Talk about Bowmore’s notorious period in the 1980s seems to have largely died down these days. As you doubtless know, their distillate then was very often marred by an extremely perfumed and soapy character, the cause of which was never accounted for (indeed the distillery never acknowledged it). I’ve noted before that in my view this period more or less ends by 1989, and that by the distillation years of 1990/91 Bowmore is no longer a chancy proposition. Others put the boundary line a bit later, but there’s general agreement now on there being a Bowmore renaissance in the 1990s.
Recently, however, I’ve had some bad luck again with some bottles from casks filled at the end of the decade. No, it’s not the perfumed thing again, and it may just be bad luck, but I’ve come across a few that exhibit an astringent soapiness on the palate and finish. This 15 yo from 1998 is one of them; next month I’ll be reviewing a 7 yo from 2000 that also has it. I don’t mean to start a new hysteria about Bowmore—which remains one of my favourite distilleries—but I am interested to hear if others have encountered this as well in any consistent manner. I welcome corroboration in the comments and I especially welcome a rubbishing of the notion by those who’ve had a larger random sampling of Bowmores from this general period.
Bowmore 15, 1998 (55.2%; Chester Whisky; bourbon hogshead; from a purchased sample)
Nose: Light, vinegary smoke at first but then it turns peppery and there’s growing notes of both ham on the one hand and fruit on the other (melon). Increasingly briny too and there’s some vanilla/custard as well. With more time this is very reminiscent of uni/sea urchin roe. With a lot more time lemon is the top note. Water wakes the smoke back up (not that it’s very intense) but there’s more vanilla too now.
Palate: Starts out with brine and a burst of peppery lemon but gives way quickly to fruit (melon, ripe peach, a hint of mango). More smoke on the second sip but also a mildly astringent note (glycerine; not a whole lot though). Mouthfeel is a little thin. Gets sweeter as it goes but the fruit doesn’t really gain in intensity. With more time there’s more lemon and some prickly, minerally peat. Water makes it fuller and a bit fruitier but that astringent note expands as well.
Finish: Short-medium. The fruit expands into the finish and then a wave of ashy smoke hits. It all disappears quicker than expected though, leaving only a vaguely peppery note behind. As on the palate with water.
Comments: The nose is quite nice and the whole is pleasant enough (depending on what you make of that astringent note) but it promises more than it delivers. If you have an unopened bottle, I’d hold the water when you drink it.
Rating: 83 points.