Bowmore whisky is arguably one of the most interesting and varied of all Scotches, and not always for the reasons one might hope. On one hand this beautiful distillery on the shores of Loch Indaal has given us some of the most spectacular “malt moments” in history with, among others, its gloriously fruity 1964 Trilogy (‘Black’ Bowmore, ‘White’ and ‘Gold’) releases, and yet on the other hand we see the now all but infamous production of the 1980s with its seemingly inexplicable perfumed, soapy notes that many (myself fully included) find anything but desirable. The reason for this stark change of character during the 80s is hard to tie down to one specific factor, though we can be reasonably certain that it did not make itself so apparent in the new make at the time.
There is no question that many things have changed in the industry over the last 40 or so years and this is probably the greatest barrier to pinpointing the reasons behind Bowmore’s split personality. Centralised malting and maturation, new barley varieties, changes in fermentation time in response to demand and radically revised wood policy are just some of the many changes that may have played a part in what is clearly a complex picture. Had Bowmore remained draped in parma violets and lavender soap in its current production, I doubt we would find the situation fascinating so much as a tragedy. Gladly however the 90/00 spirit is as much a departure from that distilled in the 80s, as the 80s spirit was from its 60s and 70s forbears. As a result of this the current spirit is winning people over once more, with releases like the widely acclaimed Bowmore 10 year old Tempest and an array of quality bottlings from the Independents.
Bowmore 1998 Asta Morris
13 year old, 2011, 49.7% abv, bourbon hogshead AM003, 211 btls.
As lovely and inviting as these modern Bowmore’s can be with soft, faintly earthy peat, the distillery’s typically maritime notes of lobster pots, oysters and nice mineral suggestions of chalk, sand and gravel. A beautiful mix of fruit notes comes next in the form of some melon, kiwi and a little clean, lemony citrus. The coastal notes kick up a gear after some time with touches of straight brine and rock salt.
A sweet and salty delivery bucked up by ashes and threads of coal smoke. The maritime notes from the nose are fully represented also; sand, shells and fishing gear mixing with smoked lemons, under-ripe melons and candied grapefruit.
Supple and crisp with a nice richness.
Medium length with some white pepper spice, more sea salt and an undertone of green fruit and softly earthy peat.
Another lovely and very accessible selection under the Asta Morris label and equally, another example of just how delicious these recent Bowmore’s can be. The current spirit might not show the wonderful tropical fruitiness of that produced in the 60s, but it has now been replaced by a beautifully clean, almost crystalline coastal character and a very real sense of the island itself.