Bowmore 20, 1997 (Old Particular for K&L)

I’m going to start the month with reviews of some of K&L’s recently released exclusives. This may seem timely but keep in mind that most of these have already sold out. This Bowmore, bottled under the Old Particular label from Douglas Laing, might still be available, however. The last time I reviewed a bunch of K&L selections—back in December 2016, starting with this Linkwood)—things didn’t go so well. Will this lot be any better? The odds, frankly, are not great. K&L’s strategy seems to be to look for casks with high age and low price numbers on them with the quality an afterthought. A lot of people want deals and 20-30 yo whisky for less than $200 seems like a great deal in this market in the abstract. It’s in the marketing copy that they’ll seek to convince you that you’re also getting amazing whisky. And even though David Driscoll is now gone from K&L, their ability to turn on the tap of hyperbole remains unaffected. 

Of course, there is always the chance that these whiskies will in fact be worth it. But I’ve been burned a few too many times to spend money on full bottles based on their recommendations alone. Splitting bottles with others and trying before buying is my preferred strategy with K&L. You run the risk of things selling out before you get to try them, but better to miss out on a good bottle than to be stuck with a mediocre or worse bottle. Anyway, let’s see what this one is like.

Bowmore 20, 1997  (52.7%; Old Particular for K&L; from a bottle split)

Nose: Starts out a bit blank at first but then smoke begins to build, accompanied by lemon at first and then pineapple custard and cream. Gets saltier as it sits and the lemon moves in the direction of citronella; some white pepper too now. Very nice indeed. Sweeter with a few drops of water.

Palate: As promised by the nose. Leads with the fruit here—orange, pineapple—and then the smoke comes in behind with the trademark Bowmore florals. Nice texture at full strength. More acidic on the second sip and there’s quite a bit of the white pepper. With more time the fruit builds in intensity (mostly in the lemon family now). Okay, let’s see if water brings out more tropical notes. Not sure water does much for it; less of the smoke now (and what’s there is more ashy) and the fruit is sweeter here too but nothing very interesting happens.

Finish: Medium. The acidic fruit gives way to residual smoke (more like soot). More acidic still with water and then some peach at the end.

Comments: This is pretty flawless ex-bourbon Bowmore. A nice mix of smoke, citrus, salt and pepper with no sign of glycerine. A little more fruit and a little more complexity are what are lacking here. Is this worth $150? In today’s market it might well be. I certainly like it more than the Signatory Bowmore for TWE that was five years younger and quite a bit more expensive. Well, this is a good start to this run. Let’s see if it holds up.

Rating: 88 points.

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