We like our whisky like we like our women: neat, smoky, and… old?
There’s something to be said for a little maturation. Age yields refinement, which more than compensates for lost youth. Poetic, eh? We think so. Anyways, one only has to look at Bowmore’s 12 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($46) and their 15 Years Old Single Malt Darkest ($74) to see the effects of age in action.
Both whiskies come from the Bowmore Distillery, which sits perched on the rugged edge of the Isle of Islay, located off the west coast of Scotland. Though the isle only has a population of about 3,000, it’s home to no fewer than eight distilleries, and Bowmore, founded in 1779, is the oldest (and the second oldest in all of Scotland). To this day, Bowmore maintains many of their original whisky-making techniques: their Single Malt is produced with water from the nearby Laggan River, the malt-drying kiln is heated with Islay peat, and the maltman still hand turns the barley with a traditional wooden malt shovel.
All this tradition builds to what is perhaps Bowmore’s most famous attraction: the legendary No.1 Vaults. The dark, cool conditions in this storage warehouse (Scotland’s oldest) are ideal for letting whisky mature, and help bolster our claim that age matters. At Bowmore, the whisky sits anywhere from 12 to 40 years, gathering color, flavor, and experience. It’s in the No.1 Vaults that the two whiskies we tasted careen onto different paths.
Stick your nose in a glass of the 12 Years Old Scotch and you’ll smell the sea air and salt tangs along with hay and orange peel. Oak, and honey are big in the first sip — but an overarching smokiness dominates. It’s all backed up by an aggressive, muscle-bound spiciness. Bowmore 12 delectably exhibits all the best characteristic of an Islay Scotch; we’ll take a dram on mountain with a view of the sunset any day of the week.
The 15 Years Old Darkest, which spends time in Oloroso sherry casks, smells of dark chocolate and cherries and is a much deeper amber in color. It also has the nutty, caramel-y scent of dates. The taste, still full of the earthy, peaty notes for which Bowmore is known, is balanced by the sweetness of sour cherries and darker fruits and raisins. On the finish, one also detects hints of toffee and sherry.
Bowmore’s flagship whiskies match the price points of similar offerings from other distilleries, so go ahead and take a sip. At $46 and $74 respectively, they’re still cheaper than the ribbing you’ll take for spending a night at the bar with a taller, leggier type of aged beauty.