Continuing on with my Core Islay Expressions exploration, I’m stepping back from the big Ardbeg and Laphroaig malts and taking a look at the two entry-level Bowmore expressions. Bowmore presents a gentler, less phenolic side of Islay peat, and while the uber-expensive bottlings from the 1960s seem to get lots of attention, I never seem to see much written about the more common expressions.
Much of what I’ve seen on message boards about Bowmore focuses on some sort of “lavender” scent/flavor known as “FWP” that appears to have been introduced in the mid-90s, lasting into the early part of the last decade. I’ll let you read more about FWP in this distillery profile on the Malt Madness site. Some real damage seems to have been done to the Bowmore reputation (at least in whisky enthusiast circles) during this time. This issue seems to have been put to rest, though, and I don’t find my 2008 – 2010 bottlings to be off-putting at all.
Bowmore 12 Year (2008; 40%; $40)
Nose: Orange and chocolate, reminiscent of Dalmore (more orange than chocolate, though). An equal helping of earthy peat, much like Talisker, but with more of a tea leaf note as it tails off. This isn’t a strong peat, nor is it very medicinal. Finally, there’s something sweet going on here. I’ve read about Bowmore having Lavender notes before, but this doesn’t seem flowery to me. A pretty complex nose, really. One to sit with a while and enjoy.
Palate: Sweet peat on the palate, along with a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg. It’s not big, but it’s not thin either. Frankly, it could use a bit more oomph, as it falls down a little here in comparison to Talisker or other standard Islay malts. However, if those big whiskies aren’t your bag, then you might find this to be a relief!
Finish: Peat and tea leaves in the back of the nostrils are accompanied by a return of sweets and fruit. Although, now, instead of oranges, it’s more like passion fruit. On the tongue, I get some more of that Dalmore chocolate with some mild drying. Interestingly, as the dryness wears off, I’m left with a salty after-taste.
Comments: Dang, this is a pretty fine single malt! It has a lot to offer on the nose, and it’s great for sitting with and sipping neat out of a nosing glass. I think the nose promises a little more than the palate/finish can deliver, though. This might disappoint some people. Also, while I’ve decided that the sweet/peat combination is enjoyable, I’m not sure this will appeal to everybody. For me, this is a solid B whisky (84 points)
Bowmore Legend NAS (2010; 40%; $25)Nose: Very “spirity” at first, screaming “I’m a young malt!” I think there might be a little lemon trying to get through, but it’s hard to say. Getting beyond that, I’m getting a fairly simple nose of peat smoke and toffee sweets. Interestingly, the peat itself doesn’t come across as particularly young. If you’re planning to spend some time nosing this one, let it sit for 15-20 minutes in the glass and the peat comes through more clearly.
Palate: You know those “Sugar in the Raw” packets at some restaurants? On the palate, this whisky is like a combination of that sugar and a reasonably juicy barley/grass component.
Finish: A one-note finish of peat, but it’s an enjoyable, somewhat “pure” peat. It IS a somewhat short finish, though. Nothing spectacular going on here, but harmless and enjoyable enough.
Comments: Ok, this is a pretty straight-forward expression, and the initial, youthful nose didn’t wow me. However, it quickly turns into an enjoyable and easy drinking whisky. For me, this will be a tumbler dram. No need to pull out the nosing copita…just pour a glass and enjoy the sweet barley on the mouth and the clean peat smoke finish. I think I found my Islay version of Glenfiddich 12. B- (80 Points)
The Bowmore Legend is not just a younger version of the 12 Year expression. They’re completely different animals. Actually, the Legend DOES seem kind of like a baby Bowmore Tempest, which I’ve sampled, but don’t have a full bottle of. My guess is that the Legend is matured in mostly (if not all) bourbon casks, while the 12 year is a combination of bourbon and sherry casks.
As I said in my comments above, I think the Legend is a perfect “tumbler dram.” Pour it in a glass and drink it neat, on ice, or mixed with something else for a smoky cocktail. I think @whiskywitch nailed it on Twitter when she said:
Legend has been the “go to” Islay Scotch for lots of my 20-something clients- it pairs well with pizza or burgers + fries
As for Bowmore 12 year, I’ve gained a greater appreciation of this expression over the past couple of years. When Islay whiskies were new and exciting for me, the Bowmore just didn’t seem to hold up to the higher peating in other Islay malts. Now I’ve chilled a bit and can appreciate the more subtle nuances in this whisky. Sometimes it strikes me as Dalmore’s pipe-smoking cousin, and other times as Talisker exploring its feminine side. Actually…if you have both Bowmore 12 and Talisker 175th anniversary on hand, pour a glass of both side by side. They’re really not THAT far apart in terms of nose profile. The Bowmore doesn’t hold a candle to the Talisker on the palate and finish, though. :-)
I can easily recommend both of these whiskies given the right circumstances. However, if you’ve tried and liked Talisker and are looking to see what this whole Islay craze is all about, the Bowmore 12 isn’t going to break any new ground for you. Laphroaig and Ardbeg are where the main phenol frenzy is at, and Lagavulin is on a whole different plane. Still, the Bowmore 12 year offers a unique take on sweet peat and is very much worth a try. With the Legend, you can check your pretension at the door, party a little bit, and enjoy that smoky finish.Cheers, Jeff