The mystique that surrounds Bowmore is like that of the Macallan. There is an age-old reputation, bucketloads of history and rumors of magic that surround this whisky from Islay’s oldest distillery. Much like the Macallan, I find that younger (or perhaps ‘more current’ would be a better choice of words) bottlings of Bowmore are simply not up to much, and certainly do not support the reputation that this distillery rests on. Veteran drammers insist that older vintages were astounding.
So…if we want to scrape aside the scree and see a little more of the bedrock that Bowmore has been built upon exactly how far back to we have to go? Unfortunately I can’t tell you that. I can tell you however, that I had to double the age of the oldest Bowmore I had tried to date in order to find the one that put a spell on me. This 1972 Signatory independent bottling was 36 years old at the time of decanting. This…this is not the Bowmore that the younger generation of malt fiends know.
Here age and beauty waltz like old lovers and make something magical happen. This is like looking back in time and seeing how stunningly beautiful some of the aged Hollywood starlets are that many of us young’uns (relatively speaking) only know in their twilight years. This is class. This is elegance.
The nose delivers chocolate, drying fruit, a little orange zest and a touch of lemon pepper. Vanilla and butter toffee, a touch of aloe, a whiff of smoke and light brine. I sat with my nose in the glass for about 40 minutes before my first taste, simply unable to believe this was the same distillery that produces the Bowmore expressions that hit the shelves nowadays.
The arrival is silky smooth and the development is as crystalline and unmarred as a lake surface on a windless day. (My wife sipped without grimace…that is saying something). First flavors are toasted wood and dry smoke. Soft chocolate and raisin are next and the citrus develops a little more boldness in peeking out towards the end. The lingering notes however, are primarily toffee and lightly toasted oak. Thankfully these notes are the kind that stay ’til the party’s end, and even then you are sad to close the door behind them.
Andrew Ferguson, From Kensington Wine Market, who graciously provided this sample, told me he refers to this as the ‘poor man’s Black Bowmore’. Hm. Not far off really. The Black Bowmore is still untouchable, in my books, but I’ll take this as a substitute anyday.
– Reviewed by: Curt
– Photo: Shamelessly cribbed from The Whisky Exchange