E-pistle 2008/11 – The Latest (and Blackest?) Bowmore

By Mark Gillespie, USA

The Black Bowmore is a whisky of mythical proportions. Distilled on November 5, 1964 after the Morrison family had taken over Bowmore Distillery, the Black Bowmore came from some of the first new make spirit produced after a new boiler was installed. That spirit was placed into a series of Oloroso oak casks sourced from Williams & Humbert, which had used them for what it called “walnut sherry.”  The casks helped give the Black Bowmore its rich, dark color and wide range of flavours, while aging the casks in Bowmore’s #1 Vaults below sea level and literally immersing them in sea water at times led to the touch of salt water.

Just 5,800 bottles of the original Black Bowmore were released between 1993 and 1995, with 2,000 bottles of 29-year-old spirit in 1993, another 2,000 as a 30-year-old in 1994, and the final 1,800 bottles as 31-year-old Black Bowmore in 1995. Today, the Black Bowmore sells for as much as $6,000 a bottle, or as little as the original price of around $150 – as has been rumored to happen when a whisky expert stumbles into the right retailer at the right time and said retailer doesn’t know what his whisky is worth.

What Bowmore didn’t brag about at the time were the 5 Williams & Humbert casks that stayed behind in the warehouse…and which now make up the 827 bottles of the “new” Black Bowmore.  It’s not a knockoff – just the same whisky now bottled at 42 years of age and selling for $4,500 a bottle. Bowmore senior blender Iain McCallum has been monitoring those casks for the last decade or so, and made the decision to bottle them in late 2006 after the whisky’s alcohol level had dropped to 40.5% — just above the legal minimum for Scotch whisky. For that reason – and for the fact that it’s a rare $4,500 whisky, damn it, there’s no reason to add water to a dram of whisky that makes Loch Dhu look like amber by comparison. It’s a dark burnt caramel color that could be compared to used motor oil on a dipstick.

The aroma of the warehouse carries into this whisky, and if it were possible to find the words to describe something as smelling “old,” they would certainly apply here.  It’s musty without the fungus-like smell, and dusty without the dryness one would expect.  The brininess expected from an Islay whisky aged on the shore in a wet warehouse is understated, and a decidedly non-Islay aroma of tropical fruits fills the void with hints of mango, kiwi fruit, and even a bit of papaya.

That continues in the taste, where a passionately fruity blast (including said passion fruit) explodes off the tongue like a skyrocket, then dims to a tartness on the top of the tongue and lingering citrus notes that eventually reveal the traditional Bowmore smokiness in the finish.

For a whisky of this vintage, to be as vibrant and fresh as a much younger malt is miraculous.
This is like no other whisky I have ever tasted, and rates a score to match: 97 points.

I only hope they saved one bottle for this year’s Malt Maniacs Awards competition…