Well, well, well. This was a pleasant surprise, to say the least. The past few bottles of Bowmore 18 I’ve bumped heads with have been grossly underwhelming. And no, sorry…I’ve not kept track of bottle codes, batches or years of those particular incarnations. Suffice it to say that this bottle is definitely much more in my wheelhouse. Much more harmonious and multi-dimensional.
The biggest criticisms I’ve levied at Bowmore have been reserved for the period of production that encapsulated most of the 1980s and 90s and which seemed to carry an overwhelming floral edge to it. I’ve heard it referred to as a hint of lavender or lilac, but either way…it was a departure from the smoked fruits that once made Bowmore so magical in the eyes of many of my mates and I. Fortunately, recent iterations seem to be veering back towards those less perfumed profiles that balance a sweet tang and deep, smoky complexity.
I think it might actually be worth digging a little deeper into this Bowmore phenomenon of fruit versus floral, but that’s a piece for another day. For now let’s be content just curling up with a seductive and smoky whisky from Islay’s oldest distillery.
Bowmore sits pretty much middle of the pack in terms of peating levels of the island’s malts; much bolder than Bunna or Laddie (standard releases at least), but lacking the bombast of others such as Ardbeg, Laphroaig or Lagavulin. I believe the oft-quoted phenol levels for Bowmore are around 25 ppm. It should be noted that when we talk about peaty ppm, we’re almost always referring to the phenolic levels in the malted barley prior to distillation. Phenols are rarely measured in the glass after distillation and maturation.
Bowmore 18 boasts pretty much what I’d expect in terms of profile for a mature Islay malt (well…this bottling does anyway). And by that I mean a receding – yet omnipresent and held-in-check – smokiness and an abundance of emerging sweet fruity notes. This is oceanside campfires, seaspray and grape juice. I’m guessing this is a marriage of bourbon and sherry barrels. Nice blending here. If only it were stronger in terms of bottling strength.
Overall, a much improved Bowmore 18, and more in line with the jammy fruits that characterize recent sherried Bowmore releases like Laimrig and the Maltman’s Selection. And to say it again…thankfully a departure from the florals. Nice to see this one coming back to something like its former glory. A ‘most improved’ candidate, to be sure.
Nose: Smoky grape juice. A sweet citrus note. The tiniest hint of sweet BBQ sauce. A hint of licorice and coffee. Somewhat jammy (raspberry-ish?). A nice rising fruitiness and ebbing peat. Good balance, and better than I remember this one being. How ’bout a concoction of cola with a drop or two of both cherry and vanilla and a light dusting of pepper. Yep.
Palate: A great smoky, jammy note right up front. A hefty dollop of peat (more than expected and more than the nose belies). Some orange. Anise. Slightly medicinal. Leaves a drying, wet rock feeling. Nice mix of fruit and smoke.
Thoughts: A little closer to the Bowmore of old, and I like that. A LOT.
– Reviewed by: Curt
– Photo: Curt