My love of Bowmore collides here with my poor track record with whisky that has been in close proximity to wine casks. Yes, this 11 yo Bowmore released at Feis Ile in 2017 was matured in a combination of sherry and wine casks. I was not at Feis Ile in 2017—though I did visit Bowmore a few weeks later. I fear I will never be at Feis Ile, not even after the pandemic ends. I know how important whisky festivals are to many enthusiasts, and I know how important a festival like Feis Ile is to not just the distilleries involved but also to the local economy. But no description I’ve read of the crowds at Feis Ile and the long lines to purchase festival exclusives for purposes of auction flipping has ever made me wish I could have been there. And no, I’m not being hypocritical about the auction part. I purchased this bottle not from an auction but from a store in Tarbert shortly after our week on Islay ended in 2017—and I paid less than was being asked at auction at the time. Three years later, I’m finally opening it.
Bowmore 11, Feis Ile 2017 (53.8%; sherry and wine casks; from my own bottle)
Nose: Earthy peat run through with a hint of savoury gunpowder and mango leather; behind all of that, the trademark Bowmore florals and pencil lead. Sweeter as it sits and thankfully there’s no cologne here or any kind of red fruit overload. Speaking of red fruit, some cherry begins to show up with time. Sweeter with a few drops of water and there’s more evidence of the wine.
Palate: Leads with the sweeter notes but, on the whole, it’s as predicted by the nose; the smoke is a bit ashier. Very approachable at full strength. The fruit builds with time and the earthy peat builds with it, picking up cracked black pepper. Meatier too now (charred pork). Water makes it brighter, pulling out citrus and apricot and sharpening the smoke as well.
Finish: Long. The earthy peat is the top note here with some pipe tobacco emerging as it goes. As on the palate with water. With more time the char comes back strong.
Comments: This is very nice indeed. The influence of the sherry is far more evident than the wine casks (especially neat). I would have liked a little more of the richer fruit but I’m not complaining about having most of this bottle left to drink.
Rating: 88 points.
P.S: These notes were taken a few days after the bottle was opened; the picture, however, was taken last night, many weeks since opening and there’s now only a little bit left in the bottle. The whisky has changed a bit in the open bottle—I’ll say more about this in the comments later.