My Islay Trip Part 2 – Bowmore 

I’d left the day I arrived on the island open just to look around a bit. My flight came in early so my room at the B&B in Port Ellen (Askernish, wonderful place to stay, recommended) wasn’t ready and after walking around the town for I bit I took the bus to Bowmore.

The town  itself was small and quiet with a few more tourist oriented shops than the smaller towns on the Island. After a small walk-around and having picked up some non-whisky related gifts for the girlfriend, I sauntered on down to Bowmore distillery on the Southern end of the town.

I hadn’t actually planned to visit Bowmore as I don’t really like the majority of their whiskies, but I was actually quite glad I did. The visitor centre is very well put together and feels quite modern. I was very warmly welcomed by the staff who told me I could join both a tour and a tasting that day.

IMG_20160706_120643The distillery was in silent season, a break they take from production once a year to see to maintenance and so forth, so we didn’t get to see everything up and running but it was still interesting, being my first visit to a distillery in Scotland. Our guide was very knowledgeable and informative too

At the end of the tour we got a dram of our choice from the core range and travel retail range and another dram as compensation for the pace being on silent season and nothing operating, which was a nice touch. I tried the 17-year-old White Sands and the Gold Reef. The White sands later appeared in the tasting so I’ll put the notes down there, but here’s what I thought of the Gold Reef:

Bowmore Gold Reef

This is a travel retail bottling. No age statement so it has a whole story about the colour of the whisky representing the colour of shining reefs at sunset and so on. Amazing what they can do with caramel these days.

Aged 3 years *. 43%ABV. Matured in bourbon and sherry casks.

*for lack of age statement

Nose: Slightly farmy. Young Peat. Seaweed. Sandalwood. Cologne. New leather. Sunflower oil.

Palate: Leathery. Salty. Bit of a fruit punch. Slight wood.

Finish: Medium. Salty toffee. Salty peat. Wood smoke.

Would I buy this: No

Would I order this in a bar: No

Would I drink this if someone gave me a glass: Yes

VFM: 3/5

This was an ok expression, the nose was actually quite nice but then barely any complexity to the palate or finish. It’s drinkable but unremarkable.

I went for a walk and had a nice lunch at the cafe attached to the distillery. The food was simple but good and came in nicely sized portions. They were pretty accommodating to the fact that I only had 20 minutes until the tasting and rushed my order which was great.

We then went on to the tasting. The tasting was held in the visitor lounge which was kind of odd as you had people coming and going throughout the thing. I was expecting to just taste the core range but was pleasantly surprised that we were given a whisky from the travel retail range, two special releases and some new make. I really like being given the chance to try new make as it gives you a chance to really see the base DNA of a whisky.

The new make was quite nice actually, a decent amount of peat to it, but not total smoke juice.

We then tasted the 15-year-old Darkest,  17-year-old white sands, 10-year-old Tempest (batch 6) and the NAS Devil’s Cask batch 3

Bowmore Darkest

This is one of the core expressions in Bowmore’s line-up, called, Darkest on account of just how much caram… uh… colour there is to it. This one is supposed to be very sherry oriented having undergone a fairly long 3-year finish in Oloroso casks.

Aged 15 years. 43%ABV. 

Nose: Caramel puddings. Nutty sherry. Wet earth. Char. Woodsmoke. Date honey. Light salt.

Palate: Nutty sherry wood. Dried berries. Light smoke. Salt. Mulch.

Finish: Short. Dry wood. Caramel pudding and light smoke.

Would I buy this: No

Would I order this in a bar: No

Would I drink this if someone gave me a glass: Yes

VFM: 3/5

This isn’t a bad one. It has some nice sherry notes, but it just falls short of some of the better sherried whiskies.

Bowmore 17 White Sands

A travel retail bottling with an age statement. This is quite rare. Matured entirely in ex-bourbon.

Aged 17 years. 43%ABV. Matured in bourbon casks.

Nose: Very bourbon nose. Fruit heavy. Tropical, coconut and pineapple. Peaches. Tobacco, unlit. Bit of light wood. Fruit syrup.

Palate: Flat. Bitter wood and light fruit. Barely any flavour.

Finish: Short. Bitter wood and salt.

Would I buy this: No

Would I order this in a bar: No

Would I drink this if someone gave me a glass: No

VFM: 1/5

I got really excited when I first nosed this, a lovely bouquet of bourbon matured cask smells that mixed quite well with the lightly smoked Bowmore spirit, but then on the palate it all just vanished, leaving a whisky that felt thin and boring. Chill filtration is a bitch.

Bowmore Tempest Batch 6

Another first fill bourbon expression. This is an annual small batch release matured in first fill bourbon. These beauties are bottled at cask strength.

Aged 10 years. 54.9%ABV. Matured in first fill bourbon casks. Non-chill filtered and bottled at cask strength.

Nose: Big Salt note. Mineral smoke. Pina colada. Wintergreen. Camphor.

Palate: Big vanilla note. Juicy fruit. Clementines. Smoke. Herbal. Pepper.

Finish: Long. Bitter wood. Sweet fruit. Undulating smoke and sea spray. Woodspice.

Would I buy this: Yes

Would I order this in a bar: Yes

Would I drink this if someone gave me a glass: Yes

VFM: 4/5

I liked this one a whole lot. It was everything the previous expression wasn’t, massively full bodied with huge maritime, spicy and fruity notes. Quite a powerful one and really really tasty.

Bowmore Devil’s Casks Batch 3

This is the last batch of an annual release, matured in dry and sweet sherry casks.

Aged 3 years*. 56.7%ABV. Matured in first fill Oloroso and PX casks. Non-chill filtered and bottled at cask strength. 

Nose: Funky, nutty sherry. Jammy notes. Figs. Maple syrup. Raisins, almost cognac. With water, salty toffee.

Palate: Mineral Peat. Stone fruits. Peach iced tea. Fruit leather. Candied orange peel.

Finish: Long. Spicy. Nutty sherry. Citrus peel. Light smoke.

Would I buy this: No

Would I order this in a bar: Yes

Would I drink this if someone gave me a glass: Yes

VFM: 2/5

This was another really solid whisky and well above my expectations. It’s not exactly the style of whisky I like, but I can still recognise it as a good one.

In all I was very pleasantly surprised with my visit to Bowmore. I hadn’t planned on going at all, but I’m glad that I did. The visitor center is really top notch and the tour and tasting were both worth it. I really liked the fact that we got some special whiskies, it really just drove home what I’ve been saying about Bowmore for a while, their core expressions aren’t so good, but their special releases are fantastic.


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