In October 2012, the SAQ had a promotion, granting 15% off the price of any purchase under a volume discount scheme and I took full advantage of this rare opportunity. One of the bottles I acquired was the Bowmore Darkest 15, a whisky that normally sells at close to $95 in Quebec. For quite some time, I have appreciated Bowmore’s smooth, accessible, yet peated 12 year expression and thus was interested in the next levels up on the Bowmore ladder. I finally came around to tasting the Darkest late on New Year’s Eve, but I took a second shot at it recently in order to better appreciate its offerings. Let us agree that New Year’s being what it is, a serious tasting would be rendered impossible…
Bowmore’s Islay distillery is the oldest surviving facility on the island. Bowmore still runs its own malting floors and is known for the smoke of its malts, more so than the peat itself. Bowmore has several expressions, but the core range is limited to the 12-year-old (tasted here), this Darkest, an 18, as well as a 25-year-old. The Legend also appears to be part of the ongoing range with special editions coming up from time to time (such as the Tempest).
This Darkest gets its name from the colour imparted by the sherry casks used in the finishing. Bowmores are usually aged in ex-bourbon casks, like many whiskies. This Darkest benefits from some time in sherry casks, getting some additional flavour notes and a deeper colour than the others in the range. The question now is, how does all this affect the finished product?
The Bowmore Darkest is bottled at 43% abv. It boasts a colour that lives up to its name. Your eyes will be treated to a deeply coloured, dark amber whisky. The legs run very thick and painfully slow down the sides of the glass. A visual experience matched by only a select few whiskies I have tasted to date. I used my Vinturi Spirit (reviewed here) as I had been told that this drink requires some time to open up.
The nose is sweet fruit and honey, some melon, pear, and only the slightest hint of peat. A gentle smoky aroma keeps these notes in check and binds them together. I even get some old leather and tobacco, more cigar than cigarette. Excellent introduction.
The palate starts with warm honey and sweet fruits. There’s plenty of rich smoke, bringing out the old leather somehow without overwhelming the senses. Sweet spices power their way through the smoke to join the honey and fruit. The texture is slightly gritty yet chewy. This is a powerful whisky that remains easy to drink.
The finish is long, smooth, and satisfying. There’s some old leather again, smoke, and oak combining to give the impression of bacon.
Adding a drop of water, maybe two if you are so inclined, intensifies the flavours and aromas. There’s no significant change however and this seems to play a minor part in enhancing the experience. I’ll say that I noticed some salty dark chocolate, like the Lindt variety, on the palate after I had added the water.
This is a fantastic expression from Bowmore and deserving of a spot on your shelf. It is complex, rich, and smooth without being inaccessible. For those who don’t quite appreciate peat, the Bowmore Darkest tones it down and instead plays up its distinct smoke. Its long and smooth finish kept me from drinking it quickly while the full bodied and complex palate kept me coming back for more. The price is a bit on the high side however and may be an occasional indulgence for most. Ontario doesn’t carry the stuff, but you could find it in New Hampshire for about $70. My advice is to wait for a promotion at the SAQ in Quebec and grab it. The price is well worth it for the quality of the product.