The blog turns 2 today. My first review was of the entry-level Bowmore Legend and I marked the first anniversary last year with a review of the Bowmore 12. As I don’t have any of the 15 yo Darkest at hand, this year I have the Bowmore 18. This is a malt I haven’t had in many years now, and one that seems to get lost in the shuffle among whisky geeks (and the biggest of all whisky geeks really doesn’t like it). You don’t find people talking about this as much as about 18 yo whiskies from most other distilleries of similar stature and it rarely seems to be recommended to anyone looking for a (relatively) older bottle.
Serge’s redoubtable influence aside, some of this is, I’m sure, due to lingering phobia about older Bowmores on account of the problems of the 1980s distillate; some of it is probably due to the fact that it continues to be bottled at 43% with chill-filtration and a fake tan; and some of it is probably due to the fact that the distillery itself has been making most of its noise in recent years around limited editions like the Tempest, Laimrig and the Devil’s Casks. While these three limited editions are not NAS there does seem to be more of that now at Bowmore than ever before: the Small Batch has joined the Legend in the core range, and only one of the three new Islay beach-themed travel retail exclusives is not NAS (the White Sands 17). Well, Bowmore has been putting out a large range of whisky for some time now—there’s probably little reason to worry about middle-aged bottles disappearing.
At any rate, I want to put in a plug for this 18 yo. It deserves more attention than it gets.
Bowmore 18 (43%; from a sample received in a swap)
Name: Sweet peat with strong coastal aromas: kelp, seashells, brine, uni. There’s some ink as well and the phenols build with time. Not a lot of smoke as such, however—at least, nothing tarry or ashy. The sweetness increases as it sits, with more vanilla, and there’s a bit of wet gravel now too. With more time an ashy quality does develop and fruit begins to emerge from under it: lemon first, maybe some grapefruit, and there’s something sweeter too that I can’t quite pick. With a lot more time there’s obvious sherry (toffee, light maple and some baked goods). The darker, sherried notes expand with water.
Palate: Smokier on the palate and more acidic but it’s the sweetness that makes the strongest impression at first; not much of the coastal quality from the nose. Nice mouthfeel despite the low abv. On the second sip both the fruit and the flowers appear: lemon and just a hint of tart mango on the mid-palate, and a very restrained floral/muscatel note as it moves to the finish. With more time the coastal notes show up as well (brine, seashells) along with the ink and the fruit and the flowers become more expressive as well. With a lot more time it’s wonderfully integrated. Water jumbles the palate up a bit and brings out a slightly dirty, earthy note.
Finish: Medium-long. The floral note expands a bit but it’s the smoke that lingers the longest, getting ashier as it goes. Some salt too at the very end. As on the palate with water, with the earthy note turning mushroomy.
Comments: Very well balanced and composed; complex yet an easy-drinker. A few more abv points would give it a lot more oomph, no doubt, but it’s no anemic whisky and really builds as it sits. Though the fruit and the flowers expand with time on the palate, this has a lot more in common with its peated Islay brethren than the younger official bottles do. If you like Bowmore you should definitely check this one out. And take your time with it.
Rating: 87 points.
Thanks to Jerome for the sample!