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Friday, April 11, 2014

Single Malt Report: Bowmore 15 year old 1990 James MacArthur

Welcome to the third of five consecutive single malty Fridays of coinciding reviews between Diving for Pearls and My Annoying Opinions.  Week 1 brought a sherried Longmorn.  Week 2 was a youthful Caol Ila.  This week it's a 15 year old Bowmore, distilled in 1990, bottled in 2005 by James MacArthur & Company for their Old Masters series.  (Here's the link to MAO's review!)

I really like independently bottled Bowmores.  I've had the pleasure of trying fifteen of them over the last two-and-a-half years, and found only one of them less than very good.  A bottle of this James MacArthur Bowmore was split between MAO, a Mystery Malt Mensch, and me.  Because it was distilled in 1990, we were running the slight risk of FWP.  But I'm a man who lives on the edge, man, so I rolled the dice, spun the chamber, ordered the fugu, and laid my money down.

Distillery: Bowmore
Independent Bottler: James MacArthur & Co.
Series: Old Masters
Age: 15 years (1990-2005)
Maturation: probably re-fill bourbon barrels
Cask number1168
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 51.1%
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: Probably not

The color is a medium amber.  The nose starts with burnt manure.  Mmm, lots of it.  Then lemon zest, anise, layers of rotting vegetation, and fresh garlic.  Now plastic toys are melting and tire rubber burning.  And, unless I'm just imagining things, perhaps there's a note of cannabis?  There's a load of moss in the palate, along with coffee grounds and dirt (which is redundant to some of us).  Also plenty of sweeter peat smoke, peppery arugula, lemon sour candies, and cayenne peppery.  Some Laphroaigy cigarettes in the finish, followed by lemoned peat moss.  Behind a wall of kiln smoke alternates peeps of tart, bitter, and sweet.  It's huge.

The peat moss recedes a little in the nose.  More barley and vanilla come up front.  There's still the burnt rubber, lemon zest, and weed.  It's spicier, with a little bit of the farmy note.  Some sort of fruity Belgian ale too.  The palate is herbal and mossy with moments of mild sweetness.  Cardamom cookies served on a nest (an actual nest).  Bright spices are more apparent in the finish.  A little lemon, less smoke.  Fresh herbs amongst the moss.

This is wonderfully dirty Bowmore.  Nothing artsy or subtle about it.  No flowers or soap.  The peat is so much more aggressive here than in Bowmore's official stuff.  It'll sock you in the nose first and when you're on your heels it'll punch your mouth.  The smoke and fire isn't due to it being too young, instead it's courtesy of a very good spirit and a decent refill cask.

This one's my favorite of the three MacArthurs we'd split.  None were bad, but the Bowmore is really my style.  I'm going have another glass of it right now.

Availability - Sparse
Pricing - probably $100-$120
Rating - 89


  1. You may note, when you see MAO's review (http://www.myannoyingopinions.com/2014/04/11/bowmore-15-1990-james-macarthur-clean-desc-seo/), that we caught some different aspects of this malt. It's interesting. I found it dirtier, he found it fruitier when neat. Though our notes are more similar when water is added to the whisky.

  2. Also, here's the updated link for MAO's review:

  3. I only had a quick taste of this, not enough for a review. However, I really liked it. I did find it plenty Bowmore-floral though, in a very good way.

    1. Interesting. I must drink more of it. More flowery (violet/lavender) floral than soapy floral, right?

    2. No soap. Much different than the Prime Malt Bowmore. You call this "dirty" but for me the Prime Malt had the muddled flavors whereas the Old Masters's were clear and neat. Again, based on a very brief tasting, I'll revisit. I'm much closer to your score than Mao's.

    3. I guess there are two versions of "dirty". In my version of "dirty", this Bowmore wasn't decorated with oak influence thus allowing grittier notes (moss, actual dirt, manure, and vegetation) to shout loudest. Though, I agree that the Prime Malt's palate was mushier and muddled.