By Richard Thomas
Bowmore is the oldest distillery on the famed Scottish island of Islay and the second oldest in Scotland, founded in 1779. Islay distilleries form a crowd of big, charismatic personalities, so it’s no easy task to stand out. That Bowmore has managed to do just this, and has a large and devoted enough fan following that I regularly meet folks who point to it as their favorite single malt, says a lot about the quality of what they do there.
Their 15 year old single malt is more than just a step up their expressions ladder. Introduced in 2007, the whisky is sub-titled “The Darkest,” and appropriately so. The whisky shows the signature dark coloring that comes from heavy sherry aging. Bowmore starts with 12 year old-plus whiskies from ex-bourbon barrel and Oloroso Sherry butt stocks. After batching, the whisky is then finished for an extra three years (years, not months) in Oloroso Sherry butts.
Bowmore 15 is indeed a dark dram, having a middling amber appearance that is so suggestive of bourbon that you wouldn’t know the difference on sight alone. The coat of the glass reveals a liquid that is as viscous as it is dark, as it only reluctantly drops a few thick legs and develops a crown with big crenellations.
The nose is initially spicy in the main, but with a strong presence of damp earth and modest ashy note. Further nosings revealed hints of raisins and lemon zest.
This whisky’s texture is like that of a light oil. In stark contrast to the nose, the taste of it smacks you with peat smoke up front. Behind the smokiness are notes of pepper and cinnamon, and behind that are smaller notes of oak tannins, dark berries and bitter chocolate. The finish turns smokier still, making the experience a progression of smoke, before fading away and leaving just the afterglow.
The first thing to note about Bowmore 15 is that, despite the aging and color, the Sherry influence here is modest. The best characteristic is how it starts out a little smoky and is almost choked with the stuff by the end. Insofar as my personal tastes go, I don’t think Bowmore 15 is actually better than its younger sibling, Bowmore 12. Different certainly, but not necessarily better.
Expect to pay about $75 for Bowmore 15 Year Old in the U.S. and £60 in the UK.