Bowmore is one of the eight active distilleries to be found on Islay, the Hebridean whisky heaven. Not only do they make some rather special whisky, they also have a very pretty looking distillery at sunset.
I'm quite a fan of Bowmore – we even stayed in one of their cottages when we were last up there for the Islay Festival. So when I saw them offering a chance to win a spot on their Twitter Tasting, hosted by Master Blender Rachel Barrie, I almost broke my mouse with my frantic clicking.
My mouse wasn't imperiled for naught, and yesterday a beautiful package arrived.
Pretty though the labels are, I wanted to show you the wonderful range of colours across our four samples – I can't wait to see if the nose and taste is equally diverse.
Following the style from last year's Milroy's Twitter Tasting, I'll be "live blogging" the tasting and publishing as soon as we're done. Once again, I pre-emptively apologise for the lack of editing and inevitable spelling mistakes!
Dram 1 - Small Batch Reserve
The nose is sweet, with a cold smoke tang that makes me think of the ashes of yesterday's bonfire. Under that are some rich, over-ripened orange fruit aromas, and an almost waxy character. Water brings the grain slightly to the fore, but leaves the nose otherwise unchanged.
Twitter is getting more malt character than I am but we're in agreement on the understated smoke, and that orange citrus tone.
Strong but smooth on the tongue, tasting higher than it's declared 40% ABV. It's an almost creamy texture, with a tingling peppery bite and a slowly building fire in your mouth. Calmer with water, it takes on an honey like character - sweet, slightly sticky but still retaining a nice heat.
I've not come across the Small Batch Reserve before; very tasty and very easy drinking it's definitely one to add to my wishlist.
Dram 2 - Darkest
This next dram is a lot darker and richer looking. The nose is classically Bowmore - big, rich toffee sweetness, a hint of sherry and an undercurrent of smoke. As it sits, more dark, dried fruits come through. Watered, the fruit lightens up a little and a touch of citrus puts in an appearance.
The first thing to hit the tongue is that dried fruit, which quickly surrenders to a powerful heat and a slightly bitter edge to the finish. With water, that heat is tamed and allows more of those sweet, raisin flavours to come through.
There's some considerable twitter debate on whether it should be watered, but I personally find the flavours on this one are more open and accessible that way!
Dram 3 -Tempest IV
Light in colour, and the aroma is too - light honey, salt and buckets of alcohol coming from the cask strength whisky. Over time, some lime notes start to appear - twitter nails it with 'fresh lemonade'. Water somehow brings it closer to the Bowmore 'house style'; faint hints of toffee, a slightly richer fruit
Rachel is calling it 'wild and untamed' and she's spot on - it feels like lemon sherbert fizzling on the tip of my tongue. Surprisingly sippable, it's fresh with sweet, green fruit and a powerful kick to finish. Watered, the fizz is lost and the peat is more apparent - still magnificent, but less unusual.
Definitely one to be enjoyed neat - and twitter agrees!
Dram 4 -Tasting Special from No. 1 Vaults
Another dark one, and totally different once again. The nose is heavy with rich dried fruit and spice - it's like a christmas cake. As time passes, some tobacco becomes apparent along with a touch of vanilla. Water really doesn't tame it too much, although the sweetness is a touch reduced and the smoke character enhanced.
In the mouth - wow! It's huge, stickily sweet, almost like molasses and full of port-like fruit. Despite the strength, it's a masterpiece of balance, managing to be both smooth and powerful. Water has the same effect on the taste as it did on the nose - the sweetness is slightly reduced, but the smoke is released and it's like you're drinking a christmas cake that's been cooked over a peat fire.
As I type, twitter is full of pleas to know when they're going to bottle this stuff!
Many thanks to Bowmore for arranging this, and Rachel (and everyone else on Twitter!) for making the evening such excellent fun!
This review was originally published 13th February, 2013. It was last updated 1st June, 2023.