Origin: Isle of Islay (Scotland)
Type: Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Ageing casks: Ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry Oloroso
Added coloring: Yes
Average price: € 55.00
Official website: www.bowmore.com
The character of Bowmore whiskies, especially in the most important ages, is a mystery. And it’s difficult to find a rational explanation for so much complexity.
Some call it compromise.
First, because, geographically, Bowmore is located on Islay, halfway between the south of the island (with its intensely flavoured malts: Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig) and the north (with its more delicate malts: Caol Ila and Bunnahabhain).
Secondly, because of the distillery’s understandable desire to have its whiskies appeal to as many passionate drinkers as possible. The Small Batch, already reviewed on this blog, can probably confirm this.
But increasing age and the use of ex-Sherry casks mean a change in perspective. And rather than compromise, then, it’s more appropriate to speak, as the late Michael Jackson, author of the popular ‘Complete Guide to Malt Whisky’, wrote, of enigma.
Enigmas do not necessarily need to be clarified; indeed, much of their charm lies in remaining unsolved. But some timid reasoning can be tried.
Compared to the north of Islay, where the peat is rich in roots, that of Bowmore is more sandy, and, after being crumbled, it burns, providing more smoke than heat. It should be added that the distillery, set like a gem between the school and the harbour, in a hamlet so small you’d hardly call it a village (and it’s the “capital” of Islay!), is exposed to westerly winds more than others, which leads to a greater presence of ozone in the bouquet of aromas. And then there is the famous Vault No. 1, the barrel storage located below sea level (the only one in Scotland), of which Bowmore is justly proud and on whose outer walls the waves crash, with their load of oceanic salinity.
Bowmore 15yo, bottled at 43% ABV, has undergone a slightly anomalous maturation process compared to other whiskies. After 12 years in ex-Bourbon barrels (180-litre casks, not the traditional 245-litre hogsheads), it spends the last three years in ex-Sherry Oloroso first fill casks (i.e. filled for the first time with whisky after hosting the Sherry). This is well beyond the usual 6/8 months of a traditional finish. All this has weight.
In the glass, it offers itself to the eye with an inviting ruby colour.
The nose immediately reveals its complexity. In a delicate and affectionate embrace of peat, the typical fragrances of Sherry finishes are found in perfect balance: sultanas, cherries in alcohol, even dates. Above all, there is a unique scent, reminiscent of milk chocolate pralines with a caramel heart.
On the palate, the peaty note asserts itself more firmly, but its essence continues to marry happily with the sherried soul of the distillate.
The finish is not very long, but it is delicious: a kiss of Sherry in a peat breath.
A special Bowmore, not to be missed.
A must have for devotees of this distillery’s whiskies.
A seductive invitation to savour the enigma for everyone else.
This review is dedicated to Francesca, breath and heartbeat.