For the past wee while I’ve been craving whiskies with more of a phenolic character, from the lightly peated to the absolute – blow your face off – peat monsters and so reflecting this my latest review will be of a peated whisky, who would have guessed that! This week I’ve mostly been enjoying what is a true Islay classic, it’s the Bowmore, 12yo.
Bowmore is the oldest distillery on Islay, and one of the oldest in Scotland for that matter, having been founded well over 200 years ago in 1779! Bowmore is owned by Morrison Bowmore Distillers, who also own Auchentoshan and Glen Garioch (Glen Geery), and since 1994 have been a subsidiary of Beam Suntory when they were bought over. Bowmore is one of very few distilleries that still malt barley onsite in the traditional floor malting method, which is very commendable, producing around 30% of their requirement (the remainder coming from Simpsons of Berwick). Their Barley is peated to around 25ppm, meaning that it is a smoky dram but nowhere near as peated as the likes of Laphraoig etc. and the other bonfire-like whiskies. Bowmore also boast to own the oldest maturation warehouse in Scotland, the legendary No. 1 Vault, which is also the only maturation shed located below sea level! Anyway, before we have a fact overload I’m going to dive into the tasting.
Initially there is a lot of spice on the nose, especially pepper, which shortly fades into the background as the classic Bowmore character comes through. It’s a very fragrant, perfumed smoke, with lots of citrus running through it. I’ve always loved the character of the smoke that they get at Bowmore, a light citrus smoke, which is decidedly spice. As well as this there is honey, golden syrup and vanilla sweetness backed up by lemon peel and a note of fresh pears. It’s also very floral with time, with a bouquet of heather and lavender – possibly Parma violet sweets.
The palate is thick and creamy and is dominated by opulent woody spices, and a tang of bitter lemon. What I like about Bowmore is that it is not so heavily peated so that all you can taste is smoke, the cask flavours are still able to shine through instead of being obscured by a screen of smoke. There is a heavy, malty character on the palate that is not present on the nose, as well as this there is a bigger suggestion of fruit, namely dried mango and again pears. Overall it is quite sweet and malty, wrapped up in a haze of that fantastically perfumed smoke.
Sweet vanilla fudge and caramel come to the fore, backed up by a heavy malty character. The finish is fairly short but sweet, with a drying salty influence. In addition to this the sweet, floral-citric smoke is still present as it has been from the start and it’s just fantastic.
I really like the style of dram that they have been able to achieve at Bowmore, I like that it covers all the bases for a peated whisky. There is a big smoke character but at the same time it is not so dominant that is obliterates all of the other flavours and aromas within the drink. I think that this makes it a better peated whisky than most that are out there because the complexities from the process and maturation are still able to shine through. The main thing I could say that is bad about the 12yo Bowmore is that the finish is fairly short and watery, if it had a higher ABV of 43% or more (it is bottled at 40%) then it would hugely improve the finish. That said I do really like the Bowmore, and look forward to polishing off the rest of this bottle, and the older bottling’s I plan on reviewing soon.
The 12yo comes in at around £35 generally and is a good evening whisky, just sitting down after a meal and savouring the smoky subtleties. It’s also a good dram to give to you friends who don’t like that smoky character, because the peat is fairly light and fragrant it’s a good starting point on the phenolic journey.