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Bowmore 18 Year Old Single Malt Whisky

Review: Bowmore 18 Year Old Single Malt Whisky  90.5/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted on July 17, 2011

Bowmore Distillery

The Bowmore Distillery sits at the edge of Loch Indaal where the briny breezes of the sea blow directly across and into the warehouses full of Bowmore whisky barrels. This means that at least some of that salty brine is bound to make its way into the casks and set its imprint into the flavour.  The distillery itself contains two pairs of stills, six Oregon washbacks, and it is one of the few remaining Scottish distilleries to produce its own malt on its own malting floor. The location of the distillery next to Loch Indaal, and the peated barley produced under Bowmore’s own malt drying kiln have been linked to the unique flavour and character of the whisky know as Bowmore.

I should mention that due to the sheer volume of whisky produced by Morrison Bowmore, there is insufficient room to age all of the casks in the Bowmore seaside warehouse facility, nor does the facilities’ malt floor have the capacity to produce all of the malted barley to meet Bowmore’s requirements. However, both portion of whisky aged in the Bowmore warehouses, and the portion of malted barley produced on their malt drying floor are significant such that these unique characteristics of the Bowmore Distillery are well worth noting.

The Bowmore 18 Year Old Single Malt Whisky is part of the core range of Bowmore Single Malts. This whisky is matured in a combination of American Bourbon Casks and Spanish Sherry casks. I was given a small set of 3 200 ml sample bottles of the Bowmore 12, the Bowmore 15 (Darkest) and the Bowmore 18 year Old Single Malt Whiskies for review here on my website. My review of the Bowmore 18 Year Old is the third review in the series.

In the Bottle 4/5

The presentation for the Bowmore 18 Year Old is shown to the right. The presentation (except for the labels) is exactly the same as for the previously reviewed Bowmore 12 and 15. The bottle is in the style of a bar room whisky, designed to be easy to hold, easy  to pour, and of course easy to store on the bar shelf. This presentation is simple but classy. I am pleased that the closure is a high density cork which seals the whisky in properly and gives me that nice satisfying  ‘pop’ when I first open the bottle.

My only quibble is that I would like to see a little more information on the bottle sleeve or label. Scotch whiskies come in many different styles, and although the whisky is identified as an Islay Single Malt, a few tasting notes on the bottle sleeve would be helpful for the consumer in determining whether this style of Islay Whisky would be suitable for him or her. This is especially important as we climb up the rungs into the more expensive expressions in the core range. The customer (who is spending some good money here) deserves to know whether he or she will be buying a smoky peat-filled whisky, or a whisky with a lighter profile.

In the Glass 9/10

The Bowmore 18-year-old is a rich bronze colour in the glass a little darker than the previously reviewed Bowmore 12 Year old, but a little lighter than the Bowmore 15 (Darkest). Legs which are not particularly fat nor particularly slender train down the sides of the glass after a quick tilt and slow swirl.

The immediate nose is full of dark chocolate caramel. The peat and sherry smoke sits just behind giving the whisky an aromatic flair and accenting the richness of the chocolate scent. Dry fruit is evident in the form of prunes and raisins and there are even faint echoes of cherries in the breezes. As the glass decants, the chocolate begins to separate from the caramel, and the oak begins to manifest rich baking spices. The peat has turned to willow and spruce boughs with even a bit of green moss in the very back of the aromatic breezes. I find the nose to be very complex, and the glass is inviting me to begin sipping.

In the Mouth 55/60

The Bowmore 18 leads out with the rich taste of chocolate toffee which permeates all of the other flavours I encountered. The peat and sherry smoke flavours become evident immediately as they ride in the currents of that chocolate accenting the flavour with herbal tones from the peat and dry fruits (like raisins and prunes) from the sherry. The oak is making things just a little heated in the mouth but a strong undercurrent of sweetness works with this heat making everything taste delicious. Like the Bowmore 15, the sherry smoke is very compatible with the peat, however in this expression the oak has joined in and the triumvirate of influences creates a kind of wonderful medley in the mouth that continues to ooze chocolate and toffee.

There are other subtleties evident as well which include a touch of salty brine, a hint of floral  and herbal flavours dancing in the peat, and little pockets of fresh fruit (plums) and citrus peel which bob up and down in the currents of the whisky. I like the complexity, and I like the balance of flavours which seem to work together with no single element dominating the rest.

In the throat 13.5/15

The finish is loaded with chocolate that just keeps coming. Bits of scattered tea leaves mingle with a few brown sugars and caramel and the final exit is punctuated by  light peppery oak tannins.

The Afterburn 9/10

Tasting the Bowmore 12, the Bowmore 15 (Darkest) and the Bowmore 18 Year Old Single Malt Whiskies in progression has been a fun exercise. In the case of these three malts it was evident as I sampled the older editions that the whisky was becoming smoother and more well-rounded with each step up. As well, each whisky has become progressively sweeter as it has spent more time in the oak barrels. This means, as you can imagine, that I  enjoyed the Bowmore 18 very much. It is a very nice Whisky!

4 Responses to “Bowmore 18 Year Old Single Malt Whisky”

  1. russ said

    hi chip..been going back to some of my old bottles of single malt lately as the morph to a rum guy started with florida and was the libation of choice for years.anyways ,comparing the highland parks,macs[vat strength,12,15,18],balvenie 15,laphroig 10, etc .to newer bottles at friends’ bars has made me realize there is little conformity to the brands older examples.not sure why but very few of the new examples are anywhere near as enjoyable as my older bottles with the notable exception of the laphroig 10 as my go to. suppose the marketing/merchandising bean counters at these distribution conduits are not malt guys as much as their former decision makers were . happy trails russ

  2. Muntzie said

    I drink almost exclusively Islay peated Scotches (and rum) and I have to say that Bowmore is probably the only Islay that I’m not fond of. The 18yr has, imo, a rubbery/apricot undertone which I’m not crazy about. But I find most of your reviews spot on so I’d be curious to read your take on Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Laphroaig. Caol Ila, Bruichladdich PC8 and Talisker (not an Islay, but peaty and yummy). I honestly have to say that standard whiskies have become much less interesting since sampling the aforementioned scotches. Oh, and congrats for giving the Macallan 12 and 18 the same grade. I have them here and have done multiple taste tests and for the life of me I can’t see where the extra $150CAD has gone.

    • Hi Muntzie

      I appreciate the encouraging words you have shared with respect to my reviews. It is not unusual for me to appreciate a younger whisky as much as I do an older more expensive whisky. Sometimes when whisky ages, the barrels take as much as they give, and in the case of the Macallan 18 my feeling was that the extra time in the barrel gave the whisky a richer sherry flavour than the younger 12 had (although that was very rich too), but the whisky also lost some of the more subtle nuances which I happen to appreciate.

      As for the peated whiskies, i am traveling cautiously. I hope to review Talisker this year, and hopefully I will get it right. (We’ll see)

      Slainte

      Chip

      • Muntzie said

        I totally agree regarding whiskies losing certain qualities as they age, and if you make the big peat jump I think you’ll find that it applies TENFOLD to smoky scotches. Talisker is probably the only one of the big peat malts I mentioned that I have only tried in the 10yr version (an excellent dram) and I’m dying to try the 18yr (haven’t seen it in Quebec yet) but I’m scared it’ll acquire roundness and maturity at the expense of its wonderful zing of smoke and iodine.

        Best of luck with the Talisker. It’s actually the scotch that (somehow) got me into peat, but it was a rough ride. For some reason, unlike the several bottles of Talisker I’ve sampled since, my first Talisker was insanely rich in iodine and peat wtih a finish that would hit you after a few seconds with LOUD notes of seaweed, burnt tires, acetone and oysters (revolting my first 3 tries and unbelievably addictive subsequently). I’ve been “chasing the dragon” ever since but have NEVER come close to finding a bottle of anything remotely similar to that first bottle (and I can pretty much rule out the “novelty” factor because I opened a bottle of Lagavulin before finishing that first bottle of Talisker and it was like drinking water in comparison so …). I bought another bottle of Talisker a few months later and was totally disappointed to find it had little in common with that first bottle, but it has nonetheless become one of my go to scotches. So enjoy, and I hope the experience won’t turn everything else a tad more banal … there is that risk :)

 
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