Bowmore, 26yo 1989 Cadenhead’s Authentic Collection
(Distilled 1989, bottled July 2015, bourbon hogshead, 210 bottles, 56.5%)
Bowmore’s a dark horse.
When I first got into Islay whisky it was really the Kildalton distilleries (Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Laphroaig) that seemed so exciting. Bowmore, somehow, didn’t quite have the same cachet. So, how has it become one of my very favourite whiskies?
Part of the answer is simply that times change and tastes alter. But also it’s that the official bottlings of Bowmore are – frequently – a bit pedestrian, and it’s only when you dive into the independents you get Bowmore at its best. And there are a lot out there to try; endless in variety.
Let’s see what this one has to say for itself.
Nose: It’s a floral and complexly aromatic Bowmore – with a bit more of a iodine / antiseptic hit than you’d expect. Maybe they borrowed a few staves for the cask from Laphroaig or Caol Ila! A bit of gentle woodsmoke and beach sand (I won’t mention the dreaded “bonfire on the beach” tasting note, but y’know there’s a reason why it’s become a cliche for Islay malts…). Cigarette smoke too. There’s a sort of chalky sweetness to it, so we’re into an old-fashioned sweetshop perusing Love Hearts and Refreshers. Not too many Parma Violets though, unlike some other 1980s Bowmores. After a while in the glass you get this lovely jammy red fruit note. So far so fantastic.
Taste: Starts with a very buttercream taste and mouthfeel, with some sweet grapey fruit notes. Wine gums! A bit of liquorice, aniseed and cough syrup start to come out, and as you come back to it you start to discern more tropical fruits and a bit of blackcurrant.
Finish: The smoke comes in more, accompanied with more savoury notes: toasted peanuts and sesame seeds in particular, which is somewhat unusual, and a bit of salty laverbread, which is maybe more typically Islay. Settles ultimately into this odd slightly-astringent-but-weirdly-juicy-too-somehow orangey, smoky and medicinal aftertaste, with darker fruit knocking around too, and really does linger for ages, perplexing the palate.
So, this is a complicated old beast, not “easy” but rather cantankerously lovable. The slightly drying finish is the only small mark against it, but I just find it encourages taking another sip, which is fun (and dangerous).
Not the place to start with Bowmore, but a wonderful stop on the journey.