Bowmore 15, 1990 (James MacArthur)

Bowmore 15 (James MacArthur)
I continue my daring exploration of Bowmores from the fringes of their dangerous period with this 15 yo from 1990. Will this provide further support for my hypothesis that the problems at Bowmore had largely cleared up as early as 1990? Let’s see (and please keep in mind that my experience of this period is very limited compared to most geeks).

This is the last of three James MacArthur bottles split with Michael K. and Florin (who, as you may recall, is the sheriff of a small community in the Inland Empire and the author of such novels as Gravity’s Rainbow and The Crying of Lot 49). This review is also being simulposted with Michael’s at Diving for Pearls. [And here now is the link to Michael’s review.]

Bowmore 15, 1990 (51.1%; James Macarthur; cask 1168; from a bottle split with friends)

Nose: Clean, slightly minerally peat at first, then some acidic smoke. With more time and air the smoke intensifies a bit and there’s some pepper and then expanding fruit: ripe melon, grapefruit, some lime and also some hints of mango. Very nice. With a lot of time and air there’s some salt and also a faint soapiness. With water the lime expands but there’s also a buttery/vanilla note.

Palate: Ashy smoke first and then all that fruit from the nose hits, the lime first, the sweeter stuff close on its heels. Some salt follows. The texture is a little thin. Hmmm with time the soapiness that earlier emerged on the finish seems to show up a little earlier. Let’s see what water does: well, it does push the soapy thing back and brings out more of the ash and the sweeter, more tropical fruit. Wait, with more time the soap comes back again.

Finish: Medium-long. Smoky, fruity, salty. The floral/muscatel notes reminiscent of Darjeeling tea that I often find in Bowmore show up here. There’s a mild soapy bitterness that develops late but it’s not particularly off-putting. With water the smoke turns ashy and hangs around a while.

Comments: Patrick, who occasionally comments here, tipped me off about this bottle and said his initial take on it was “cask strength Bowmore 12”. He’s not off, but there’s far more fruit here than in the 12. I liked it a lot at first despite the lack of intensity on the palate and the general lack of development, but I wish the soapiness had stayed as muted as it was at first. Still, it’s not off-puttingly soapy neat (you might not notice it at all if you drink it at a rapid clip) and water does mostly fix it. You have to fiddle to get the water just right though–it needs more than a few drops.

Rating: 83 points. (At various points over the course of drinking it it fluctuates between 80 and 86 points.)

10 thoughts on “Bowmore 15, 1990 (James MacArthur)

  1. Hmmm this one we do seem to be far apart on. I did get soap–not very much but just enough to make me unable to not notice it on each subsequent sip. And I did get some floral notes on the finish. I do agree that it’s very peaty and smoky but I focused more on the fruit, which I seem to have got more of than you. It’ll be an interesting one to go back to, that’s for sure.

    I don’t know if it’s apparent from the review but it’s actually an amalgamation of two sets of notes. The first was taken when the bottle was freshly opened, and that’s when I got more of the soap. On the second occasion, a few weeks later I liked it more and got far less soap but couldn’t shake it in my head. I don’t think it approached the high 80s at any point for me though.


    • Looks like our notes get closer once water is added. And I’ve noticed that increased oxidation does mellow out the farmier aspects.

      Had I found all those fruits too, my review may have turned into a song in praise of James MacArthur. But you’ve also gotten me thinking about the soap part. I think, similar to you, when I notice a little bit of soap in a whisky I can’t not think about the soap going forward.


  2. I’ll have to try this again soon, notes in hand.

    I got ashy smoke with some very ripe melons, lapsang souchong with honey and lemon. Easy drinking (for a CS Islay), and no development. And no soapiness or rubber!

    I agree it’s a little boring and that’s why I never went back for a 2nd bottle (that, and I’m trying to cut down on repeat purchases).


      • You might recall that I’d said that the cork fragmented as I opened the bottle to divvy it up. Perhaps more cork fragments survived in your portion and somehow removed the soapiness that I got….Well, I’m going to have to try it over and over again to see if I mark it as much each time. It’s a hard life.


  3. I hope that you didn’t pour all the good whisky from the bottle into Michael’s share, and that some was left for mine too, oh, Our Most Respected and Beloved Leader, Chairman Mao. Once my whisky hiatus ends in a week I will be able to arbitrate this dispute. Until then – you’re on your own!


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