Archive for the ‘Bowmore’ Category


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 Legend and 12 Year

Tasting Notes

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.


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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.

Bowmore 12 and 18 comparison

Bowmore 12 and 18 comparison

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).


Bowmore 12

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.

Bowmore 18

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.

Related links

  • 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.

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