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When I was in Calgary in April last year (on a business trip, no one goes to Calgary in April for fun), I picked up a 5cl miniature of Bowmore 12 ($5.99 CAD at Cloud Nine, which is located in the Calgary Airport), which I split with my friend Jeff when he was over for a game of Arkham Horror.
My thinking on the issue was thus, if the 5cl sample of Bowmore was good, then I might consider buying a full bottle.
As many other whisky reviewers have noted, Islay whisky can be intimidating as there is a repution for smokiness and strong medicinal and/or industrial flavours that can be off-putting for those exploring malt whisky for the first time.
My first "peated" whisky was the Jura Superstition, and it really isn't all that peated when you compare it with Talisker or most other whiskies from Islay.
Bowmore, however, as been described by several reviewers as a "gentle" Islay malt, almost as if it were in some way an "introductory" Islay, although one of the guests at our December 2011 tasting party described it in passing, as "dirty" and "gritty" so I wasn't entirely sure what I was getting myself into.
A quick look at the minature bottle (complete with miniature cardboard sleeve!) revealed the following "official tasting notes":
Colour: Warm Amber
Nose: Subtle notes of lemon and honey are bound together with distinctive Bowmore smokiness
Palate: Warm and delicious with subtle dark chocolate and peat smoke
Finish: Long and subtle
How many times can you use the word 'subtle' in four short lines? Three, apparently...which makes me wonder just what Bowmore is trying to say about this whisky? Just how 'subtle' is it?
Well, it is certainly far less in-your-face than the Ardbeg 10. The smoke and peat were not overpowering, more reminiscent of the scent of a summer camp fire; in fact, the nose was far less aggressive and peaty than the standard Talisker 10.
On the tongue there was, in fact, a subtle sweetness that wasn't overwhelmed by the smoke, but I certainly didn't pick up any dark chocolate notes (I guess it was too 'subtle' for me to notice), and the finish was long and satisfying, almost salty, without the rough, unpleasant ashy taste that I found with the Ardbeg 10.
Are there any flaws? Well, if I really had to pick one, I'd have to go with the fact that Bowmore 12 contains E150a caramel colouring (as do many other whiskies, many of which I am fond of), which, while I'm not ideologically opposed to E150a, I wish it was disclosed on the labels (my assumption is that if the bottle doesn't say 'Natural Colour' or something to that effect, it likely contains caramel colouring).
Interestingly enough, while the E150a was disclosed on the miniature I bought in Calgary - because it seems that particular bottle had been imported from Germany, where all additives must be disclosed - it isn't on the bottles of Bowmore 12 that I've looked at at the LCBO. My bottles of Signatory Caol Ila and Peat Monster, which are both about the same age, and were aged in similar casks, are much paler, and have a more "natural" colour to them. Likewise, my bottle of Compass Box Spice Tree, has a darker, more satisfying (and natural) colour to it.
The Bowmore 12, while overall a good, recommendable whisky for those looking for a gentle introduction to Islay, is just an oddly perfect a shade of amber (almost too perfect, I'd say).
As for Arkham Horror, while it is a great cooperative / social game, if you're not a fan of H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos, then it may be a bit confusing and hard to get into. The evening that Jeff and I cracked open the Bowmore 12 we were also experimenting with the 'Kingsport Horror' expansion. As the village of Kingsport is a port town , the Bowmore added a very nice maritime flavour to the evening; it felt like we were hardened mid-1920s era characters fighting against unimaginable cosmic horrors from beyond, knocking back whisky in an effort to retain our sanity (one of the 'Common Item' cards in the game is in fact a bottle of whisky that your character can "drink" and then discard in order to prevent Sanity Loss).