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Hi, this is one of our (almost) daily tastings. Santé!

August 28, 2019


A crazy flight of Bowmore

Always a joy to weave in and out of Bowmore’s vintages, although I have to say recent ones have been much more consistent. We’ve got quite a few on the tasting table, let’s see how far we’ll manage to go and if needed, we’ll do some sequel-session(s), knowing that one of these will be our 500th Bowmore on little WF! Oh and as we like to do, we’ll proceed more or less randomly…

Bowmore 30 yo ‘Sea Dragon’ (43%, OB, ceramic, +/-2001)

Bowmore 30 yo ‘Sea Dragon’ (43%, OB, ceramic, +/-2001) Five stars
Sure I’ve tried this famous 30 before but those very early tasting notes had been very unsatisfactory. What’s more, there had been several batches, and some were even having various white numbers in the bottom of the bottles. The quality used to vary as well, so we have the best of excuses to try this baby again (but from a different batch!) By the way, it seems that there's a new Sea Dragon for China. 888 bottles, of course, that's what we call unbridled creativity. Colour: deep gold. Nose: these Bowmores are never easy at first nosing, as the taster would find whiffs of bitter earth and some excessive mushrooms, which is exactly what happens here. Bowmore always needed to breathe, you couldn’t even touch a new bottle before you had kept it open for a few days. But then, you were in for a treat! In this very case, we find the expected mangos, notes of concrete, bergamots, some kind of mentholated oysters (ideas ideas), touches of fennel seeds, celery, pu-erh, and certainly a little chalk. Did the latter come from the decanter? Let’s see… Mouth: quite an experience. Mangos and figs at first and as jams, then rather citrus and earth, some smoked fish, a little pipe tobacco, the same sweeter side that was to be found in the Black Bowmores (blackberry jam, old PX), then rather pomegranate and cranberry juice. In truth it’s not totally ‘wow’, perhaps decanter fatigue? Always beware of decanters in general, they don’t always keep well. But do anybody still open them anyway? Finish: medum and even a little short, but very savoury now. Maggi. Comments: fantastic old Bowmore, it’s just a little fragile. Not much smoke to be found, by the way. Still worth a very high score.
SGP:672 - 90 points.

Good, let’s select the next one carefully for once. And so, since we were talking decanters…

Bowmore 21 yo (43%, OB, Golf decanter, +/-1985, 75cl)

Bowmore 21 yo (43%, OB, Golf decanter, +/-1985, 75cl) Five stars
There were two different decanters, Turnberry and St. Andrews, but rumour has it that the whiskies were the same. This should be fully early 1960s distillate, so one of the most glorious spirits ever made by Man. Some even say that since no one seems to be capable of reproducing this style, even partially, some aliens may have actually helped out. But shh… Colour: brown amber with bronze hues. Nose: sweet Vishnu, I remember! It is totally amazing spirit, in a whole different league, displaying the most incredible range of tropical fruits, in all their states (fresh, preserved, as jams, as syrups, dried, oh and distilled, naturally…). Even Fortnum’s Food Hall looks like a Cuban grocery store by comparison. Do you really need a list? Mouth: feels bigger than just 43%, and rougher than on the nose, which is very cool since we’re now finding more coastal elements, seashells, also tobacco, dried figs, many herbal teas, this feeling of pink grapefruit that’s very ‘60s Bowmore, a little salt, some Sichuan pepper, some chestnut honey, something reminiscent of some very old Sauternes, with a wee mentholy side, some honeydew, some chen-pi (thanks again, Gene), also a little coffee and chocolate (as beans)… Indeed the list is endless, as if everything was in there. Finish: incredibly long, and rather more on savoury flavours, soups, meats, umami… No wonder the distillery was then bought up by some discerning Japanese gentlemen, around ten years after this decanter was issued. Only the aftertaste is wee tad jumbled, which is typically ‘decanter’ in my book. Loses one point here, there! Comments: none. Or rather this, really, careful with decanters, some were kept lying on their sides and could get corked over the years. Or stale. Now some make for nice bud vases.
SGP:653 - 94 points.

Isn’t this starting a little too fast?... Or why not do a retro-verticale while we’re at it?...

Bowmore 40 yo 1970/2010 (43.2%, Signatory Vintage, first fill oloroso sherry butt, cask #4467, 489 bottles)

Bowmore 40 yo 1970/2010 (43.2%, Signatory Vintage, first fill oloroso sherry butt, cask #4467, 489 bottles) Five stars
I know some distinguished friends are wondering why anyone would write both ‘oloroso’ and ‘sherry’, since oloroso’s sherry anyway. Well, it is not, they make oloroso in other places. So, oloroso does not equal sherry, and PX even less so. Colour: amber. Nose: aaargh, this is flabbergasting. It’s a little less complex than the 21 yo OB, but it’s got this je-ne-sais-quoi (how do you like my French?) that makes it totally perfect. More costal notes, more polished woods, more essential oils from the oak, more camphor too. The whole just holds together and complement those majestic mangos that reign supreme once again. Mouth: pah-pah-pah, truffle soup and mint sauce, plus mead and chestnut purée. Add a little lemon juice, a pinch of salt, a slice of Seville orange, and some kind of ancient mint cordial, the ones that used to cure just anything according to old ads. Brilliant whisky, exceptionally tight, with an oak that’s just about to start to consider taking over. Like, in five years. Finish: medium, more herbal, spicier, and perhaps a little oakier indeed. Thyme tea and the lightest cinnamon mints in the aftertaste. Comments: I believe Bowmore started to change after 1970. We’ll see if we manage to check that later on…
SGP:653 - 92 points.

And so…

Bowmore 1976/2014 (58%, Scotch Malt Whisky Society, #3.2)

Bowmore 1976/1984 (58%, Scotch Malt Whisky Society, #3.2) Three stars
That is right, the second Bowmore ever issued by the honourable SMWS. What is particularly fantastic here is to be able to check an old distillate as it was when it was still an infant. Let’s also remember that in theory, the distillery’s good vintages were nearly over by then (why, I do not know), but also that #3.4, a 1976 as well, was just incredible (WF 93). So what will happen now?...  Colour: pale white wine. Nose: interesting (no sugar!), between lightly aged cachaça and unaged damson eau-de-vie. I do not get much peat, if any, rather some kind of sugar syrup and the kind of grassiness that you would find in… indeed, young cachaça. Hints of aniseed, and even pastis. What’s this? Where’s Bowmore? With water: goes straight to the stable. Mud, wool, barnyard, bread, yeast, and almost no smoke. Mouth (neat): a strange spirit. Again, not much smoke, rather some raw eau-de-vie and something burnt, as if distillation was rushed. Friday afternoon work? Notes of supermarket gin. With water: rather a little better, thanks to some friendly lemons, but that’s pretty all. Finish: medium, raw, grassy and a little sugary. Comments: it is hard to understand why 3.4 was stellar, and 3.2 pretty lousy, while both were stemming from the same vintage, and possibly from the same parcel of casks. Mysterious Scotch, as old TV documentaries used to say. Not totally terrible, though, just very disappointing. Welcome to the poorer years…
SGP:353 - 80 points.

A last one for the road, we’ll have some younger guns tomorrow…

Bowmore 26 yo 1991/2018 ‘The Lowest Tide’ (50.9%, Woolf Sung, Sauternes finish, cask # 27935, 287 bottles)

Bowmore 26 yo 1991/2018 ‘The Lowest Tide’ (50.9%, Woolf Sung, Sauternes finish, cask # 27935, 287 bottles) Four stars
I like to find notes of Sauternes in my whisky, but not obligatorily Sauternes as such, even if Sauternes is one of the wines that work best in whisky. I know what I’m trying to say. By the way, some may start to produce bespoke barriques for the whisky industry, but shh, it’s getting complicated down there, the tide is low indeed. Drink more sweet wines! Colour: gold. Nose: wine is best in whisky when you just don’t notice it. That’s kind of the case here, as everything’s fine, the spirit’s dancing in the moonlight (what?) and anything from the sea is doing its job to perfection. Clams, seaweed… Also Islay mud, grass, charcoal, baker’s yeast… All fine. With water: sourdough, mud and damp fabric, that’s what we were expecting. Mouth (neat): I’m not saying the ‘clean’ spirit wouldn’t have been better, and European oak’s not always easy to control (pst, fresh first, for a short time; second used, for a long time), but we’re fine in this very case, the oak brings additional spices (green ones) and the wine imparts tiny bits of apricots and plums. Perhaps. Other than that, it’s a pretty almondy Bowmore, with some paraffin and some limoncello. With water: do not add too much water. Wine-finished whiskies usually swim badly (insult to injury, etc.) but just a few drops work very well here, making the spirit brighter, fruitier, and simply more ‘Bowmore’. Finish: medium, rather herbal. Green smokiness. Comments: ha, peat and table wine! But phew, looks like we dodged a major bullet today. Mind you, Bowmore and Sauternes!
SGP:465 - 85 points.

We need a clean one, we need a clean one… I know we said we’d stop, but… Let’s make it a bourbon!

Bowmore 25 yo 1990/2005 (52.5%, Valinch & Mallet, bourbon barrel, cask #1163, 186 bottles)

Bowmore 25 yo 1990/2015 (52.5%, Valinch & Mallet, bourbon barrel, cask #1163, 186 bottles) Five stars
In my book, 1990 was the vintage of Bowmore’s resurrection, even if there are some very good 1989s as well. Let’s see… Colour: white wine. Nose: much fun to be had with this baby, as it’s not totally clear, which is an asset under these circumstances. What I’m trying to say is that you’ll find several vintages in one, or rather several styles gathered for your enjoyment. Tropical fruits from the 1960s, more yeasty muddiness from the mid 1970s, and more crystal-clean coastal/mineral smokiness from the early-to-late 1990s. How cool is that? With water: swims like the imaginary son of Mark Spitz and Shirley Babashoff. Utterly perfect nose, state of the art, with this typical muddiness that’s so lovely. Or there, wet dogs (we’ll be eternally sorry, dogs). Mouth (neat): huge, crystal-clean, superbly lemony, blade-y, mineral, coastal, and just perfect. Exactly what we were looking for, even if the pepper in the back is a tad excessive. After all, this is not Talisker. With water: drier, more austere, grassier, but some grapefruits are fighting back. The smoke gets bigger too. Finish: long, pretty peppery, perhaps a notch too bitter or I would have gone to 92. Well that was a possibility. Comments: almost immaculate, almost to sip religiously (time to put an end to this session, S.) PS, I know I should update my references in the field of Olympic swimming!
SGP:555 - 91 points.

See you tomorrow.

(Merci beaucoup Aaron, Angus, Enrico)

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