Bowmore is a brand that is well-known to not only the whisky enthusiasts of the world, but recognisable to even the most amateur of whisky drinkers. It’s location on an island that holds no fewer than eight distilleries means that it has to produce the best it can on a constant basis. And I think that for over 200 years since its first opened, it seems only right to check out the oldest distillery on Islay, and to see how it has achieved its longevity.
The Western harbour town of Bowmore, Islay’s capital is the home to the brand since 1779, founded by a gentleman named John Simpson. Following the purchase of the distillery in 1837 by William and James Mutter, the distillery was resold in 1892 to an English businessmen consortium named Bowmore Distillery Company Ltd after some additional construction of the distillery. Changing hands twice during the late 1920’s (J. B. Sheriff and Company in 1925 and Distillers Company Limited (DCL) in 1929) and again in 1950 when William Grigor & Son took over, 1963 saw the distillery purchased for £117,000 by Stanley P Morrison. Bowmore has had a long affiliation with Japanese pioneers Suntory who acquired a 35% stake in the company during the late 1980’s and in 1994, they bought the company outright. The famous legendary Black Bowmore is launched in 1993 with a recommended price of £100 (at least ten times the amount today if it can be found). Another two versions were also released in 1994 and 1995. One year after the Japanese takeover, Bowmore was nominated for ‘Distiller of the Year’ in the International Wine and Spirits competition.
A chequered history of owners, but that should never come across your mind to doubt its quality. Bowmore comes across as a little different to its main Islay competitors. Far from being a lighter offering compared to its Northern Islay-based Bunnahabhain, or as heavily peated nor as smoky as its three Southern names surrounding Port Ellen. It’s due to its unique combination of the pure water from the Laggan River, traditional floor-malted barley (one of only a handful of distilleries in Scotland who still perform this method) that has been carefully smoked in a peat-fired kiln and matured in oak casks left to rest in the No. 1 Vaults – the oldest maturation warehouse in Scotland and the only one below sea level.
So how does this well-balanced Islay whisky fare? Well below, I give to you my tasting notes on the range so far –
Bowmore 12yr – 40%
A heavy nose of burnt peat blended with chocolate follows on the palate with a deep, smokyness balanced out with flavours of lemon and honey.
Bowmore 15yr – 43%
Finished for three years in a Oloroso sherry butt, it creates a light, fruity nose with raisin aromas and a slight smoke note. Treacle flavours on the palate, again with a slight smokyness with a short finish.
Bowmore 23yr – 50.8%
Matured exclusively in port casks for 23 years. An instant aroma of sea smoke and subtle iodine with dark cherry notes on the nose. A developing palate of hard peat, rich fruit and damp smoak from the port wood produce a mouth-watering and extremely long finish.
Bowmore Tempest Batch No. 3 –55.6%
Aged for a decade in first-fill bourbon casks. Very dry on the nose with a balanced mix of peat and smoke. Still rather dry once it hits the palate, but develops flavours of lemon and salt with a peppery finish.
Bowmore Tempest Batch No. 4 – 55.1%
Aged for ten years in first-fill ex-bourbon casks in their No.1 Vaults. Wood notes on the nose, slight sweetness of vanilla and a fresh hit of honey. Blackcurrant dominates the palate briefly, creating an acidic mouth-feel. Vanilla, chocolate and dashes of smoke round off the flavour, complete with a dry finish.
Bowmore The Devil’s Casks #3 – 56.7%
Matured in first fill sherry casks, Oloroso and Pedrox Ximenez. Bowmore’s third, and final, release in the sought after Devil’s Casks series.
A fresh, deep fruit nose of sultana, raisin and flesh mango. A sharp, dry flavour upon the palate of treacle, dried fruit and orange ladened oak that offers a long finish.
Some cracking drams available, with the new 23yr the pick of the bunch so far, although it’s a shame only 12,000 bottles will ever be released. The main range also includes Legend, an 18yr as well as a 25yr, with Limited Editions and Specialist Release always showing a treat or two for your cabinet at home.
Bowmore really shows why it has stood the test of time and rightly serves as Islay’s oldest distillery. Its continuation to showcase bottlings in various ways proves popular with the whisky world, and I hope that it doesn’t fall from grace any time soon.
© David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.