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Bowmore (Darkest) 15 Year Old Single Malt Whisky

Review: Bowmore (Darkest) 15 Year Old Single Malt Whisky  87/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted on July 03, 2011

Bowmore Distillery

The Bowmore Distillery is the oldest of the Islay Distilleries in Scotland, (and it is one of the oldest distilleries in all of Scotland). It sits at the edge of the sea on the craggy coastline of the Hebridean Island, and has sat there since 1779. This location close to the sea and of course close to the rich Islay peat has been linked to the distinctive floral and smoky character of the Bowmore Whisky. This character is a result of rich peat flavours being absorbed by the barley as it dries under the peated fire of the malt drying kiln, and of the whisky aging in the famous Bowmore seaside vaults (which are below sea-level) as the briny seaside air is allowed to mingle with the oak aging casks.

The Bowmore Darkest 15 Year Old Single Malt Whisky is part of the core range of Bowmore Single Malts. This whisky is matured in American Bourbon Casks and then ‘finished’ for 3 more years in Spanish Sherry casks. I was given a small set of 3 200 ml sample bottles of the Bowmore 12, the Bowmore 15 (Darkest) and the Bowmore 18 year Old Single Malt Whiskies for review here on my website. My review of the Bowmore Darkest 15 Year Old is the second review in the series.

In the Bottle  4.5/5

The presentation for the Bowmore Darkest 15 is shown to the right. The bottle (except for the label) is exactly the same as the previously reviewed Bowmore 12 Year Old Whisky. It is in the typical style of a bar room whisky, designed to be easy for the bartender to hold, easy for the bartender to pour a dram, and of course easy for him to store the bottle on the bar shelf. The bottle and label are simple but professional, and it is a classy presentation. I am also pleased that the closure is a high density cork which seals the whisky in properly and gives me that nice satisfying  ‘pop’ when I first open the bottle.

My only quibble is that I would like to see a little more information on the bottle sleeve or label. Scotch whiskies come in many different styles, and although the whisky is identified as an Islay Single Malt, a few tasting notes on the bottle sleeve would be helpful for the consumer in determining whether this style of Islay Whisky would be suitable for him or her.

In The Glass  9/10

I poured myself a dram of the Bowmore 15 Darkest and had a good look at the whisky in the glass. It is darker and richer looking than the previously reviewed Bowmore 12.  The initial nose brings rich sherry scents of dried fruit and dark chocolate. A quick tilt of my glass and a slow swirl reveals a stubborn oily sheen that only grudgingly gives up slow moving moderately thick legs.

As the glass breathes, scents of charred caramel build as do the individual aromas of oak and peat. I sense a bit of boggy willow thicket and a little bit of muddy creek bottom in the glass as well. The dried fruit and chocolate from the sherry cask continue to pour out of the nose enveloping the other scents, and the overall effect is quite nice.

In the Mouth 52/60

Bitter sweet chocolate and treacle oozes from the whisky as you allow a little to lay on your tongue. As you chew it, dry raisins,  even dryer willow bark and elderberries, as well as sharp oak tannins mixed with peat are all squeezed from the whisky.  The sherry influence is very compatible with the peat, and I have trouble separating the two from each other as I sample the whisky.

We have a nicely balanced whisky with the sweeter elements arising from the chocolate and treacle meshing nicely with the dryer and sharper elements of dry fruit and oak. The peat is much more organic in this expression than it was in the younger 12 year old,where I felt it had a tendency to taste ashy rather than peaty. Like the younger expression, this whisky grows livelier and more flavourful in the glass as you let it breathe. I found, as I sipped a dram while watching television, that the last swallow was much better than the first.

In the Throat 13/15

The exit is punctuated with punky toffee, and a filled with a slightly boggy peat. More chocolate has arrived as well as some scattered tea leaves in a finish which brings more smoothness and complexity than I noticed with the Bowmore 12.

The Afterburn 8.5/10

I am very happy with the Bowmore 15 Year Old (Darkest). The whisky, like its younger sibling the Bowmore 12, has a tendency to display more flavour as you let it sit in the glass. I am particularly happy that the peat fuses with the sherry smoke and becomes more organic allowing it to carry other sweeter flavours rather than smothering them. The means that the lighter flavours within the whisky are allowed more expression without the peat dominating the experience. Don’t get me wrong, the peat is still very apparent, but its organic nature allows it to play with the chocolate and treacle becoming something more than what it was.

You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.


As always you may interpret the scores I provide as follows.

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74   Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79   You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84   We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89   Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94   Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+        I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be more familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)


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