Tuesday, 22 January 2013


Because I liked my mini tasting of the Glenmorangie core range, I decided to have a go at some of the basics the Bowmore distillery has to offer. Bowmore is one of the large distilleries on the beautiful Scottish island of Islay, the Queen of the Hebrides, in the south-west of Scotland. During our whisky trip in 2012, we have visited the island, but have not enriched our visit with a tour at the distillery and settled with taking home a couple of samples from the store.

Bowmore, as seen from the pier

Three of the five samples are from the Bowmore core range, the other two are created for the tax-free market, although you do not have much trouble finding them in online whisky stores.
The nosing and tasting took me the better part of a week, where I had a different order every other day. It sometimes amazes me how many tastings I can get from one (or five) 5cl. bottle(s).

Bowmore - 12
40% abv, caramel e150a added

She has a fresh nose, some sweetness, with a hint of peat and a medicinal quality covering the fresh limes, raisins, sultanas, dried apricots, lots of vanilla and the lovely smell of fresh ground grains. The taste is silky soft, light sweet vanilla, red berries and a hint of smoke while the finish is very short ending with a little ash.

Not that difficult a dram. It is too bad about the ash in the finish, that does not help with the - to my taste - already ordinary nose and taste.

More or less this whisky can be seen as the base for her older sisters in the range, having matured in ex-Bourbon casks.

15 - 'Darkest'
Bowmore - 15 'Darkest' (red label)
43% abv, caramel e150a added

Just like the 12 year old, she starts with a sweet nose, adding a briny yet honey-sweet layer over the citrus, a hint of almonds and freshly mowed grass, red fruits, plums and dried muesli and fresh sawdust, completed with a hint of peat. In the honey-sweet taste that starts soft, but gets sharper over time, I have found smoke, more red fruit, especially berries and some caramel. It finishes quite spicy at first, last a little longer then her younger sibling and ends in a bitter aftertaste, with a hint of tobacco.

She started her life just about the same way as the twelve year old, but has been transferred into ex-Oloroso butts for a period of three years. My opinion is that the ex-Oloroso has been used before for another 'more premium' whisky, having in a less spectacular result then you might have from other brands' sherry finishes.

Bowmore - 18
43% abv, caramel e150a added

There is peat on the nose, but its not a big peat attack, but more like a feeling of a hearth predominates the gentle and soft vanilla, fresh malt and muesli grains, caramel and dark chocolate. It is gentle on the tongue, with sweet flowers, honey, buttery fat and hints of smoke. The finish is pretty short, bitter and infused with ash.

Highly recommended, pretty high in the price range, yet for me, despite of the gentle nose and taste, not worth the trouble.

15 - 'Marine'
Bowmore - 15 'Mariner' (green label)
43% abv, caramel e150a added
created for Tax-free marked

I have the feeling I am starting to repeat myself, there is sweetness, a light peat accompanied by briny malt, citrus, caramel and for the first time in this series there is the smell of sawdust and wood. Sharp on the tongue, like pepper, with sweet honey, a buttery texture, white fruits, a handfull of herbs, some smoke from an open fire. She comes with a pretty long and firm finish, leaves a honey sweet, yet fat layer on your throat accompanied with strong peat and ashes - in a good way.

She has the same credentials as the red labeled 'Darkest'; after the twelve years in bourbon, she is finished for a period of three years in an ex-Oloroso butt. I am not sure where the different lies, but to me the "Mariner' is much better then the 'Darkest'.

17 - 'Manager's dram'
Bowmore - 17
43% abv, caramel e150a added
created for Tax-free marked

Strangely enough, the nose is harsh and young (!?), there is a whiff of alcohol, lots of mint and menthol, citrus and a fresh campfire. Sweet and fat join in - after some time, with a sharp, bitter smoke on the palette to have a long, spicy and honey-sweet floral finish.

Pretty nice, but no wow-factor. According to their own website, this dram has been chosen as their favourite by Bowmore's last three distillery managers, that has given her the nickname 'Manager's Dram'.


My overall conclusion to this mini-tasting is that Bowmore makes really nice whiskies, although not all of them are completely to my taste.
A downside to this core range is that (as a lot of whiskies are these days) they are all coloured with caramel e150a. Together with the fact that I found it very difficult to get more information about the specific type of casks used, suggests to me that the casks Bowmore uses for this line are more-than-once-refills. The (even more) expensive versions of the Bowmore family are clearly branded as being matured in hand picked first-fill casks or for being non chill-filtered, where the core range of the series get a far lesser treatment. These bottles are designed to introduce new audiences to the brand and convincing them to eventually try the other ranges, but I am not sure this is the way to go.

I am a big peat-lover, but personally, I am not a fan of this range, although you are welcome to try and convince me, if you bring samples in your efforts.

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