The last 1996 Bowmore I reviewed was also bottled by Hunter Laing in their Old Malt Cask series and was dynamite. It was full of coastal notes and tropical fruit. That one was an exclusive for K&L in California and was bottled at cask strength from a hogshead. Before that I’d reviewed another couple of OMC Bowmore 22, 1996s that were part of the Old Malt Cask 20th anniversary release. Those were both also bottled from hogsheads. I liked one of those very much as well, and the other a bit less. There does seem to be a lot of 1996 Bowmore about—Whiskybase lists 143 releases, bottled between 2005 and 2018. Then again they list even more 1997s and 1998s and even 2000s—so it must just be the case that a lot of Bowmore from that era became available to the independents. I don’t know if anyone’s sorted through enough releases from all these years to come up with a magic vintage theory yet. Maybe if I like this one a lot too I can start a Bowmore 1996 campaign. Let’s see how it goes.
Bowmore 21, 1996 (50%; Old Malt Cask; refill hogshead #HL15033; from a bottle split)
Nose: Creamy, custardy notes that get fruitier and more musky with each sniff (melon, passionfruit) and pick up some pepper, mineral oil and some sooty smoke along the way. Will the palate live up to this? With more time the creamy notes expand. Softer, less acidic still with water.
Palate: Yes, the palate lives up to the nose though there isn’t as big a fruity explosion here as in the K&L cask. Less smoke here as well. The texture is just a bit too thin. With time there’s a bitterness that’s mostly lime zest but threatens to tip over into glycerine territory (let’s wait and see if it does). Happy to say it does not—it does get sweeter though and then more peppery. Okay, let’s see what water does. Curiously, while the nose got less acidic with water the palate gets more acidic—the acidic bite seems to set off the pepper and smoke receptors on my tongue as well.
Finish: Medium-long. The smoke pops out here and it’s more ashy than sooty; the pepper expands as it goes and salt emerges to join it. As on the palate with water.
Comments: Ah, Bowmores from refill hogsheads—when they’re good they’re so good. That said, this is not quite at the level of the K&L cask—that might be a function of the lower bottling strength here. It starts out well on both the nose and palate but is missing some depth.
Rating: 87 points.