as some can. Plus, I normally prefer to taste any whisky I review twice and that means only 15 ml each time to spend a lot of time with and try neat and with water. I know there are many people (Rich among them) who can do it, but I am easily distracted. However, this Bowmore is very intense and a little went a long way–I was able to write down detailed enough notes from the one outing.
Bowmore 13, 1995 “Maltmen’s Selection” (54.6%, vatting of five sherry butts; from a sample acquired in a swap)
Nose: A lovely nutty, raisiny aroma–lovely sherry but not terribly Bowmore at first sniff. With a little air here come the coastal notes: sea shells (I don’t really know what they smell like but this made me think of sea shells), salt, a bit of a damp campfire on the beach. A little cocoa powder too (that’s the sherry again) and a damp canvas bag in front of a fire. With more time, some ink and wet clay as well. But I’m still not getting the trademark Bowmore lavender and violets. (Oh wait, I may be talking myself into it, but I think do get a whiff of lavender under the chunky sherry. No, I think I was imagining it.) With more time, the chocolatey note expands and there’s also something savoury/meaty. With more time and air there’s some orange peel in there too now. A few small drops of water really get the citrus to sing: tangerines, 60% chocolate (yes, I’m going to be that specific) and some leather too. A touch of iodine too now.
Palate: Dark sherried goodness first and then there’s the smoke, bright and acidic, wafting around. And there’s some very concentrated fruit in there too along with some dark chocolate. Some ginger too and a nice pepperiness. More smoke and ink with time. Let’s see if water releases more of the fruit. Oh, yes, yes, with water there’s lime peel and preserved lemon–with little bursts of salt crystals; I swear it’s beginning to smell a bit like a home-made lime pickle with lots of fenugreek, coriander seed and asafoetida.
Finish: Long. Smoke and chocolate–the chocolate getting darker as it goes. A little tannic grip towards the end. With time gets more salty and smoky. Water makes the chocolate ascendant again and makes it milkier.
Comments: Wow, this is quite the ride, and really not very Bowmore at all. By which I mean only that this is perhaps the only Bowmore I’ve had that does not exhibit that trademark lavender/floral note that I associate so completely with Bowmores of the 1990s. If I had had the opportunity to buy this when it was available I probably would have passed as it was rather extravagantly priced for a 13 yo. I don’t know if that would have been a wise decision though. This is really quite excellent. Just a little tropical fruit bursting through the sherry and I might have got a little carried away with the score. Thanks, Rich!
Rating: 90 points.