I’ve been sitting on a 50ml miniature of Bowmore 18 for a while. This past week, I finally purchased a bottle of Bowmore 12, so I decided to go ahead and compare these two expressions for my “nightly dram” last night. The 12 is bottled at 40% ABV, while the 18 is bottled at 43%. Interestingly, the 12 years miniature is bottled at 43%. [What's up with that? It seems like false advertising.] Anyway, I’m going to compare the 40% and 43% 12 year at a later time. For this sitting, I wanted to get a feel for how the 12 and 18 compare in their regular bottling expressions.
Availability and pricing here in AZ
There is quite a jump in price here in AZ from the lower Bowmore expressions to the higher ones. Here’s the progression: Legend = $22-$28; Bowmore 12 = $38-$46; Bowmore 15 Darkest = $70; Bowmore 18 = $95. I picked up the 12 hoping that, at $38, it would become my go-to low to mid-priced Islay dram. I suppose I should have started with the Legend, but I’m looking for something with enough maturity to compete with Caol Ila 12 (which costs $50-$60 locally).
On the nose, there’s really nice earthy peat and light smoke right up front. It’s also a little sweet, but more fruity than toffee. As I persist, something else pops in there…it reminds me of a flavored hot tea. [Update 5/25/09: Upon revisiting Bowmore 12, I think the "flavored tea" is actually more of an interplay between the smoke and a passion fruit scent. The first time around, when I couldn't place it, it kind of turned me off. Now I don't mind it so much.]
On the palate and finish, I get the earthy peat coming through loud and clear, which I really like. There’s a little sweetness on the palate, but not much at all. The body seems a little light, almost watery. I’m going to have to compare this to the 43% mini I have. On the finish, I really like the continued peat and smoke, but it’s slightly masked by kind of a dusty sensation. That “hot tea” thing is coming back as well, in the form of a slight bitterness that sticks around after the peat and smoke dies off. To be honest, this is a slight turn off to me.
On the nose, I think the 18 offers pretty much the same profile, but it’s stronger, with quite a bit more fruit. I’m not getting that “hot tea” thing as much with this one. Just peat, smoke and mixed fruit.
On the palate, again you can tell this is in the same family as the 12. However, there’s more body. Additionally, there’s some spice in the form of a peppery grip on the tongue. It’s not as strong as a talisker, but it’s there, and I like it.
Overall, I thought these were perfectly nice single malts, and worth a try. I used to think of Talisker as a “gateway” to Islay, but now I’m thinking you don’t need a gateway. If you want to get an idea of what peat and smoke are like, but don’t want to get overpowered, go right for the Bowmore 12, and it won’t cost a lot. It’s actually tamer than the Talisker 10 and 18, as it doesn’t have the strong pepper finish that those offer. The peat and smoke in the Bowmore is also very Talisker-like…there’s none of the tar and coal like you get from Ardbeg, Laphroaig or Caol Ila. I like the Bowmore 18 better than the 12, with the extra body and spiciness on the palate. However, at $38 vs. $95, I’m having a difficult time with the Bowmore 18 price point. For now, I’ll be happy to finish the Bowmore 12, but I’ll stick with Caol Ila 12 and Ardbeg 10 as my main, mid-priced Islay malts. I am, however, curious about the Legend at $22 as an entry-level Islay scotch.
- Whisky Magazine – Bowmore 12 review: tasting notes and scores from Michael Jackson and Dave Broom (they really like it). Dave Broom mentions a “lavender-tinged smoke”. I wonder if that’s the “hot tea” flavor I’m talking about. Scroll down for links to Whisky Mag. forum posts about this expression.
- WhiskyFun.com – Check out this comparison of all four of the latest Bowmore OB expressions. They kind of panned the 18 year old, which surprised me. This is a great site, btw…scroll to the top of their page and check out the side bar on the left to get links to the various distilleries, then browse all of their articles/ratings for that distillery’s expressions (OB and IB).
- Whisky For Everyone – Another whisky blog that I follow. Here is some general information about Bowmore, followed by notes on the 12 year.
- YouTube Videos – Both PeatLuvr and IslayScotchWhisky have done videos on Bowmore 12. You might want to also check out the IslayScotchWhisky review of the Bowmore Legend for comparison with the 12.