We’ve dabbled with all many Bowmore releases in the past — having started with the entry level 12 year old way back in 2009 and, most recently, checking out the new 30 year old bottling, with plenty of special editions in between.
What we haven’t done is a full look at the Bowmore core lineup, and outside of various whisky festival tastings we’ve never formally reviewed the 18 or 25 year old expressions of this smoky Islay classic. (It’s also worth noting that the brand saw a big shakeup in 2017, with the discontinuation of the NAS “Small Batch” bottling and various other expressions.)
Today we correct that oversight, with a look at the core range of four single malts from Bowmore as they stand today. Let’s go.
Bowmore 12 Years Old (2022) – Aged primarily in ex-bourbon barrels. Bluntly ashy with a heavy maritime character, the whisky’s nose is straightforward and moderately peaty, short on nuance as it takes a deep dive into its earthier elements. The palate’s more interesting, but here we still find Bowmore at its most basic, chewy with notes of burnt wood and forest floor, though a dusting of lemon pepper late in the game brightens things up on the finish. This ultimately comes across as entry-level Islay, which is exactly what it is. Never bad, but there’s more excitement available from other Islay whiskies at this price level. 80 proof. B / $63 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS] [BUY IT NOW FROM TOTAL WINE]
Bowmore 15 Years Old (2022) – Bowmore dropped the “Darkest” from the name of this whisky some years ago, but otherwise it’s similar (or the same) juice, its darker color owing to clearly lengthy oloroso sherry cask finishing. It’s still definitely “dark,” a ruddy amber compared to the 12 year old’s rose gold hue. The sherry sits heavy on the nose here, sharply nutty and citrus-laden, washing out much of the peat. It’s still amply smoky underneath, but more balanced by the sherry, leaving behind a note of black cherry wafting in the glass. The palate is much sweeter than the 12, fruity with distinct orange notes and hints of almond. The peat kicks in from there, washing over the tongue with waves of fresh seaweed and iodine — less overtly ashy and brooding than the 12. Slightly oxidized on the finish, with gentle notes of raisins and caramel sauce taking you out. Still one of my favorite Bowmore releases; it’s a whisky that really benefits from that extra time in sherry casks. 86 proof. A- / $95 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS] [BUY IT NOW FROM THE WHISKY EXCHANGE]
Bowmore 18 Years Old (2022) – This whisky launched in 2007, replacing Bowmore 17 Years Old. Also aged in bourbon and sherry casks, with no additional information available. The peat is tempered further on the nose here than in the 15 year old, though time in glass gives it a richly layered aroma of stewed fruits and smoked meat, all in a swirl. Gently pruny on the palate but layered with ash, iodine, and a spray of petrol, the whisky has plenty to enjoy but not a ton to outright love. Gently sherried, nutty elements are tempered by a doughy character with a chewy consistency — which would be great if there was here more to chew on. That familiar, classic Bowmore ashiness dominates the finish and keeps the full experience at arm’s lengthy. 86 proof. B+ / $153 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]
Bowmore 25 Years Old (2022) – Aged in bourbon and sherry casks; no extra data included. The oldest whisky in the core Bowmore range offers a peppery nose that’s heavy with sherry, coming across here in more of an oxidized PX style, loaded with roasted nuts and deeper wine notes. The palate continues the theme, big with that rich sherry influence plus a cola character. There’s a lingering ashiness here that gives it a slightly sooty character, though this is quickly tempered by notes of dark chocolate and stewed prunes. The finish is lighter in tone, more milk chocolate than dark, with lingering florals a bit of a surprise to take things out. It’s more engaging than the 18 year old by a mile… but you’ll pay dearly for the upgrade. 86 proof. A- / $530 [BUY IT NOW FROM THE WHISKY EXCHANGE]