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Thursday, December 30, 2021

Concluding the Bowmore cluster

(Bowmore cluster homepage)

I needed something to get me to the end of 2021, something emotionless and focused, a simple trail to follow. This cluster served that purpose. And now I'm here and the end of the 24th month of 2020 has arrived. I'm going to take a break from clusters for a while, bringing back variety, or perhaps even a little chaos in 2022, since chaos has been the order of the day. But before that, I need to complete this series.

At the Bowmore cluster's halfway point, I highlighted how there was little difference in the quality between the OBs and the IBs. The second half of the series had zero official bottlings, and by the end I became interested in the Sherry Casks vs. the Bourbon Casks.

The Rankings!

Total Bowmores - 19
Mean - 85.58
Median - 86
Mode - 86

In the first half, the sherry casks had a ratings lead over the bourbon casks: 84.4 to 81.3. But the story flipped in the second half. In the latter half alone, the bourbon casks won out, 85.5 vs. 88.6. And though there were way more bourbon casks than sherry casks in the second half, 7 versus 2, it was the other way around in the first half, 3 berbs versus 7 sherries. So, unintentionally, the two types nearly equal in number.

Overall, the bourbon cask Bowmores edge out the sherry cask Bowmores, 86.4 to 84.7. If I lop off the highest and lowest score in each category, the scores get even closer: 87.3 to 86.3.

Because the sample size of one type was very small on each side of the midpoint, it's difficult to come to a solid conclusion. But it did seem like time and mild casks worked wonders for the bourbon vessel share, while youth and perky butts helped the sherried portion. So the victor depends what one's palate desires. Though a sherry cask release took first prize, the consistent high quality of the older hoggies won my heart in the end.

The Notes!

Because the '80s (and the ‘80s distillery management) were unkind to Bowmore's spirit, I'm only going to focus on the latter 17 members of this series. Also, please note, I am not counting descriptors like "peat", "smoke" and "sweet" unless my notes are more specific. I'm looking for more detail here.

The most used NOSE notes:

This surprised me because I thought I was using "Coastal", "Kiln" and "Seaweed" in almost every review. To me, those are part of the soul of the Bowmore spirit. But I'm glad to see there was a lot of variety in the nose notes across the cluster, and it's great to see that apricots and manure made the list! And I only said yuzu twice.

The most used PALATE notes:

Well, "herbal bitterness" and I go way back. The "pepper" category includes chiles, chile oil and cayenne, FWIW. What's curious about the limes, lemons and "tart citrus" is that those notes almost never overlapped. Combining them (and grapefruit) into one category would have put them in first place with 14. So my palate finds the citrus and salt in Bowmore very frequently.

The most used FINISH notes:

This confirms my unoriginal theory that Bowmore is one of the saltiest single malts. And when that salt mixes with fruits and phenolics, I am one happy drinker. Curiously, the whole tart citrus sensation only carried over into the finish about half the time. Salt and bitterness seemed to have more stamina.

The End!

The key to the pleasure of this cluster may have been the gentleness of the majority of the casks, especially the hogsheads. (Note the lack of "vanilla" and "tannic" and "woody bitterness" in those lists above.) The Bowmore spirit, since 1990, has been a glorious thing, and may even become a bit classy in its 20s. If Suntory can't figure out how to keep the oak levels down in their official releases, I hope more casks somehow find their way to the independent bottlers. If not, then we'll all miss out on something special.

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