This distillery reminds me – a Chicago Bears fan – of serial quarterbacks who occasionally showed flashes of undeniable raw talent, but whose overall career was marred by questionable decision-making resulting in boneheaded errors. (Brits: kindly substitute Paul Gascoigne or any other naturally gifted but self-sabotaging footballer, and you’ll get the thrust).
The five Bowmore examples reviewed here on MALT (since scoring came into effect) have averaged a 4.8. That data point doesn’t tell the full story, however. These have ranged in rating from a 2 to an 8. While I usually don’t get hung up on the numbers, I believe this spread tells the story of Bowmore. Like Longfellow’s little girl with the little curl: when Bowmore is good it is very good indeed, but when it is bad it is horrid.
The best bet, as with other Scotch whisky distilleries, seems to be foregoing official bottlings in favor of independent bottlers. It’s my good fortune that an independently bottled Bowmore of respectable age found me serendipitously, courtesy of the always generous folks at Single Cask Nation. Obligingly sending me a care package full of Wild Turkey single barrels, Jason Johnstone-Yellin slipped in a sample of this Bowmore for laughs.
This is from 1989, which is near the end of what has been termed the FWP era of Bowmore. You could Google the acronym, but let’s paraphrase by saying it evokes the eau de toilette of a Parisian lady of the night. You get the drift.
It’s not a term I find particularly funny or especially descriptive, so I’ll not be using it going forward. This distinct aroma – call it what you will – was reputedly the result of changes to the production processes at Bowmore, which imparted floral and soapy notes of a nearly chemical pungency to the distillate.
So, something to be on guard for. What else should I expect? This is an Islay malt, so I’ll be looking for a touch of peated smoke and some seashore nuances. Unlike much of Bowmore’s output, which is matured in ex-sherry casks, this is from a bourbon barrel. I’m keen to try an unblended offering from this distillery, and one which has not had the customary heavy overlay of sherry, for better or worse.
This is cask #1986, an ex-bourbon barrel. It was distilled in March 1989 and bottled in May 2019, 30 years old, at 44.1%. 150 bottles were produced. This retails for $395.
Single Cask Nation Bowmore 1989 – Review
Color: Pale straw
On the nose: Roasty, toasty, rich, sweet goodness, albeit in very delicate form. Marshmallows charred over a campfire; crème brûlée, vanilla custard, egg yolk, lemon zest. Also roasted lamb loin with mint sauce. There’s a very faint maritime nuance to this in the form of a gently saline note that underpins – yet never overwhelms – the other aromas. I guess there’s a bit of lavender soapiness in there, but mostly I’m enjoying the assorted other aromas too much to care.
In the mouth: A gentle one, this. Palate starts with a dilute woodiness, like a black tea stirred with a cinnamon stick. This becomes slightly tart at midpalate, before transitioning into the meaty nuttiness of unsalted cashews. It finishes ashy, with only a wispy residual aftertaste of lemon curd.
The glory of an ex-bourbon barrel! Nary a worry about sulfur or knackered fourth-fill casks. The nose impresses the most, being composed of abundant flavors in an intricate aromatic latticework. At times this is so evanescent, it seems more like a spring breeze blowing across a dewy meadow. At no point did this conjure images of streetwalkers or houses of ill-repute.
The palate doesn’t live up to the nose’s promise, however. It’s worth noting the low bottling strength, which is evident in the fairly sedate mouthfeel. There’s a little creamy texture to this and some distinct flavors, but nothing like the layered scents that greet the first sniff of this dram.
How to score it? I’m not the type of guy that would normally splash $400 on a Bowmore of any age. It’s worth noting that the distillery’s officially-bottled 25 year old (43%) fetches $550 near me. Assuming this is as good or better than that, it’s a comparatively good deal if you’re in the market for something of this age from Bowmore.
Thanks once again to Single Cask Nation for the free sample, which you can see did not affect my review or score, and the photograph.