We still live in a time where there is a constant need to push limits in order to get attention. Whether it is extreme political views, hot takes on NFL players, or the excessive use of hops in a beer, these things all command attention of consumers in different industries. But you know what I find to be refreshing lately? Being judicious. Careful. Thoughtful. Balanced. Louder doesn’t mean better, it just means louder.
So this brings me to Islay, Scotland, a place that relied on peat for fuel for a very long time with access to coal being very difficult. This decomposed vegetation is now a marker of the type of whisky you get from here: peaty, powerful, smoky, and medicinal. It is most often associated with Scotch and the chief reason people who say they don’t like Scotch don’t like Scotch. But here’s the thing with peat…it doesn’t need to be over the top. I recognize that it is a legit style to go high intensity and folks go bonkers for these whiskies, but it is not a style of Scotch whisky that everyone likes the same way not everyone wants a fruity oak bomb of a red wine or a super-hoppy Imperial IPA. Peat doesn’t have to permeate malt whisky so much that after you have a dram, you can’t taste anything else afterwards.
Peat has its place and it adds a great dynamic when used smartly, and this now brings me to the coastal distillery of Bowmore. Islay’s oldest distillery, Bowmore has been around since 1779. It’s a very traditional distillery in that they still do their own floor maltings, so it has complete control over the type of malted barley that goes into the whisky (an overwhelming majority of Scotch distilleries outsource this process to malt houses to get their malt made to specification because doing this on site is labor-intensive). Bowmore dries its malt over a peat fire (imparting the signature smoky character). Bowmore’s level of peat tends to be a moderate amount; consider Bowmore to be a little peatier/smokier than Highland Park, but not nearly the peat level of Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, or the insane Octomore series from Bruichladdich.
Additionally, you can nerd out with Bowmore by picking up a bottle each of the 12 Year, 15 Year, and 18 Year and get a great feel for what happens when peated whisky spends more and more time in a barrel. The peat softens and harmonizes into the other flavors and aromas derived from distillation and barrel aging.
Now even though Bowmore holds on to longstanding traditions, the ownership transition to Beam Suntory has led to modern, interesting expressions such as Mizunara (Japanese Oak) Cask Finish. The limited edition range features the Dorus Mor, a small-batch 10 Year expression, whose tropical fruit, salty smoke, and youthful edginess make for a killer cask strength dram (thank you, Greatest Wife In The World for this Christmas gift!). Also of note, Bowmore’s 54 Year luxury product from 1957 was auctioned for a record price north of $170,000…damn fine indeed!
So if you have not yet had a chance to introduce yourself to the Bowmore range, do it today. Let’s get you started with these expressions:
Bowmore 12 Year Old 40% abv ($55): citrus and chamomile with maritime peat smoke. The peat hits up front but mellows on the finish. This whisky spends its life in ex-Bourbon cask
Bowmore 15 Year Old 43% abv ($75): dark chocolate, figs, raisins, and meaty richness. Toffee notes really show up on the finish with a salty/smoky lift. This whisky finishes in Oloroso Sherry casks and used to be known as Bowmore “Darkest” due to its deep reddish golden color.
Bowmore 18 Year Old 43% abv ($140): caramel, chocolate, crème brûlée…yeah, it’s like drinking a dessert with a gentle smokiness. Rich and luxurious with a complex finish that gives you something different with every sip.
Bowmore 10 Year Dorus Mor Release III 54.9% abv ($100): papaya, raspberry, pineapple, dried oranges, brown sugar and cured meats. A floral peatiness pops on the nose. Lively on the finish, where the fruit tastes more caramelized (think grilled pineapples here). I’m drooling and ready to eat everything in my fridge just writing this.