Bowmore is the oldest of the eight distilleries currently operating on the famous whisky making island of Islay in Scotland. It was founded in 1779 by John Simpson and it is actually one of the oldest in Scotland - only Glenturret in the Highlands being older, having started production in 1775. The name of Bowmore translates as 'sea rock' from Gaelic and the distillery in currently owned by Morrison Bowmore - a subsidiary of the Japanese company Suntory, who also own the other Scottish distilleries at Auchentoshan and Glen Garioch. Bowmore has an annual production capacity of two million litres and is one of the biggest selling single malt whisky brands in the smoky, peaty style.
This 16 years old Bowmore was a somewhat experimental 'limited edition' bottling (well, only a mere 18,000 bottles!) that was originally released in late 2007. It was distilled in 1991 and was bottled at an alcoholic strength of 53.1% ABV after spending 16 years in Port pipe casks. Another cool fact about this whisky is that it was matured in the famous Bowmore vaults - below sea level! It is rare to get a single malt whisky matured for this length of time in a Port cask, so when we got the opportunity to try it at the recent Whisky Live event in London, we had to take it. Having spoken to the Bowmore folks there, a limited number of bottles are still floating around for sale and can be found in specialist retailers.
Our tasting notes
This whisky has a dark ruby red colour with a lovely sweet and smoky nose - this combines aromas of rounded soft smokiness (think of bonfire smoke with a hint of musty damp earth), rich red fruits (imagine something like dark berries, plums and cherries), plenty of burnt cereals, and warming earthy spices (think of baking spices like cinnamon and nutmeg especially). These notes transfer well to the palate which again shows a lovely combination between richness, sweetness and smokiness. It feels thick in the mouth with initial notes of caramel, red fruits (imagine berries, plums and dried raisins) and soft, lingering smoke which becomes slightly damp, musty and earthy with increased time. This smokiness is reduced from the level exhibited on the nose but compliments the other elements equally as well. Other notes come through that give added balance and a touch of dryness - think of oak and spices, such as cinnamon and nutmeg. There are also some tannins from the Port casks and this adds further complexity. The finish is again sweet and fruity, with the soft, gentle peat smoke lingering before finally fading and taking the red fruit with it. Delicious.
What's the verdict?
Bowmore 16 years old Port Matured is a lovely dram and a whisky that is very easy drinking given that it is bottled at a high strength (53.1% ABV). This is due to its age and the richness, softness and complexity created by the use of Port casks combined with the smokiness of the spirit. We thoroughly enjoyed our samples and hope that Bowmore have further quality of 'experiment' maturing in their warehouses. Only time will tell with that. In the meantime if you like your whiskies rich and fruity with some soft smokiness, then you should hurry and track down a bottle of this!