Take in the Highlands Spirit
At the Bowmore Distillery/ Courtesy Bowmore
The other day I made the mistake of grabbing my raincoat instead of my overcoat, and spent the day just a tad too cold for comfort. That slight but uneasy feeling of chill in my bones did not abate until later that evening when, following my momentary fancy, I reached for a bottle of Bowmore Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
I’d point out that Bowmore is one of my favorite distilleries on the Island of Islay—which is the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides archipelago off the west coast of Scotland—but this would be pointless. Each of the Islay’s eight fully operational distilleries is something of a favorite.
Bowmore is, however, the oldest operating distillery on Islay (established in 1779). The distillery stands in the beautiful town of the same name, on the Loch Indaal inlet, basically right in the center of the island. It also makes for a fabulous distillery tour—which isn’t actually true of every distillery there. Amongst its distinguishing features, Bowmore is one of the very few distilleries that still maintains its own floor malting.
In terms of Bowmore’s style, its whisky traditionally offers elegance and class, but with enough body and muscle to remain a contender, and just enough peat and smoke to remind one of its Islay provenance. Like most whiskies, however, it also offers a satisfying warmth on a cold day.
Here are four current choice expressions to consider:
Bowmore, 12 Year Old, Islay single-malt Scotch whisky (40 percent abv; $50): This gently peated whisky opens on the nose with distinct floral notes amid the peat and sweet tobacco (think pipe) smoke, followed by ash, dried grass, sea brine, and zesty lemon, and orange citrus notes. These are followed on the palate with lovely and well-rounded flavors of peat, spice, and honey, offering a subtle balance between dryness, sweetness, peat, and smoke. The finish is smoky, briny, citrusy, oily and dry. This is not a massive peat monster, but this is a fantastic, elegant Islay classic.
Bowmore, 15 Year Old, “Darkest”, Islay single-malt Scotch whisky (43 percent abv; $75): This lovely, absorbing whisky offers aromas of dark chocolate, raisins, nutmeg, dark toffee, black pepper, cigar smoke, brine, and cedar wood, followed by rich, concentrated, palate-coating flavors of bitter chocolate, dark honey, butterscotch, toffee, vanilla bean, wafts of feint smoke, sweet honey, and a hint of smoke and treacle, finishing sweet, delicate, with a touch of smoke. A wonderful, most inviting whisky.
There are two new limited release expressions, parts one and two of the Vintner’s Trilogy (so named to emphasize the ex-wine casks employed in each whisky’s development; part three hasn’t been released yet):
Bowmore, 18 Year Old, Double Matured, Manzanilla, Islay single-malt Scotch whisky (52.5 percent abv; $130): aged for 13 years in ex-bourbon casks and then an additional five years in ex-Manzanilla sherry casks, this is an absorbing and enjoyable offering with notes of salted caramel, assorted nuts, molasses, spiced orange and blackcurrants, a dollop of brine, and a whiff of peat smoke; with a little time in the glass, some mulled wine and fruit leather characteristics develop along with some slightly odd, but not unwelcome, green notes. The finish is dry and long, if a tad hot. Note: This is not the same as the regular 18-year-old expression which is very different, but outstanding.
Bowmore, 26 Year Old, Wine Cask, Islay single-malt Scotch whisky (48.7 percent abv; $540): Matured for 13 years in ex-bourbon barrels, and then another 13 in wine barriques (another type of cask), this is rich, full, and deep, offering beach-bonfire smoke, with notes of mango, blackberry, cherry, something like menthol, with some distinctive if subtle brine and some tropical fruit notes drift in and out of focus. Some nice spice on the lengthy and deeply satisfying finish. L’Chaim!