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Bowmore is the oldest distillery on Islay, established a whopping 235 years ago in 1779. It is one of the last distilleries to have its own floor malting (only five other Scottish distilleries still do this), and also has an incredibly unique maturation area, the No.1 Vaults: the oldest maturation warehouse in Scotland, and the only one below sea level. For a distillery that has been producing whisky for so long, Bowmore, and particularly this offering, seems to have a fairly divided audience. There are some glowing reviews and some distinctly less-than-glowing ones, so I was quite interested to try it out for myself.
As a side note, I'm definitely not a fan of e150, nor of chill filtration, both of which are present here. The chill filtration at least is done away with in the cask-strength Laimrig version of this bottling, which I happen to have a bottle of as well- I'm quite interested to see how they stack up when I get around to opening that one.
As far as my experience with this whisky is concerned, I'll not spend much time on the appearance as, in addition to often being a pretty poor gauge of a dram's qualities, it seems kind of pointless in this case since the colour has been altered. It's quite dark, let's leave it at that.
Nose: definite smoke here, but pretty closed initially. Thankfully, even a tiny drop of water opens things up quite well. Initial notes of dried fruit- raisins, dates, sultanas- mingled with toffee sweetness, leading into notes of chocolate and coffee. A hint of bonfire smoke remains present throughout.
Palate: Cedar spice, deep sweet raisins, dark chocolate, fresh figs, and roasted almond praline riding a wash of smoke. The mouthfeel is a little bit thin, but the flavors are strong and, honestly, pretty tasty.
Finish: The finish is the highlight of this whisky in my opinion. Steady and lingering with notes of butterscotch, peach, nuts, dried fruit, and gentle tannins with continued smoke. The smoke persists after the other flavors are gone, practically begging for another sip.
Overall impressions: I definitely weigh in on the side of the argument that enjoys Bowmore Darkest. It definitely needs some water (although as I said even just a drip or two will do it) and some time but given those things it really evolves in the glass and the interplay of malt, sherry, and smoke notes is well maintained and creates some great flavors.