Bowmore (Pronounced: bow-MORE)
55°50'52.998 N, 6°6'21.1284 W
Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila
2 Wash stills, 2 Spirit stills
2,000,000 litres of pure alcohol per year
Suntory > Morrison Bowmore (since 1994)
Bowmore, Islay, Argyll, PA43 &JS, Scotland
Below, on WhiskyFun and on the Malt Maniacs Monitor
Scores & tasting notes:
1) Some Bowmore whiskies that were released between +/- 1995 and the early noughties share an unpleasant trait that is known as 'FWP' - which is short for 'French Whore Perfume'. It's quite unmistakable and quite a few people find it disturbing - but that didn't stop Bowmore from releasing those whiskies anyway at part of the brand. What an inventive way to chase away a loyal customer base... The malt maniacs have written no less than three E-pistles about it in older editions of Malt Maniacs and Dave Broom did extensive research for his 'Lavender Lament' E-pistle.
2) Stanley P. Morrisson bought the Bowmore malt whisky distillery for 117,000 GBP in 1963.
3) Bowmore distillery is located near the town of Bridgend. A flint arrowhead that was found near Bridgend dated from circa 10,500 BC, which makes it the earliest evidence of human presence found so far in Scotland.
4) Around 2007, the distillery started an overhaul of the entire Bowmore range and shifted their focus towards the duty free channel. The 'Dusk' and 'Dawn' expressions were discontinued and an 18yo Bowmore was launched.
5) The phenol contents of the malted barley for the Bowmore malt whisky is approximately 25 PPM.
Bowmore 12yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Serious and smoky with a sweet undercurrent. Phenolics from the "industrial" side of the spectrum.
After a few minutes some very subtle organics emerge. There are some subtleties, but you have to work at it.
Taste: Smoky and sweet start, matches the nose very well. I like smoke - but this is perhaps a tad one-sided.
Very smooth on the surface, but the heavy smoky undercurrent determines the tone of the conversation.
Score: 82 points - I like this batch much better than some overly perfumy batches from the late 1990's.
That being said, the flowery notes DID offer some much needed counterbalance to the smoke.
Bowmore 15yo 'Darkest' (43%, OB, Sherry cask finish, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Smoke and some leather. Smoke remains the dominant impression for a long time.
Very sherried - but it's the harsh, smoky and woody site with none of the fruits to counteract the dark side.
Taste: Lots of smoke. Ashes. In fact, one might say that it's unbalanced. It almost reminded me of Loch Dhu.
Score: 71 points - did Bowmore strive for this profile to compete with Laphroaig? If so they failed.
They did get rid of the perfumy elements. However, now there seems no 'soul' left - just smoke.
Bowmore 26yo 1982/2009 (53.4%, Master of Malt, Refill Sherry Hogshead, 195 Bts.)
Nose: Light start with a whiff of sour apples. Sorrel. Something very faintly medicinal in the background.
After a few minutes of breathing it improves greatly when some organics join the mostly smoky profile.
Taste: Smoky and very hot start. Medicinal. It sweetens out in the centre, but the smoke remains dominant.
Score: 84 points - there were some rough edges, but I LOVE the medicinal traits that emerge.
Bowmore 20yo 1990/2010 (50.7%, Signatory Vintage / Prestonfield, C#1065, 294 Bts.)
Nose: Light, sweet and peaty. Some lighter fruity notes emerge after a few seconds. Plums. Honeyed.
Taste: Salt and sweet; more smoky than peaty. Long, dry and hot finish. Pleasant mouth feel.
Score: 83 points - it hung around 81 or 82 points for a while until I found some organics in the nose.
Bowmore 10yo 'Tempest' Batch #1 (55.3%, OB, First Fill Bourbon, Bottled 2009)
Nose: Toffee & Caramac sweetness. Some organics evolving in the background. Meaty. Spices?
A lovely complex whisky; not one type of peat, but a wide variety, ranging from organic to medicinal.
Taste: Solid, feisty, smoky start with some sweetness in the background. Hot, smoky centre and finish.
Very nice medicinal aftertaste. Not quite as complex as the nose, but it's a solid foundation for the nose.
Score: 83 points - A very nice 'comeback' from Bowmore; and not a trace of the 'perfume' from the past.
Bowmore 1995/2009 (46%, Wilson & Morgan Barrel Selection, Sherry finish)
Nose: Wow! Something that reminds me of a sushi restaurant. Raw fish? Something rubbery too?
Straw? Cardboard? Dung? Other farmy notes. Then it moves in the direction of liquorice and aniseed.
Taste: Fishy and rubbery, just like the nose. Drops off quickly. Ah, wait, it makes a comeback after ten minutes.
Liquorice and aniseed emerge. Dry, leathery finish with a menthol freshness.
Score: 81 points - perhaps not terribly brilliant, but there's no 'FWP' either.
Bowmore 36yo 1972/2008 (45.4%, Signatory Vintage CS Collection, Sherry Butt #3890, 540 Bts.)
Nose: A rich sherried profile. Dark and tarry. Not as expressive as the colour would suggest at first.
Sulphury notes and some faint burnt elements. Sharper after a minute. Some farmy notes as well.
Taste: Smoky start. Dry, smoky centre that grows a little sweeter towards the finish.
There are quite some tannins in the finish. Medicinal aftertaste - which is a good thing...
Score: 84 points - nice complexity; but the sulphur keeps it from the upper 80's for me.
I should add that this one is complex enough that others could easily rank it in the upper 80's.
Bowmore 16yo 1991/2008 (59.3%, Wilson & Morgan, Port Finish, C#15058-15059)
Nose: Wowee! Polished, rich and fruity. Well rounded. Cinnamon sweets. Some spices too - my kind of profile.
Pretty complex as well - it pays to take your time with this one... The profile gradually changes over time.
Taste: Dry, sweet and fruity start. Dry centre too - in fact, this whisky is remarkably dry throughout.
In fact, just a smidgen too dry for my tastes, so that keeps it out of the upper 80's for me.
Score: 84 points - a definite improvement on the OB's of a similar age, as far as I'm concerned.
Bowmore 1994/2008 (56.3%, Berry Brothers & Rudd, Cask#1681)
Nose: Restrained. Slowly opens up a bit, showing more phenols over time. More smoky than peaty.
Taste: Hot start, but it takes a while for the peat to come forward. Camphor? Hot again in the finish.
Score: 79 points - partly because this one doesn't really respond to water.
Bowmore 1991/2005 (59,6%, Scotch Single Malt Circle, C#575)
Nose: Whooah… Interesting nose with antiquity and leather that suggests this is an oldie.
Almost like a Brora. Lovely, lovely, lovely... That sentiment was confirmed during round 2; excellent stuff.
Taste: Sweet wood on the palate with some gorgeous tannins. Some peat in the finish as well, it seems.
I didn't think it was Brora anymore during another try (too smoky) but I dis feel it deserves an extra point.
Score: 91 points - even though it's quite extreme; one of the surprises of the Malt Maniacs Awards 2006.
Bowmore 1999/2005 'Young Peaty Islay 3rd Batch' (61.5%, Royal Mile Whiskies, 308 bottles)
Nose: A tad lemony in the start. Then peat emerges. Some grain and dust in the background. Very nice.
Dusty in the nose during a second dram. Rice crackers. Hint of oil, perhaps? Was I feeling a bit too generous?
Taste: Peaty, sweet and just a tad dusty. Big burn. Dry. Something herbal? A tad medicinal? Liquorice.
It's odd I didn't notice the oil during my first round, because it's on the palate too, hidden between the smoke.
There's peat as well, but this time it's obscured by a metallic layer of smoke. Typical Bowmore smoke...
Score: 82 points - I like it a lot, but in the end it lacks the depth and 'weight' I expect in the upper 80's.
Bowmore 35yo 1968/2003 (42.05%, Duncan Taylor Peerless, Cask #1424, 201 Bottles)
Nose: Indeed, rather similar to C#1431 at first - maybe a little grainier. Not as expressive.
Obvious differences emerge quickly: this one has no fruit at all. Maybe some eucalyptus?
It's pretty much dead after five minutes - and I couldn't revive it with a few drops of water.
Hmmmm... Maybe some life signs after all with some more water? Hardly - comateuse at best.
No wait - after ten minutes there were some vaguely interesting organics and nutty notes.
Taste: Oooh... Very bitter in the start. Woody, flat centre. No entertainment value at all.
I wonder what they were thinking when they bottled this. This almost tastes like aspirin!
The fact that the nose grows mildly interesting over time kept it in the 70's - until I tasted it.
Score: 49 points - I have no love for this puppy. What a difference a cask makes...
Bowmore 12yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2002, L378 205M 11:31)
Nose: A little sherry and a little smoke. Subdued fruity notes. No obvious perfumy notes.
All in all it's not very expressive, although it got some leathery notes and 'medicine' with time.
Taste: Starts out a tad sour and bitter for my tastes, but then there's a flash of peat.
The peat disappears just as quickly as it arrived, leaving a smoky, long and dry finish.
Score: 78 points - but it might have limped into the 80's with more power on the palate.
Maybe my mind is playing tricks on me, but I think the 12yo used to have more depth.
Still, this seems to be a perfume-free batch of Bowmore so I'm not complaining too much.
Bowmore 33yo 1968/2001 (46.2%, Signatory Vintage, Cask #1431, 218 Bottles)
Nose: Rich. Organics. Passion fruit. Melon. Strawberry? A forest in autumn. Rum.
It shows a faint hint of perfume, but nothing like the heavy chemical 'FWP' odeur.
Taste: Strangely fruity. No peat whatsoever, but it still has a great mouth feel.
It has a very subtle smokiness that's surprisingly appealing. Dry, woody finish.
Score: 87 points - some things reminded me a lot of the Bruichladdich 1970.
It's great, but Islay peat and subtlety still don't mix too well for me, I'm afraid.
Maybe this cask shot just a little bit past its prime a few years ago.
Bowmore NAS 'Darkest' (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2000)
Nose: Hmmm... Quite nice, with sherry, smoke and some peat as the most obvious components.
Nothing wrong there at first, although I suddenly found more unpleasant elements after I tasted it.
Taste: Quite another tale. Just after opening, it tastes pretty awful. Sickly cloying chemical sickness.
Soap. Astringent aftertaste. A major disappointment, especially given the steep price.
Right now, I'd take the 17 or 21 anytime - or even the 'ordinary' 12yo. for that matter.
Score: 55 points - barely likeable. And it started so promising in the nose...
Bowmore 15yo 'Mariner' (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2000, Batch B180B)
Nose: Smoke, sherry and a hint of fruity perfume; typically Bowmore. Pepper?
It has changed considerably since I opened the bottle - and not in a good way.
Fortunately, it opens up with more peat after a minute. Sweeter and nuttier.
Taste: Bitter start, before it grows peatier. No sweetness. Chemical and perfumy.
The perfume element seems to have grown stronger over time - not a good thing.
Hot. Unbalanced. Sherry and smoke. Sourish, winey finish. Breaks apart pretty quickly.
Score: 80 points - recommendable, but just barely.
Bowmore 17yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2000)
Nose: Hmmm... Very soft sherry and a memory of peat, growing stronger over time.
A hint of furniture polish as well. There's not much else going on, though. Leather?
Just a tad sweeter with time. Organics. Smoked ham? Pleasant, but it remains a tad dull.
Taste: Whaaaaat???? What has happened here? I'm getting 'Darkest' flashbacks!
Smoky and burnt. Flat. Perfumy. Sour, uneven finish. Hint of menthol or pine?
It's completely destroyed. Oh boy, the worm has certainly turned in this one...
Score: 65 points - that's right; this bottle was OK when I opened it, but not anymore.
I usually ignore changes in a bottle that take place more than a year after opening, but in this case only a few drams had been taken from the bottle - in which case I expect my bottles to last a little longer. Oxidation isn't supposed to become a problem until after you've started on the second half of the bottle. Please note that the nose still isn't bad - it's the 'French prostitute with 3 degree burns' taste that spoils the fun for me.
Bowmore 1965 'Full Strength' (50%, OB, Bottled 1980's)
Nose: Wow! This smells like a heavily sherried Speysider. Dark fruity notes. Sellery. Clay.
Great wood. Subtle smoky notes - like a garden bonfire. Something metallic. Stock cubes.
Wonderful sherry. Very complex - many elements I can't quite get my hands on.
Taste: Smooth, fruity start followed by sweet liquorice. Good wood. Dry Burn.
Strong fruity centre. Long smoky finish. Fabulous mouth feel at 50%. Very complex too.
Score: 96 points - Yep, this is absolutely fabulous. Without a doubt and by far the best Bowmore I ever tried. Maybe this was the profile they tried to re-create with the Bowmore Darkest? If so, they failed miserably... But then again, this profile is so extreme that it might scare away sick women and children... Granted, one or two 'emotional' points may have crept in there because this was the bottle Serge found in a little old Pizzera in Italy in 2003...
These were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Bowmore Scotch whisky I've tried over the years.
Besides, these tasting notes only reflect my own, personal opinion; your tastes might be different from mine.
Fortunately, you can find the scores and tasting notes from up to two dozen other whisky lovers in the 'Malt Maniacs Monitor' - an independent whisky database with details on more than 15,000 different whiskies from Scotland and the rest of the world. Visit the Bowmore page on the MMMonitor and select 'scorecard view' if you want to know how other whisky lovers felt about the hundreds of Bowmore expressions that have been released in recent years. However, if you'd like to learn more about whisky in general (and single malt Scotch whisky in particular), you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky (10 chapters filled with everything you need to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky) or the mAlmanac (sort of a rudimentary whisky shopping guide.)
2000 - Bowmore joined the growing group of distilleries that offered 'finished' expressions
of their whisky.
They released the bordeaux finished 'Dusk' in 2000 and the port finished 'Dawn' in 2001. These expressions were removed from Bowmore's portfolio, but later new bordeaux and port finishes were released.
2009 - In the second half of the 1990's Bowmore started to suffer from an overly perfumy character in their bottlings which became known as 'FWP'. Many malt whisky lovers were not fond of this characteristic and consequentially many of them started to avoid the brand altogether. Fortunately, the problem seems to have 'worked itself through the system' now - although single cask bottlings from the 1980's (OB's and IB's) can still be tainted by FWP.
2010 - Many brands release a 40 year old official expression in 2010 (Balvenie, Bruichladdich and Highland Park, to name but a few) and Bowmore is one of them. Some people might argue that the extravagant packaging of this deluxe bottling provides a fresh excuse for a comparison with the perfume of French prostitutes.
Bowmore still has its own maltings, although the three malt floors
only produce about a third of all the malted barley that Bowmore needs. The rest is produced at the nearby Port Ellen maltings. The malted barley is broken before it is dried over a very smoky fire, which may account for the fact that modern day Bowmore whiskies tend to be predominantly smoky as opposed to the peatier style of, for example, the three Southern 'Lochindaal' distilleries Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig.
Some Bowmores released in the 1960's and before have a much lighter, more 'floral' style.
Bowmore was also one of the first distilleries that knew how to 'hype'
its whiskies with breathless and soulless press releases about yet another 'most expensive whisky ever sold'. During the early noughties they were involved in a constant tug of war with distilleries like Dalmore and Macallan about who had the dubious honour of calling themselves 'the most expensive whisky ever'.
So, it's a weird reverse price war - and some distilleries are leapfrogging all the way to the bank. Fortunately for the whisky industry, there is a large audience (especially in Asia and the Americas) that is actually more interested in expensive whisky than in good whisky. If you are a successful distiller, it eventually becomes very difficult to make an even better whisky - even with the investment of a lot of capital, time and energy. Making an even more expensive whisky is relatively easy in comparison, especially if you're the one making the price tags. But I guess it just makes common business sense to cater to that 'platinum' target audience as well. As long as the distilleries still keep making good, affordable malts for the masses, I shouldn't complain...
In 1950 Bowmore was purchased by William Grigor & Sons Ltd. from Inverness.
A little over a decade later, in 1963, Stanley P. Morrison Ltd. bought Bowmore, increased the number of stills to four and added a visitor centre - proving that they had a nose for marketing even when the single malt market was still relatively small in the 1960's. The marketing of Bowmore whisky became even more sophisticated after Suntory from Japan bought Bowmore's parent company in 1994. Apart from Bowmore, Suntory currently owns the Lowlands distillery Auchentoshan and Glen Garioch in the Eastern Highlands. This 'portfolio' of three very different distilleries gave Suntory a lot of flexibility, but I'm not sure they used those opportunities - Japanese management is known for its 'hands on' style.
I'll get to the 'production' end later, but their marketing was excellent.
Together with Glenfiddich, Glenfarclas and Macallan, Bowmore was one
of the first distilleries that managed to put a wide range of whiskies of
different ages on the shelves of liquorists in the 1990's. Apart from a
number of expressions without an age statement (The Legend, Surf,
Cask Strength, Darkest, Dusk, Dawn, etc.) the core range of Bowmore
consists of a 12yo, a 15yo, a 17yo, a 21yo, a 25yo and a 30yo whisky.
During the 1990's a 10yo expression was available in Holland as well,
but a.f.a.i.k. the Bowmore 10 was discontinued a few years ago.
Bowmore has a style of its own which has many enthusiastic fans.
However, some Bowmore bottlings share an unpleasant trait that has
become known as 'FWP'. This is short for 'French Whore Perfume'.
Excuse my French - but it's French... The aroma is quite unmistakable
and most people with more refined palates find it absolutely revolting.
That being said - I'm happy to report that the 'problem' seems to have originated in the
1980's. Because the whiskies that were made in the 1980's didn't appear on the shelves
of liquorists until the 1990's; and then the management at Bowmore turned a few questions
from concerned fans into a PR disaster by denying there was a problem. When the fans were
persistent, Bowmore proceeded to threaten them with legal action if they discussed matters on the web.
I'm happy to report that the problem has worked its way through the system and most of the current releases seem
to be back at the level that built Bowmore's solid reputation. A relatively large part of the whisky produced at Bowmore
is bottled as a single malt - either as official bottlings in the range I described above or as independent bottlings.
The rest of the malt whisky produced at Bowmore is an ingredient of blends like Rob Roy & Black Bottle.
The Bowmore distillery on Islay was built in 1779, at least
that's the claim made by their marketeers. This would
make Bowmore one of the oldest working distilleries in
Scotland. However, the records from this early period are
often relatively vague, so when the first Bowmore was
actually distilled is hard to determine with 100% accuracy.
Bowmore's owners during the 19th century included one
John Simpson, as well as William & James Mutter. In the
year 1922 the distillery came up for sale and it actually
took three years before it was acquired by a company
under the name of Sherriff's Bowmore Distillery Ltd.
Is the distillery or