...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, November 15, 2021

The Bowmore Cluster

Welcome to the final cluster of 2021! Before you get all excited by the prospect of me drinking 1960s Bowmore, I will not be drinking 1960s Bowmore. Or even 1970s Bowmore. Instead, this grouping will mostly contain post-1990 Bowmore distillate. Not only is this era more relevant to the whisky world, but it's all I have!

Bowmore was the most-reviewed single malt on this site during my first three years of whisky posts. At the time, their West Coast distributor rep was (and still is) a great fellow to chat and drink with. He held lots of local events and I probably attended them all. The single malt scene was much more fun in those days, and the whisky was cheaper! So even if an event's distillery wasn't my favorite, I went anyway. (Psst, I even went to one official Macallan event. But don't tell anyone.)

Official Bowmore was my gateway to independent Bowmore. But once I went indie Bow, I never went back. The gap in quality and style between Bowmore's official and independent releases is wider than any other distillery, in my experience. Official Bowmore is filtered, colored and aggressively diluted, resulting in a thin, light Islay whisky. There are many ways to produce a flavorful peated single malt without turning it into "Laphroaig" or "Ardbeg", but Bowmore distillery and its various master distillers/blenders have chosen not to do so, which is something I do not understand.

from Barnard's The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom

Only five of this cluster's 19 whiskies will be official bottlings. The rest are from independent companies. The first three Bowmores are a little out of place from the rest of the group, which is why I'm squeezing them into this first week. After that, I'll start with 2002 distillate and then move backwards until reaching 1991. I'll try to keep track of the various styles I come across to see what, if anything, ties the whiskies together.

So get comfy, I'm about to drink a lot of Bowmores. You're always welcome to do the same, responsibly!


1. Bowmore 21 year old 1982 Prime Malt Selection - A nice lack of oak, but soapy.
2. Bowmore 17 year old, bottled around 2007 - "...no through line, no cohesion, no thought......just a variety of reject casks dumped into a dirty bin..."
3. Bowmore The Devil's Casks, Release III - "Subtlety and complexity have been traded in for BOOM."
4. Bowmore 10 year old 2002 AD Rattray, cask 20102 - "...the closest I'll ever get to trying Bowmore's new make."
5. Bowmore 11 year old 2001 Maltbarn, No. 09 - "...sherry cask had very little influence on the whisky, which works in its favor, letting the Bowmore goodness thrive."
6. Bowmore 14 year old 2001 Hepburn's Choice for K&L - "Another very good 2001 Bowmore......improves significantly with air and dilution."
7. Bowmore 15 year old 2001 Old Particular, cask DL 11658 for K&L - "...reads about half its age......This is merely, "yeah it's good for a couple drinks.""
8. Bowmore 18 year old Manzanilla Cask, The Vintner's Trilogy - "...it may be the least peaty Bowmore I've ever tried......a bit too sweet for my lips..."
9. Bowmore 15 year old, Feis Ile 2012 - This whisky stole my  🖤.
Cluster midpoint
Cluster conclusion

Bowmore 21 year old 1982 Prime Malt Selection (re-review)

(Bowmore cluster homepage)

As mentioned in the Bowmore cluster introduction, the group's first three whiskies don't quite fit in with the rest of the theme. Batting leadoff...

I first reviewed today's whisky eight(!) years ago. Looking at those notes, I can't help but feel like I was being exceedingly kind about a flawed whisky. This whisky was distilled during Bowmore's most problematic decade, a period about which a certain epithet has been often assigned. It's time to find out if soap or perfume (or both!) live in this bottle, or perhaps just whisky.

Owner: Beam Suntory
Region: Islay
Independent Bottler: Duncan Taylor
Range: Prime Malt Selection
Age: at least 21 years (1982 - ????)
Maturation: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
(from a bottle split)


It has a bright, colorful nose, with citronella, cucumber, and fresh herbs like rosemary and thyme. One can also find pine sap and a peated white chocolate. And, yes, there is plenty of Dove soap to go around.

The palate is (per my written notes), "sweet, bitter, peaty, weird and vaguely fruity" at first. The peat gets sootier and the fruit becomes tarter with time. There are some hints of butterscotch in the background. But there's so much detergent in the mix, and it doesn't fade away after an hour. Though violets start to grow.

The finish matches the palate for the most part, with more focus on bitterness and tartness. It gets sweeter with time, and the soap note becomes slightly less intense.


I can take lavender and violets in my whisky. Maybe even a shpritz of gaudy perfume. But I do not enjoy soap in my mouth. I am not a bad boy. Today. And this whisky has soap. I avoided adding water because my more upbeat review from 2013 says this stuff gets "sudsy" when diluted. That is not a sign of a successfully-produced spirit.

Though the nose is not a "top 20" as it was back in 2013, and isn't even a Top 200, it is unique and very enjoyable. With its palate's bitterness leaning towards the herbal side, the whisky shows a nice lack of oak. Having a bunch of tannins collide with dish detergent would not have helped matters. Still, I don't need to try this a third time.

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 76 (neat only)