I've never encountered a Bowmore that I found to be even remotely palatable. This include the few I've sampled and the many I've vicariously sampled (nosed them while others complained about the lack of palatability).
Nose: some residual vomit (see previous review of Bowmore 15), dull earthy peat, sugary-candy.
Palate: saccharine arrival with mild spice and watery peat. Thin and treacly overall.
Finish: nice bit of spice on the finish. Red fruits and watery sugar that dulls over time to reveal a vegetal note.
Seriously, how does Bowmore make money putting stuff like this out? It has deterred me from buying any Bowmore, including IB's. I'm sure they make some decent stuff....somewhere. I'll wait for a sample from a friend.
The 18yo stands out in my mind as exceedingly light and dainty, so I can't wrap my head around the source of anything more jarring than violet blossoms.
To answer the main question: there are really good Bowmores, and even lesser ones appeal to newcomers because the peat is usually perceived as a softer and rounder smoke, relative to other Islays (besides Bunnahabhain).
To follow up on the other Bowmore suggestions: yes the higher ABV helps the Tempest, which I found did not take water well before revealing some more unpleasant notes you allude to. Yes the Laimrig is also helped by ABV, but I recall it takes water better than the Tempest does, so long as it is cool (Scotland temperature). For a good showcase of soft Bowmore peat, it's the standard 17yo you should try, very different from this 18yo. Outside of these 3, I haven't yet found another Bowmore that I loved out of 7 others expressions so far (but I found their 15yo Mariner above average).
Nice reviews. Mine, too, were based on the triple miniature set, though I have had Bowmore 12 and 18 independently as well. I gave away the bottle of Bowmore 12, so displeased was I with the product.
I have heard good things about Laimrig (and Tempest), though I am understandably reluctant to pull the trigger on a purchase. I would love to try a sample though - happy to share what I have in exchange.
High strength might help. It usually does. Though it might also simply magnify the terrible, terrible Bowmore flavours.