After a brief hiatus, the Whisky Showdown! is back! Though to call this a showdown is a bit of a stretch. Rather, this is an appreciation of a signature expression against an older expression produced under different conditions. The Bowmore Darkest is not simply aged three more years than the 12, it spends a further two years in sherry casks resulting in a deeper colour and most likely imparting some of the sherry’s legacy on the finished product. Both of these whiskies contain malts from the Islay distillery’s famous malting floors, though the younger product is bottled at 40% abv as opposed to the Darkest’s 43%. Several months ago I wrote that I was looking forward to comparing the staple Bowmore 12-year-old to a more aged version from the distillery and finally, that opportunity has come about. My recent tasting of Bowmore Darkest 15 has certainly whet my appetite for this comparison and I would like it to begin sooner rather than later so without further delay…
On the eye, the Darkest’s deep amber colour stands out against the paler gold of the Bowmore 12, however rich the latter’s colour may be. The legs run thicker and slower on the Darkest.
The nose on the 12 is sweeter and slightly more overtly smokey that the Darkest’s powerful wood aromas. The Darkest manages to deftly reproduce the scent of an old church or library. Both hint of orange and some peat. Both also share some fruity notes, but the Darkest translates the time it spent in sherry casks into expressions easily appreciated by olfactory cells.
The palate is an exercise in contrasts. Where the tropical fruit, smoke, and peat mix to provide the Bowmore 12 with its signature taste, the Darkest pulls the most out of its sherry heritage and adds orange, smoke, leather, tobacco, an oily texture, and tops it off with more sherry.
Both exhibit the qualities of a fine whisky in their respective finishes. The Bowmore 12 has a satisfying conclusion of smoke and dark chocolate. The Darkest goes out kicking with smoke, tobacco, leather, and a hint of some of the sweetness it exhibits throughout the stages of the tasting.
Overall, both are recommended but the Bowmore Darkest is a much more complex product. On the basis of its rich and appealing appearance, more indulgent aromas, somewhat more satisfying palate, and deeper, more complex, and fuller finish, I will give a significant nod to the Darkest without taking anything away from the Bowmore 12. These two whiskies set out to do two different things and both achieve their respective ends admirably. The extra years of aging and the sherry casks used in the production of the Darkest add depth and character to a product already well ahead of its class. My initial review of the Bowmore 12 can be found by clicking on this link. The Bowmore Darkest 15 currently resides here.