Elegant whiskies from the Hebrides

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Bowmore is one of my favorite distilleries on the Island of Islay, in the Inner Hebrides archipelago off the west coast of Scotland. Established in 1779, it stands in the beautiful town of the same name, on the Loch Indaal inlet. Among its distinguishing features, Bowmore is one of the few distilleries that still maintains its own floor malting.

Its whisky offers elegance and class, but with enough body and muscle to remain a contender, and just enough peat and smoke to remind one of its Islay provenance. Like most whiskies, however, it also offers a satisfying warmth on a cold day. Here are four current choice expressions to consider:


Bowmore, 12 Year Old, Islay single-malt Scotch whisky (40 percent abv; $50): This gently peated whisky opens on the nose with distinct floral notes amid the peat and sweet tobacco (think pipe) smoke, followed by ash, dried grass, sea brine and zesty lemon and orange citrus notes. These are followed on the palate with lovely and well-rounded flavors of peat, spice and honey, offering a subtle balance between dryness, sweetness, peat and smoke. The finish is smoky, briny, citrusy, oily and dry. This is not a massive peat monster, but this is a fantastic, elegant Islay classic.

Bowmore, 15 Year Old, “Darkest,” Islay single-malt Scotch whisky (43 percent abv; $75): This lovely, absorbing whisky offers aromas of dark chocolate, raisins, nutmeg, dark toffee, black pepper, cigar smoke, brine and cedar wood, followed by rich, concentrated, palate-coating flavors of bitter chocolate, dark honey, butterscotch, toffee, vanilla bean, wafts of smoke, sweet honey and a hint of treacle, finishing sweet and delicate. A wonderful, most inviting whisky.

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Here are two new limited release expressions, parts one and two of the “Vintner’s Trilogy” (so named to emphasize the ex-wine casks employed in each whisky’s development; part three hasn’t been released yet):

Bowmore, 18 Year Old, Double Matured, Manzanilla, Islay single-malt Scotch whisky (52.5 percent abv; $130): aged for 13 years in ex-bourbon casks and then an additional five years in ex-Manzanilla sherry casks, this is an absorbing and enjoyable offering with notes of salted caramel, assorted nuts, molasses, spiced orange and blackcurrants, a dollop of brine and a whiff of peat smoke; with a little time in the glass, some mulled wine and fruit leather characteristics develop along with some slightly odd, but not unwelcome, green notes. The finish is dry and long, if a tad hot. This is not the same as the regular 18- year-old expression which is very different, but outstanding.


Bowmore, 26 Year Old, Wine Cask, Islay single-malt Scotch whisky (48.7 percent abv; $540): Matured for 13 years in ex-bourbon barrels, and then another 13 in wine barriques (another type of cask), this is rich, full, and deep, offering beach-bonfire smoke, with notes of mango, blackberry, cherry, something like menthol, with some distinctive, if subtle, brine and some tropical fruit notes that drift in and out of focus. Some nice spice on the lengthy and deeply satisfying finish. L’chaim! n

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