This Bowmore 15 was bottled for Feis Ile (the annual Islay festival) in 2012. I first tasted it in August at one of my friend Rich’s annual (more or less) tastings of sherried whiskies up in St. Paul, and he was generous enough to share a large sample for review purposes. Bowmore’s Feis Ile releases don’t get as publicity as those of Ardbeg and Laphroaig, whose releases are generally widely available (i.e. you don’t need to go to Feis Ile to get your hands on them) and nor do they command the reputation or secondary market prices of Lagavulin’s releases. Indeed, this might be the first of their Feis Ile releases that I’ve tried. I have tried other limited edition, heavily sherried Bowmores of similar age before though and some of those were very good as well (see, for example, the 13 yo Maltmen’s Selection). Unlike those I’m not sure if this was full-term matured in a sherry cask—I failed to take a close look at the bottle when I had the chance, and looking around now I see a reference to it being finished in Spanish sherry casks. Well, I guess I’ll ask Rich in the morning. I quite liked this at the tasting and am looking forward to being able to pay closer attention to it tonight.
Bowmore 15, Feis Ile 2012 (55.4%; from a sample from a friend)
Nose: Rich sherry with pipe tobacco and meaty notes plus some slightly funkier organic matter. Smoke as well along with some iodine and graphite and quite a bit of salt. Gets smokier as it sits and there’s just a hint of (savoury) sulphur as well. With a lot of time some sweeter notes emerge: hints of toffee, some milk chocolate, a bit of orange. With water it’s saltier still but the softer notes expand as well.
Palate: Big smoke to start, ashy and leafy and a little phenolic. The pipe tobacco and other sweet notes are behind to begin. As with a number of other heavily sherried Bowmores, the distillery’s trademark fruity and flowery notes are not very apparent here—though it would be hard for them to make it out from under these clouds of smoke, which get denser with each sip. Gets a little bit sharper with time and quite a bit saltier. Sweeter with water with more of the orange from the nose and some apricot, but the sharper notes don’t go away.
Finish: Long. Smoke, smoke, smoke. Drier here than on the palate. At the very end the trademark Bowmore florals peep out just a bit. Even longer with water and it gets ashier and tarrier.
Comments: This may be the smokiest Bowmore I’ve had; certainly the smokiest Bowmore I can remember. It’s very intense and very good, and if it’s a finish it’s very well integrated indeed. As good as it is, the sharper notes on the palate do mar it a little on the palate and I would have liked a little more fruit as well—these quibbles keep it out of the next tier for me. Your mileage may vary.
Rating: 89 points.
Thanks to Rich for the sample!