Google Bowmore Legends, Battle Royale

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

January 11, 2020




Angus's Corner
From our casual Scottish correspondent
and guest taster Angus MacRaild
Bowmore Legends: Battle Royale
One of the great things about whisky culture is that great ideas very quickly grow arms and legs. A few extremely rare and legendary bottlings of Bowmore were proposed for tonight’s tasting. But of course the temptation with these kinds of whiskies is to add, to compare, to discuss and to define. So, it’s no surprise that from the small group of folk attending, other bottlings have been procured and opened; sample cupboards raided and other pretty thrilling bottles added to the lineup.


There aren’t too many points of consensus amongst whisky folk around the world today. As the whisky world expands and gets more argumentative and complicated, the islands of agreement shrink and grow ever more distant from each other’s shores. However, I would hazard that Bowmore from the 1950s and 1960s is still recognised as one of the greatest spirits ever produced by mankind. It is this recognition of sublime liquid quality and character that has driven its prices into the stratosphere. It’s also what makes these kinds of tastings increasingly difficult to assemble. Having said that, it is important to point out and bear in mind that these whiskies were already receiving universal praise and high scores when whisky enthusiasm was a smaller, cheaper and more confined culture in the fledgling days of the internet. Indeed, several of the whiskies we’ll have tonight already appeared with lofty praise on Whiskyfun many years ago when the landscape of whisky looked far less cynical than it does today. Sometimes beauty is just beauty - no matter what price you hang around its neck.



Having said all that, please accept my apologies for any garish maltoporn that follows.



Bowmore 1957/1990 (40%, Moon Import, 120 bottles)

Bowmore 1957/1990 (40%, Moon Import, 120 bottles)
Colour: pale gold. Nose: what’s most interesting is that aside from the very obvious (if rather light in this instance) exotic fruits, there is an allusion to this more perfumed and lavender side which is more associated with 80s Bowmore. We talk about whether this is a character which has always been present to varying degrees in Bowmore - I’m inclined to think it probably is. This is not excessive or soapy, rather I get the impression of citrus bath salts, heather flowers and a more lean minerality than you might expect from 50s Bowmore which is more reminiscent of the early 70s style. There’s also some pink sea salt and sandalwood. Extremely fragrant and more coastal than I would have expected. In time it moves more towards direct aromas of mango, guava and pineapple. Mouth: indeed there is a kiss of lavender but there’s also extremely fragrant and beautiful coastal and seashore complexities. Seagreens, gorse, myrtle, dried seaweed, fresh citrus peels, tart grapefruit juice and slightly stinging salinity. Also things like linens, orange water, chalky minerals and a little sooty note. Finish: good length. Not the longest but lingering, fragrant and showing a rather chiselled saltiness, crushed seashells, fish sauce and some smoked herbs in the aftertaste. Comments: Undeniably beautiful whisky. However, I wouldn’t say it is ‘up there’ with the greatest old Bowmore. There are wee fragilities and inclusions of more unusual flavours that would prevent it from going higher. However, this is 1950s Bowmore, and we are already at pretty loft heights.
SGP: 653 - 92 points.



Bowmore 1955/1974 ‘For 12th September 1974’ (unknown ABV, OB, ceramic half flagon)

Bowmore 1955/1974 ‘For 12th September 1974’ (unknown ABV, OB, ceramic half flagon)
A bottle that has garnered a mighty reputation in recent years. I’ve been fortunate enough to try it from two separate bottles on previous occasions. Once at the Lindores Whisky Festival back in 2011 (I think, or possibly 2012) and then again on Islay in February 2015. My feeling on tasting it the second occasion was that there was some discrepancy in quality between the two bottles, not impossible with it being such a small ceramic bottle. So I’m extremely curious and happy to taste it again from a third bottle. Colour: pale gold (almost identical to the 57 interestingly enough). Nose: more honeyed than I recall. Overall more syrupy and ‘fat’ than the 57. The fruits come through as lime, grapefruit, mango and guava. Also getting rather more coastal with some green olive and seaweed. I have to say it’s majestic, although perhaps not as intense and overwhelmingly brilliant as I remember… given quite a bit of time to breathe it starts to develop and almost leathery and animalistic side while also a more direct tropical fruit quality. It is an undeniably compelling nose, I think it just really needs time to open and evolve. Mouth: Superb and impressive delivery. I wish someone would test one of these jugs with an e-hydrometer to discover the strength. It certainly feels higher than 40 or 43%. Superbly sharp citrus and exotic fruits mixed with pure brine, rock pool water and anchovy paste. A taut, mineral-strewn and powerfully direct presence in the mouth. Impeccably structured and complex. In time it develops more pure peatiness and a very thick and ‘present’ herbal quality. Really starts to become almost like an ancient herbal or honey based liqueur. 1950s Drambuie mixed with 1920s yellow Chartreuse! The complexity is sublime, one of those whiskies you could really just keep picking out tiny and beautiful wee flavours all night long. So I won’t! Finish: long, syrupy in texture, fragrantly peaty, yellow flowers, very subtle iodine notes and still coastal and even slightly waxy too. Comments: This was a surprise. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a totally stellar whisky, one which is ultimately defined by it’s stunning complexity and beautiful, captivating evolution in the glass. However, we certainly are not around the 96/97 mark previous two bottles were. It’s also not as exuberantly, blatantly tropical as I recall. I’m sure that if you opened another three of these bottles beside this one you would get three different scores again. Ceramic + small + over 40 years = a different story with each bottle.
SGP: 764 - 94 points.



Bowmore ‘Bicentenary’ (43%, OB, UK, 1979)

Bowmore ‘Bicentenary’ (43%, OB, UK, 1979)
Colour: amber. Nose: thrillingly earthy, salty sherry. This wonderful duality of sweet raisins and fresher exotic fruits. Dried pineapple, mango chunks, passion fruit syrup, then breads, cough medicine and a rather old school, herbal peatiness. Camphor, hardwood resins and more herbal qualities like throat sweets, waxes and old liqueurs. Brilliant and compelling as expected. Mouth: a tad soft on arrival but otherwise gloriously tropical, salty and fatty. Bacon fat, tar, ointments, dried herbs, cured meats and jellied tropical fruits. Getting wonderfully broad and complex; the peat is generous, herbal, thick and warming. Let’s not beat about the bush here. Finish: long with a deep and drying peatiness. Surprisingly peaty really. More tar, dried herbs, cured meats and salinity in the aftertaste. Comments: Probably not the best old Bicentenary but this is still mesmerising and heartwarming old whisky, just a tad fragile I think. I wonder if this will be an increasing phenomena as these old bottles get even older: bottle variation? The fruits, salt and meaty, earthy robustness are still profoundly pleasurable here though. However, a bottle in better condition can easily hit 95+
SGP: 655 - 93 points.



Bowmore 1964/1979 ‘Bicentenary’ (43%, OB)

Bowmore 1964/1979 ‘Bicentenary’ (43%, OB)
Colour: slightly darker amber. More sherried, leathery, animalistic and full of bitter chocolate with sea salt, cured game meats, black olives and a very earthy, oxidative old school sherry quality. Pure rancio with old hessian and walnut oil. In time the chocolate note becomes more dominant and ‘pure’. Mouth: pure old school sherry. Walnut wine, bitter chocolate, expensive soy sauce, balsamic and liquid seasonings such as Magi. Very umami, nicely bitter and treading a beautiful balancing act between herbs, medicines, peat and a rather nervy, crystalline sherry. Finish: long, earthy, sooty and riddled with tobaccos, more dark berry fruits, bitter chocolate, smoked sea salt and earthy Chinese teas. Comments: I think this one trumps the NAS on this occasion. It’s more sherried, more direct and more precise. While still demonstrating a terrific depth of flavour, complexity and profound ‘fatness’ and texture in the mouth. Overall more concise, fresh and a tad more powerful than the NAS.
SGP: 665 - 95 points.



Bowmore 1969/1979 ‘Bicentenary’ (56.2%, OB, Fecchio & Frassa for Federico Minetti, cask #315, sherry, 300 bottles)

Bowmore 1969/1979 ‘Bicentenary’ (56.2%, OB, Fecchio & Frassa for Federico Minetti, cask #315, sherry, 300 bottles)
Colour: gold. Nose: immediately grassy, punchy and very mineral. Impressions of squid ink, anchovies, tar, embrocations and horseradish. Like many of the OB single casks of this era this is raw, powerful, petrolic and rather dominating. Brutal yet rather brilliant at the same time. Given time it yields a little more softness and a more easy and fresh coastal salinity. It also becomes a tad more citric, fruity and complex. With water: much more bready, autolytic and olive oily. Camphor, more sweat and some very soft notes of dried tarragon. Mouth: Wow! Stunning delivery. The nose really wrong foots you on the levels of fruit in this one. The palate is stunningly syrupy, fresh, salty and superbly fruity. Vividly coastal, lemony and medical. Full of ointments, embrocations, crushed seashells and brine mixed with olive oil. Passion fruits, coal dust, dried mint, old cigarettes… you could spent all day listing beautiful wee complexities. With water: Quite simply outstanding! The nose in no way prepares you for how thrilling and dominating the palate is. A perfect fusion of oily peat, jellied exotic fruits and salty, umami broths. Finish: endless and twining all the above flavours together like rope. Devastating complexity. Grisly, gutsy exotic fruits, fatness, greasy peat, chunky minerality and again this feeling of petrol. Comments: quite simply, this is genius whisky. The power, concentration and depth are just devastating. The kind of whisky that controls you, there’s no choice but to go with the flow. And that’s it’s ultimate asset, it takes you on a journey which is just spellbinding.
SGP: 766 - 96 points.



Bowmore 1969/1978 (58%, OB, Fecchio & Frassa import, cask #6639, sherry, 300 bottles)

Bowmore 1969/1978 (58%, OB, Fecchio & Frassa import, cask #6639, sherry, 300 bottles)
Colour: white wine. Nose: grassy more more unusually so. A kind of sweaty lemongrass. Horse sweat, farm stables, tar, fermenting mangos and pork-based ramen broth. Fatty, greasy and immensely characterful. This is a side of Bowmore we rarely see or talk about. Uber powerful, complex and austere yet rather brilliant. This is challenging but very captivating malt whisky. Again this petrol quality but also gravel, paraffin and hessian. In time it gets more lemony and chalky. With water: extremely salty and with a superbly brittle and blade-like smokiness. Sardines, salt-baked white fish, crushed aspirin and the tiniest glimmer of gooseberry. Mouth: pure seawater, petrol and syrup-textured peat. Not as peaty as cask 315 but stupendously saline, pure, precise and direct. Flavours going round and back into each other like Escher stairs! There are fruits but they are acidic, pin sharp and citrus dominated. Magnificent and thrillingly different from cask 315. With water: raw citrus juices, seawater, pure peat smoke, petrol, tar and fresh oysters. The kind of purity, precision and power that most modern whiskies cannot even dream of. The flip side of 315 but still the same kind of mesmeric quality. In time the exotic and tropical fruits really start to emerge. Pure passion fruit, guava, mango and star fruit. All mixed up with some kind of thrillingly dirty seawater and diesel. Finish: Another one that just goes on forever. But again here the purity sings the loudest. Grass, lime, minerals, petrol, pure wood smoke, limestone, chalk, syrupy old medicines and an echo of passionfruit in the aftertaste. Comments: This cask and the 315 are Bowmore’s ying and yang. Polar opposites but both just as potent, controlling, devastating and hypnotic as each other. Whereas 315 was deceptive and and clever, 6639 was honest and direct. A whisky that feels confident in its own unbridled power and precision. Impossible to pick a favourite between the two, but then I don’t really think the beautiful difference in character equates to a separation in quality.
SGP: 677 - 96 points.



Time for a break.



Bowmore 1966/1984 (53%, Samaroli ‘Bouquet’, 720 bottles)

Bowmore 1966/1984 (53%, Samaroli ‘Bouquet’, 720 bottles)
What can you say about this bottling that hasn’t already been gushed by myself and many others elsewhere. I’ll simply re-state my own feelings: that this is a significant and important bottling. It fused very deliberate and brilliant cask selection by Mr Samaroli, clearly considered bottling choices (the choice to do it at cask strength for example) and captivating label artwork that alluded in distinct aesthetic style to the character of the whisky within. I would also add that this is the first time that I, or any of my whisky pals that I’m aware of, are tasting this whisky against some of its fellow legends. It will be interesting to see if it can stand its ground against the formidable Largiemeanoch… Colour: light gold. Nose: there is fruit and there is fruit. This is the every inch the latter, and precisely why this whisky sits apart from almost all others. I will try not to go on, but there is a level of specificity, intensity and clarity about the tropical fruit notes here that is hard to articulate. It truly is a whisky which stops you dead and seizes total control; which you cede happily. Exotic, flawless, sublime, chiseled, fathoms deep and, at the end of the day, just utterly sublime giving you the impression that the whole thing is effortless. There are other tertiary characters that you could go into - farmyard, earthy, umami note - but I’ll write a novel if I don’t resist. With water: euphoric. Better than being on drugs. Mouth: This is where I start to run out of words. I will simply say that it is a mix of exotic fruit freshness and power wrapped around a kind of trembling mineral structure which is just otherworldly. This is definition of real perfection in whisky - where you are just stopped dead and cannot really find the words to describe your way out of it. With water: It is still broadly about fruit, but there is just so much else. This is a whisky that takes the definitions of ‘tertiary’ and ‘complex’ to their absolute extremes. Fuck it, call the anti-maltoporn brigade! Finish: as long and deep as you might imagine. But what is so striking is that it does not wander or meander randomly. You still feel so utterly controlled and in the grip of a whisky that is just irrefutably in control and moving and developing with purpose and genius precision. Comments: I have tried this whisky twice before but never recorded proper notes. In the back of my mind I had kind of expected to score it 97 but I am afraid to say I am left totally reeling by this utterly spellbinding whisky.
SGP: 767 - 98 points.



Bowmore ‘Largiemeanoch’ 12 yo 1967/1079 (54.2%, Howgate Wine Co, casks #2655/6/7, sherry)

Bowmore ‘Largiemeanoch’ 12 yo 1967/1979 (54.2%, Howgate Wine Co, casks #2655/6/7, sherry)
This bottling came to wider attention when a few friends shared the purchase of a bottle in Italy and one Mr S V recorded some rather enthusiastic notes on these very pages. Again this is another one which I’ve been fortunate enough to taste from a few different bottles now, although, unlike the 1955 ceramic, as far as I could discern the quality has been uniformly sublime on each occasion. Colour: reddish coffee. Nose: difference and similarities. You feel this is the same distillate in different clothes. Whereas the Bouquet is about an axis of freshness and depth, the Largiemeanoch is really about concentration and intensity. This is really pure sarsaparilla syrups, molten cola cubes, ancient tar liqueurs and simmering, intense coffee. Jellied peat, hot liquorice, red chilli and some kind of industrial antiseptic cut with brine. For all this muscle, swagger and clout, it is still a coiled and controlled whisky. There’s a lot of dichotomies about this whisky, but this is absolutely an asset not a flaw. With water: with the neat nose you feel the specificities and the individuality of the various components. Here though everything coagulates into a perfect cohesion. The most syrupy and dense whisky imaginable. Above all though, it is hauntingly, irrefutably beautiful. Mouth: utterly sublime. Perfect sherry. Salty, meaty, pure, earthy, chocolatey, minty, leafy and dense with rancio. To a combination and cleanly purity that is scarce even in old school single malts of this era. You could spend hours picking our all these variations of themes of meatiness, earthiness, medicine, peat, smoke, spice and minerals. Like the Bouquet, it swiftly confronts you with the limits of your own abilities. With water: as on the nose, all these tertiary tangents align and become streamlined and more singular. The sense of harmony, concentration and cohesion is totally sublime. Finish: raw, sweet, smoky, terrifyingly deep, haunting and totally endless. The darkest of nights in a glass. Comments: This is undeniably one of the greatest whiskies every bottled. A paean to peat, fruit, sherry and harmonic balance in single malt Scotch whisky. But the Bouquet beats it by a midge’s valinch.
SGP: 678 - 97 points.



Any sane person would of course stop here. But…



Bowmore 22 yo 1965 (43%, OB for Prestonfield House, cask #47)

Bowmore 22 yo 1965 (43%, OB for Prestonfield House, cask #47)
Colour: light amber. Nose: the sherry is rather prominent with a wonderfully leafy, marmalade-forward quality. Soft notes of herbal wines, milk chocoalte, honeycomb and menthol tobaccos. Beyond that the fruit begins to emerge. Blood orange, kumquat and mango. Beautifully balanced, elegant and with a kind of compacted fruity earthiness which is quite specific to old sherried Bowmore at lower abv. Mouth: soots, herbs, earths, chocolate, freshly brewed black coffee, salty liquorice and plum jam. Also a rather precise mix of dry, herbal peat and exotic fruit teas. Finish: good length and nicely earthy, minty and playfully fruity. Comments: A wonderful balance between dark and exotic fruits and more earthy, peaty qualities. The more ‘Winston Churchilly’ side of 60s Bowmore.
SGP: 654 - 93 points.



Bowmore 35 yo 1966 (43.7%, Kingsbury, cask #3300, 300 bottles, +/-2001)

Bowmore 35 yo 1966 (43.7%, Kingsbury, cask #3300, 300 bottles, +/-2001)
Another that carries quite a hefty reputation. Let’s try it! Colour: deep gold. Nose: this is probably the purest and most immediate aromatic definition of why people fall so hopelessly in love with this distillery and this era. Enough fresh tropical fruits to start a hipster food truck! Seriously, almost just nothing but mango, passion fruit, guava, papya, star fruit and pineapple. Pulpy, fleshy, über fresh and with an impression of quivering exotic fruit jellies. Some softer notes of fruit teas, mint leaf and even something approaching good quality fresh cannabis. No wonder these whiskies are so addictive! The absolute epitome of freshness, exoticism and ripeness in whisky. Mouth: the wood is more present than the nose suggests - as with so many old whiskies - but it adds rather than subtracts. There’s herbal bite, wood spice, warmth, honeyed sweetness and syrupy concentration. Still layers and layers of beautiful fruits but here they are crystallised, poised, nervous and with a streak of bitter herbal extracts running through. Finish: superbly long, mineral, oily and still vividly fruity and wonderfully herbal. Comments: a sublime and justifiably famous Bowmore that epitomises utterly just how thrilling and brilliant this decade was for this distillery. At this strength and age it is devastatingly lethal as you could just guzzle it by the litre.
SGP: 755 - 95 points.



Bowmore 30 yo 1972/2992 (49.5%, Signatory Vintage ‘Rare Reserve’, cask #930, 198 bottles)

Bowmore 30 yo 1972/2002 (49.5%, Signatory Vintage ‘Rare Reserve’, cask #930, 198 bottles)
Colour: straw. Nose: ahhh! Pure freshness! Sometimes, after the rather embarrassing opulence of the 1960s, there is something profoundly refreshing and crisp about early 70s Bowmore. Like a glass of smoky Champagne. Wonderfully salty, citric, mineral, pure, cereal and possessing a wonderfully thready citrus fruitiness. However, there is more. Also farmyard notes, hay, smoky grist, savoury meatiness, ink and chalky, rather feisty minerals. Mouth: Wonderful delivery! A powerful, structured, almost swollen cereal profile. Lemon peel, bath salts, hessian, olive oil, brine, putty, ointment and passion fruit. There’s also something very fish and coastal about it. Sardines in oil, anchovies, preserved lemons and malt vinegar. Robust, playful and superbly balanced between fruits, farmyard, seashore and more unusual, meaty tones. Finish: long, lemony, sooty, chalky, petroly, mineral and peaty. In the aftertaste we are almost back at the start - lingering in that 1950s twilight between fruit, peat, lavender and the eye-watering disquiet of the Atlantic… Comments: It’s easy to forget just how totally sublime Bowmore remained into the early 1970s. Not all bottles hit this height, but when they do, they really can rival the very best.
SGP: 666 - 94 points.



In conclusion… These bottles are why we love whisky!



There are a few things I think we can take away from this tasting. Firstly, and perhaps most notably, there are many older bottlings that are really beginning to diverge from each other after such a long time in glass / ceramic. I was expecting the 1955 jug to fly higher than it did, but it turned out to be a tad flat (relatively speaking; it was still stunning whisky). It was the same story with the NAS Bicentenary. However, on the flip side, as much as I am aware of how incredible the Bowmore Bouquet is, I wasn’t really prepared for just how unstoppably sublime it was when I spent time with it in the glass. These are the kinds of tastings and moments in whisky that we live for. Made all the more brilliant by the fact it was shared with great people. 



This is the second rather crazy Bowmore tasting I’ve been lucky enough to be part of in my life thus far. The first being during the Islay Odyssey nearly five years ago back in 2015. It would be remiss to do a tasting like this without acknowledging the fact that these are deliriously expensive bottles. The Bouquet alone now represents a good year’s salary or a house deposit. Whether they are worth the prices they command is up to each individual to decide. I am keenly aware that not everyone will get to taste these whiskies; indeed many of you may read this kind of post and think it is hyperbolic gibberish. Fair enough, but these whiskies exist. They’ve gone on their own journey from new and inexpensive to legendary and highly sought after. The only constant has been the irrefutable brilliance of the whisky itself. They have had significant impact and influence upon whisky and the people that consume and enjoy it. I believe that in the process of understanding and recording something about them there are good ideas and inspirations to be found for the future. 



Ultimately, they are expensive because they represent the very pinnacle of Scotch whisky, these are pretty much the best whiskies ever made. To taste them is instructive, decadent, thrilling and humbling. Hot, fruity memory in a glass! I cannot afford them. I am able to buy old Bowmore on occasion due to the fact I’ve developed a business model built around monetising open bottles. I did so precisely because I wanted to be able to open, taste and share these kinds of whiskies. However, these old legends are out of my reach and I can only participate in these kinds of tastings largely due to the generosity of those who are able and willing to open these kinds of bottles. With that in mind I’d like to express hugs and gratitude to Jon, Aaron, Emmanuel, Edward, KC and Kennis. Without friends, whisky is just fading flavour.






More tasting notesCheck the index of all Bowmore we've tasted so far







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