Whisky Review #27: Bowmore 12 Years Old

Before I start, I would like to give a shoutout to my cousin Shawn Prashanth who generously purchased a bottle of the Bowmore 12 Years Old for me and requested that it be reviewed. This one is for you mate!

Bowmore is a distillery that I have a deep affinity for and this can be attributed to several reasons:

  • It is one of the first Islay whiskies that I tried (after the Laphroaig & Ardbeg 10 Years Old expressions)
  • It produces one of my favourite expressions – the Bowmore 15 Years Old Mariner (phased out soon sadly)
  • It is the first distillery that I visited during my trip to Islay
  • My idol, Mr Jim McEwan started his career at Bowmore and stayed there for 38 years
Bowmore distillery.
Bowmore distillery.

As I have mentioned previously in my distillery profile (which can be found here: https://whiskymate.wordpress.com/2015/04/26/the-islay-series-distillery-7-bowmore/), Bowmore is the oldest distillery on Islay (having been founded in 1779) and is the second oldest operating distillery in Scotland behind Glenturret (which was founded in 1775).

The distillery has produced some stellar core bottlings over the years (the 15 Years Old Mariner expression definitely being one of them) as well as some limited edition bottlings (The Devil’s Casks series) and even downright legendary bottlings (the holy trinity of White, Gold and Black Bowmore), which showcase the pedigree and versatility which is at the heart of the distillery’s craft.

In recent years, Bowmore has even ventured into the NAS market with Duty Free releases such as Black Rock and Gold Reef, both of which are relatively decent whiskies If I were to say so myself. However, when it comes to picking a favourite from the distillery, one can’t help but look at the core expressions on offer.

Some of you might remember that the bottles used to come in cylindrical tins a few years back before the packing was changed to the more traditional cardboard boxes. I frankly preferred the tins as they added a touch of class to the product (as it has done with Bowmore’s sister distillery Laphroaig), but its a relatively minor gripe on the face of it all.

Funnily enough, my first encounter with the whisky from Bowmore was with the 18 Years Old expression, which was given to my father as a gift. I particularly enjoyed that whisky but realised that indulging in that on a regular basis was perhaps not sustainable. This led me to the 12 Years Old and 15 Years Old Mariner expressions which were more affordable and just as brilliant.

In recent years, with the phasing out of the Mariner at Changi Duty Free (it can still be found in other airports around the world, as I recently found it in Doha, Melbourne and Hong Kong) and even the 12 Years Old expression in favour of the Black Rock, Gold Reef and White Sands 17 Years Old expressions, it has become less of a regular indulgence and more of a treat.

Luckily enough, the 12 Years Old expression is still relatively easy to source for in Singapore and for a comparably reasonable price range of between SG$100-130, depending on the retailer. I personally haven’t had the 12 Years Old expression in quite a while (up until this review) and was rather surprised to be presented with a bottle of it by my cousin to review. I have to say, he definitely has good taste!

So, let’s get stuck in, shall we?

Bowmore 12 Years Old (40% abv)

Bowmore 12 Years Old
Bowmore 12 Years Old

Colour: Golden syrup

Nose: Initial entry presents restrained peat with some sweetness, although not overly sweet. There’s a definite citrus element to this dram which brings to mind lemon drops and some orange marmalade. After some time, cracked black pepper, wood spices and some oakiness present themselves. The coastal, maritime nature of this dram also means that there’s a nice helping of sea salt which lingers in the background.

Palate: Staying true to the colour, this! Honeyed and with a syrup-like consistency at the forefront before some of the peat and sea salt take over. With time, the whisky opens on the palate, allowing the citrus notes from the nose to emerge and intermingle well with the sweet smokiness. More of the wood spices and black pepper emerge later on to bring some heat to the proceedings.

There’s just a hint of vanilla at the back of the palate and a distinct hint of barley sweetness which provides another form of sweetness to this dram. It is definitely sweeter on the palate than on the nose and the melange of flavours work very well with one another.

Finish: Long and lingering finish, with the peat and citrus notes intermingling beautifully with the barley sweetness and honey. Just a hint of cigar ash at the very end gives the smokiness a more sophisticated edge. The mouthfeel is wonderfully oily and works quite well with the various aspects of the flavour profile.

Rating: 84/100

This is a solid dram and is just as good as I remember it to be. I would have given this a higher mark if the abv was higher than the 40% it was bottled at and would really like to see how this one would have turned out if it was bottled at either 46% or even a cask strength abv exceeding 50%.

It’s a well known fact that Bowmore uses E150a caramel colouring in their whiskies in order to reduce the effect of batch variation and while I generally prefer my whiskies to be free of colouring and chill-filtration, I’m satisfied that the colouring doesn’t affect the flavour profile in a significant way by dampening the various nuances of the spirit.

It seems very likely that Bowmore will push for more NAS bottlings to be introduced for future releases (especially considering that the final Devil’s Casks release is a NAS bottling instead of the 10 Years Old age statement held by the previous two versions) and seeing as how Laphroaig only has the 10 Years Old expression as a part of the core range and Auchentoshan is also introducing more NAS bottlings, this prediction seems like something that will be fulfilled sooner rather than later.

I love Bowmore and look forward to visiting the distillery again in the (hopefully) near future. It would also be worth keeping an eye on their future releases in order to ascertain if they do indeed choose to pursue the NAS route.

Slainte!

Brendan

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