Bowmore is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland. It is located on the island of Islay, which lies off the west Highland coast, and started production of whisky in 1779. This makes it the oldest distillery on Islay and it has a current capacity of 2 million litres per year. Bowmore is one of the most famous whiskies in the world and the number of different releases is extensive. The core range consists of a 12 years old, this 15 years old 'Darkest' and an 18 years old. These are joined by more limited releases from time to time. Independent bottlings are fairly common. Bowmore also has another range of whiskies that are available exclusively for travel retail/ duty free. The 'Darkest' is available almost everywhere in the UK, from larger supermarkets to smaller specialist retailers. It has been matured for 13 years in bourbon casks and then for the last two years, has been placed in Pedro Ximinez sherry casks.
The colour is dark and golden and the nose smells rich and fruity. There is lots of dried fruit (imagine raisins, sultanas, candied peel), an underlying smoky character (this is a bit meaty and reminded me of smoky bacon crisps!) and something bitter, like a good dark chocolate. The palate is complex and rich. There is loads of vanilla (this comes from the bourbon cask maturation) and loads of dried sweet fruit (this comes from the sherry casks, as Pedro Ximinez is a very sweet style of sherry). They are joined by that smokiness again and also something slightly acrid that reminded me of burnt sugar or black treacle. The finish is creamy, warming and long with the dried fruit sweetness prominent and the smokiness lingers, slowly fading to nothing. This is a very good whisky and demonstrates a good balance between the influences of the different cask characteristics and the smokiness. Bowmore is one of the lighter Islay malts, as the malted barley contains relatively low phenol levels (around 20-25 ppm) compared to it's neighbours (eg. Ardbeg is 55 ppm). This gives it less smokiness and more subtlety, making Bowmore a good choice for those who don't like the full on smoky, peaty flavours or as an introduction to these characteristics. A bottle of this should cost between £40-45.