Born and bred on Islay. And messed up on the mainland?
Forgive our little Banksy enhancement of a current Bowmore slogan. But it does serve to underline the mystery as to what goes wrong at the distillery, between maturation and what you purchase at retail. You can also apply the same logic to Laphroaig, just down the road, which is similarly blighted by some inept official releases. Things have become so tragic and tiresome that some friends now refer to Islay’s greatest distillery as Boremore.
So, where have things gone wrong and off the rails? We’re all well versed in the minefield that are the 1980s and this distillery. The ultimate validation and need to try before you buy. Whenever Bowmore reaches the market, it isn’t cheap and without this ability, you could purchase a dud of Jura-like proportions. The twist is that since the turn of the millennium, the wonderful distillate is back and the indies are bottling quality casks that are starting to appear with increasing frequency. Albeit at higher prices, but we should all drink less and why not reach for something worthwhile and memorable? That was my motivation with the North Star Spirits 2001 Bowmore, which is one of my favourites from 2020.
Despite all the hardships that many of us have endured with the variability of all things Bowmore, we remain enchanted by the prospect of the distillery and its wares. The mesmerising concoction of peat and fruit that transcends many other outlets on Islay. When Bowmore is on form, the game’s a bogey for the competition. Which I suppose is why we cling to such fond memories and chase any incoming releases.
The Siren-like seductive allure of Bowmore perhaps explains why our Patreons voted for the Bowmore 18 year old to appear in our coverage. Each month we give our tremendous supporters the opportunity to vote in a poll and plug a gap, or return to a distant review. When we reached ‘B’ in July, Bowmore represented prime real-estate for such a vote. And when shopping to make it happen, I stumbled across the Bowmore Classic Collection that is available in various sizes and features the 12, 15 and 18. So, using some editorial freedom, we’ve gone from a single review to a vertical of the mainstays of the official range.
Many whisky drinkers would view the prospect of this trio, as a challenge and a possible descent into the turmoil of how not to bottle officially. The only official Bowmore’s that interest me nowadays (excluding the private jet trophy fodder) are the distillery handfills and these only tend to exist on the secondary market. The last couple of times I’ve visited the hallowed turf of Bowmore, such casks have not been available.
At least packs such as these allow you to make a tentative step into an official range. Today’s Classic pack retails for £22.85 on Amazon for the 5cl edition, or £47.95 for the 20cl version from the Whisky Exchange.
Bowmore 12 year old – review
On the nose: a gentle peat greets you with a touch of saltiness and pine cones. Damp cardboard, more fresh dampness and milk chocolate. Sooty in parts, maybe cloves, but the whole thing feels underpowered and lacking drive.
In the mouth: a little sweetness before the core flavours of an earthy peat and more cardboard characteristics take over. Toffee apple, spent gunpowder and honey round off a very forgettable whisky.
Bowmore 15 year old Darkest – review
On the nose: at 43% strength this feels so gentle and timid. Toffee, walnuts, dried bark and a faint stream of sea salt. Honeyed oats, aniseed, coastal peat and the faint ghost of red apples from last season.
In the mouth:a little more body on the palate and strength. Still mainly salted cardboard with some earthy aspects, or mulch if you want to be more trendy. A little fudge sweetness from the sherry cask, but it hasn’t really delivered much more other than a cigar quality and some chocolate. Pretty dull.
Bowmore 18 year old – review
Colour: amber that looks a bit fake.
On the nose: Jeez, night and day compared to the aforementioned North Star Spirits 18 year old. It’s been obliterated, purged and sanded down, removing almost every trace of reasonable character. Ok, let’s delve deeper. A light toffee, more dried bark but this time lacking any real saltiness, and then chocolate towards the end.
In the mouth: really bad, really bad. Inept and muddled. There’s no real character here. Dankness as if it has been smothered in artificial colouring. Cold black tea, damp cardboard, smoke and a gentle peat.
Not a great selection by any stretch of the imagination. What surprises initially was the 15 year old nose that lacked complexity compared to the meagre 12. And the lack of progression as you venture up the ages. If anything, there’s a decline. Whether that’s as a result of expectation is arguable. To ensure further validity, I went back across a couple of evenings and my impressions didn’t drastically change whatsoever.
The whiskies are drinkable but lack character. Now, I’m not expecting 1960’s Bowmore in the slightest. But I do know what this distillery is producing thanks to the work of independent bottlers. I also know that other distilleries on Islay are capable of putting out a solid core range offering that doesn’t cost the earth or chases off inexperienced whisky drinkers with a bucket load of peat. While you can throw the 12 a lifeline as the entry malt, I’d have expected more expansive features as you progressed. Instead, there’s a real timid and frankly boring nature to all of these whiskies. And that’s a shame because 3rd party releases are showcasing it in a far better light.
There are commission links in the above article. As you can see these don’t have a positive or negative effect on our view. They just exist.