...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Single Malt Report: Bowmore 21 year old 1982 Prime Malt

Yesterday, I asked the question "Is all FWP-era Bowmore whisky bad?".  Then, amongst a bunch of other words, I gave a brief explanation of FWP (French Whore Perfume, a descriptor of a set of characteristics unique to a difficult era of Bowmore malt), some background on the term, and a defense of the possibility of "bad" whisky.

While I agree there seem to be considerable artificial floral and soap notes in the early eighties to (possibly) very early nineties Bowmore single malts, I think that sometimes those notes exist separately from one another.  Sometimes there's a fake perfumy character without it getting soapy and sometimes there's a lot of soap without the fake flowers.  Sometimes there's both.  And sometimes I've found strong whiffs of actual lavender blossoms.  While these notes may be present, they're not always consistent.  Not all FWP Bowmore smells and tastes the same -- there were hundreds of thousands of casks, dozens of bottlers, dozens of age/vintage permutations, and well over a million bottles.  And (to me) a few flower blossoms in the whisky isn't necessarily the worst thing in the world.  But too much soap, can render an otherwise decent whisky unpleasant.

Yesterday, I briefly reviewed two FWP-era Bowmores that I sampled at a tasting in April.  The first, an independently bottled 1984 was pretty awful.  Though unique, its dish soap, bug repellant, and deodorant notes were tough to swallow.  The second whisky, an official cask strength 1989, was less hideous.  Its nose was pleasant, the palate challenging, the finish odd.  Its bad third act did it no favors.  While there was little to no artificial perfumy notes, there still was some bitter soap in the mix.

Today's whisky is a 1982 Bowmore bottled by an indie label (Prime Malt) that may have been owned by Duncan Taylor.  I use the term "may have been owned" because though the label references Duncan Taylor, a DT rep suggested to me that rather than owning the brand outright Duncan Taylor may have assisted a third-party cask owner in bottling and distributing its whisky for the market.  Prime Malt's last appearance seems to have been about ten years ago, but a few of their (non-Bowmore) single malts may still be found.  I have a pair of other Prime Malt whiskies to review in the future, but I can tell you now that those two lean, almost oak-free, malts appealed to me.

My Prime Malt experience would not exist without the generosity of Florin who shared some good whisky with me on my birthday this year.  This sample of '82 Bowmore is also from his bottle, right from the top of it in fact.  Thank you, Florin!

Distillery: Bowmore
Ownership: Suntory (Morrison Bowmore Distillers Ltd. at time of distillation)
Brand: Prime Malt (this is the fourth of their "Finest" selections)
Bottler: Duncan Taylor
Age: minimum 21 years (distilled in 1982)
Maturation: likely refill ex-bourbon casks
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chill filtered? No
Caramel Coloring? No

The color is a medium amber with some gold around the edges.  After a 20 minute rest, the whisky's nose expresses itself immediately as cotton candy at the beach.  Seaweed, peat smoke, and iodine dance well with caramel candies, overripe mango, and (yes) lavender blooms.  Maybe even some violets.  After 45 minutes, a wave of fresh pears, oranges, and white peaches washes over it.  Maybe a little sweet cream too.  The palate shifts directions.  The lavender is still there, along with a subtle sweetness.  But then cigarette smoke, dog fur, and generic dish soap enter the picture. Very little oak here -- a touch of vanilla -- so a big barley note peeks through.  Finishing up, the whisky gets more challenging.  More soap here, and the separate lavender note grows larger.  It's also lightly sugary with a mild lemon rind note in the background.

WITH WATER (just a few drops)
The fruits (mostly pears) take front stage in the nose.  Some sweetened grapefruit juice as well.  While there's more vanilla and less lavender, the whole thing feels......feminine.  Hydration does the palate no favors.  The dreaded elements come together.  Lavender + soap = lavender soap.  The peat goes lightly sweet and mossy, but there's something bitter developing.  It finishes with dish soap and Dove soap. Much drier.  Lots of citrus.  Meanwhile the lavender grows progressively more artificial.

Since those last few sentences won't inspire anyone, I'm going to accentuate the positive first.

I'd go as far to say that if I had a Top 20 all-time favorite whisky noses, this would be in the running for the list.  It smells gorgeous, not despite the odd notes, but because of them.  It conjures up the seaside, fruits, sugary candy, and spring blossoms all at the same time.  While not as stunning, the palate does not cave into the soap note and remains very drinkable.

But.  Do not add water.  Just a few drops turns the whole palate experience super sudsy; as in, it'll lead you to try to blow soap bubbles off your tongue.  That is probably not a good thing.

Is this "bad" whisky?  In my sensory reality, no.  In fact the nose is "excellent".  It's a difficult one to recommend to folks, as there are so many qualifiers.  You have to be okay with the lavender notes.  And you can take a little soap in your face.  And you can't add water.  And you have to be able to actually find a bottle of this stuff.

Availability - Not
Pricing - ???
Rating - 81 (though the nose is an easy 90)