By Richard Thomas
While Bowmore certainly has a good reputation, it’s strangely overlooked among the “Islay Eight.” I say it is strange because Bowmore was the first legal distillery on the island, receiving a license in 1779; I say overlooked because despite that historical feature and its redoubtable whiskies, few enthusiasts would point to Bowmore and say “this is Islay’s classic/iconic/chic distillery.”
Just ten years ago, a truly antique bottle of Bowmore from 1850 was sold at auction for a mere £29,400 (about $45,000 at the time). I know “mere” doesn’t seem like a word to be associated with the price tag of a new Volvo, but keep in mind that ultra-aged, but ultimately modern Macallan single malts routinely bring in that kind of cash. It’s a pretty sum, but not so much really for a one of a kind item.
Bowmore 12 Year Old is the flagship of the line, and enjoys a well-deserved reputation as a fine example of an entry level single malt, to say nothing of being an entry level Islay malt. In the “Talks Scotch” interviews I do with authors, actors and models, it’s come up often with the folks who like peaty whiskies when we get to their affordable go-to choices.
Bowmore 12 is bottled at 40% ABV and is a pretty dark Scotch at that mark, with a coloring that straddles gold and light amber. The coating of the glass yields a pattern of solid, almost evenly spaced legs.
The scent is mild and smoky in the main, accented by notes of bergamot, lemon blossoms and fresh cut hay. It’s a very pleasant (if you like peat smoke) nose, both moderately sophisticated and well-rounded.
The flavor is richly smoked, like a thick bank rolling in over your tongue. It’s not overwhelming, though, as that carpet of smoke is fairly balanced (albeit not as balanced as in the nose) by orange blossom honey and bourbon barrel vanilla. The finish is ashy and grassy, lightly warm and quite lengthy.
Remarkably flavorful for a whisky bottled at the minimum 40%, Bowmore 12 Year Old is one of the best entry level single malts around. At the very least, it’s a contender for the best entry level from Islay. At the same time, it’s easy to see why my interview subjects kept pointing to it as a go-to whisky.
Bowmore 12 Year Old typically goes for $50 in the States and £40 in the UK.