The 1960s hold a special place in the history of Scotch whisky, and Bowmore's creations from this era are a very big reason why. Among these, the Black Bowmore and Samaroli's Bowmore Bouquet stand out and are viewed by many whisky experts as the best Scotch whiskies ever bottled. 1960s’ Bowmores are celebrated for their complexity, rich fruitiness, and elegant smokiness; a flavour profile that modern whisky distilleries continue seeking to replicate but can never quite get right (at least at time of writing).
We recently had the pleasure of attending an event hosted by Bowmore and Beam Suntory, aimed to showcase the art of Islay whisky and food pairing. Our excitement for this event was not just about the food, though that promised to be a delight, but primarily for the opportunity to explore some amazing Bowmore expressions from 22 years onwards and including rare 50-year-old gems distilled in the 1960s.
These include a tasting of the Bowmore x Aston Martin 22YO, Bowmore 25YO, Bowmore 29YO, Bowmore 30YO, Bowmore 1969, as well as a special unveiling of the futuristic-looking Bowmore x Aston Martin Arc 52 whisky – all of which will soon become available for purchase in 2024.
The pairing of these whiskies with food was interesting. Islay whiskies and oysters are a classic combination – we were encouraged to use a pipette to add a couple drops of Bowmore 18 to the stuff, which was great fun. They took this a step further by incorporating a range of dishes from the Mediterranean restaurant Riviera at One Fullerton. I'm not a food critic, but the predominantly seafood and Bowmore pairing was evidently well-thought-out, with the dishes and whisky enhancing the experience of each other.
Leading the event was Daryl Haldane, the Private Client Director for Bowmore and Beam Suntory. With a Scottish accent as thick as the peat and Sherry used in Bowmore’s whiskies, he seems perfect for the job. Daryl went on about how Bowmore came to collaborate with the iconic British car manufacturer Aston Martin. This partnership kicked off in 2017, coinciding with the launch of the Aston Martin DB5. To mark the occasion, Bowmore released the 3rd edition of the Black Bowmore, uniquely presented in a casing resembling an Aston Martin engine piston.
This collaboration didn't stop there, and they have gone on to create a range of limited edition Bowmore x Aston Martin expressions from 10 to 15 years.
But here's a fun fact that Daryl shared with a chuckle: much like 007, Bowmore Distillery itself owns a custom-made Aston Martin DBX. Bowmore’s guests arriving on the island could be picked up by Daryl himself in this vehicle, and they would be given on a quick spin across Islay on the beast of a machine.
The mental image of zipping through Islay in a DBX is certainly a thrilling start to the Bowmore whisky tasting experience.
And so we began with the classic 18 Years that most of us are familiar with.
Bowmore's sherry-matured whiskies really shine when they cross the 20-year threshold.
Bowmore 18 Years Old, 43% ABV
The whisky presents a rich and round profile with mellow ashiness and pronounced sweetness. Indulgent caramel and chocolate notes seamlessly blend with the taste of dark red fruits. Citrus adds a slightly tangy edge and a balanced contrast.
The palate also has light nuances of wood polish and the distinctive taste of tobacco and pepper and as that gives us a hint of what a well-aged Scotch looks like. I might also be imagining it but there seems to be a subtle maritime saltiness, along with a faint coppery undertone.
The Bowmore 18 is always a delightful dram for me, with its easily-appreciated rich, dense and smooth sweetness.
For its price range and depth, a 7/10 rating is very well-deserved.
My Rating: 7/10
As the typical Scotch whisky is matured for a long period of time, it often takes on notes of dried fruits such as sultanas and raisins. But Bowmore whiskies “age like no other,” said Daryl the brand rep. He pointed out that older Bowmore expressions tend to exhibit brighter yellow and orange tropical fruits compared to older expressions from the typical Scotch distillery, and that this has something to do with the way Bowmore was distilled and specially aged in very cool cellars below sea level that are very near to the frigid waters of the Islay coast.
I can see Daryl’s point. The 18 Years Old does seem brighter and fresher than one might expect, with the emergence of mild caramelised pineapple notes that aligns with Daryl’s interesting observation on tropical fruit notes.
Bowmore Aston Martin Masters’ Selection Edition #3, 22-Years-Old, 51% ABV
European Oak Oloroso Sherry and American Oak Casks
We move on to taste the third edition of the very popular Bowmore - Aston Martin Masters’ Selection. According to Daryl, there is a pinch of 1980s Bowmore added to this expression for added depth.
Medium bodied, it reveals a deep, rich influence of Oloroso and PX Sherry. Opens with the sweetness of a diverse array of both dark fruit and stewed fruits, and brown sugar syrup. And while these flavours are rich, they are clean and quite balanced, not overwhelming, closely resembling old sherried whiskies of the pre-1980s era when very high quality Sherry casks were available to whisky makers. It’s definitely a notch above many modern whiskies that rely on seasoned sherry casks. Smoke feels really subtle here, I’m just getting a touch of rich black tea.
This whisky maintains a surprising brightness and cleanliness, when one might expect more pronounced dry oak notes for its intense flavours, colour and age.
The nose is most impressive, and the initial taste on the palate is really quite enjoyable. However, the finish, while pleasant, is somewhat typical of an above average Scotch. If only this had a slightly heavier body and a higher ABV, it would surely make this an incredible one that deserves an 8/10 or 9/10.
My Rating: 7/10
Bowmore 25 Years Old, 43% ABV
European Oak Sherry and American Bourbon Casks
Moving on to the core range 25YO, it's sweet and rich, yet approachable and clean, albeit slightly thinner in body than I expected. It leans towards the profile of a sweet wine, with notes of raisins, prunes, and honey and once again blood orange. There's a gentle ashiness present, alongside a blend of baking spices such as anise, cinnamon, and pepper, which add depth without overwhelming.
This expression is complex, well-balanced and highly drinkable - it’s an ideal choice for new whisky drinkers who can afford it. That said, it may not cater to all preferences, especially if you’re one of those high proof lovers who prefer the intensity of cask strength whiskies.
Interestingly, pairing this whisky with grilled miso chutoro tuna really enhances its sweet and savoury character and complements the overall flavour profile.
My Rating: 7/10
Bowmore Timeless 29 Years Old, 53.7% ABV
European Oak Sherry and American Bourbon Casks
The texture is lovely, thick and layered, offering rich flavours but fairly moderate sweetness. There’s prominent notes of wood polish and Kyoho grapes, along with generous baking spices from the European oak, which are very distinct yet not overpowering. A mild espresso note pairs with a very light salinity.
What’s notable about Bowmore (at least with the Original Bottlings) is that it stands out for its bright and playful flavours even for whiskies aged 25 years and above. It doesn’t possess the austerity often found in other very old whiskies, which tend to be dominated by a strong wood influence. Smokiness also dissipates as it ages, and sweet stewed fruits begin to dominate.
This whisky is complex and flavourful, with well-integrated Oloroso sherry and European oak influences. It’s bold enough for cask strength enthusiasts, particularly those who enjoy Sherry-matured whiskies. I also love that the spices add to the enjoyment without being overwhelming. Adding a few drops of spring water brings out even more sweetness and chocolatey notes.
The brand rep did caution the drinks that it is a little bit peppery and spicy, but I don’t think long-time whisky aficionados will find this to be a problem at all.
My Rating: 8/10
Bowmore 30 Years Old, 45.3% ABV
First-fill Oloroso, European Oak Sherry and American Bourbon Casks
The 30YO is really expressive yet opens up very gradually, with all the elegance of an old Scotch. Compared to the earlier ones, this expression presents a bolder and richer texture. Fresh fruit notes of cherries, raspberries, and very ripe pink guava are evident. These are deepened by the richness of Lotus caramel biscuits, toasted hazelnuts, and aromatic wood polish. And despite the intensity of flavour, the sweetness is quite moderate and precise.
This tastes very precise and intentional, as if each flavour dimension has been carefully adjusted for. It's like a well-coordinated film production where every element is in perfect harmony and at just the right amount. This is masterful in the fruitiness and sweetness, intertwined with an underlying aromatic smokiness. Almost perfect.
If this was bottled closer to cask strength, it would be phenomenal.
My Rating: 9/10
Bowmore 1969 (50 Years Old), 46.9% ABV
American Bourbon and Oloroso Sherry European Oak Casks
It was finally the moment we’ve been anticipating – we got to taste a Bowmore from the legendary Scotch period of the 1960s. In contrast to the rather heavily sherried expressions we’ve explored, this expression is much lighter in colour and seems much more influenced by ex-Bourbon casks.
Tasting it, as expected of a 60s’ Bowmore, I find it really fruity with passionfruit, pomelo, grapefruit and apple juice. But there’re added dimensions of liveliness, showcasing a powerful lemon-like sourness and a bit of a “bite” typical of certain iconic old-style Islay whiskies. There’s a prominent minerality and coastal saltiness, vanilla, toasted coconut flakes, caramel and honey, all laced with lemon juice; very distinctive flavours.
This is simply exceptional. There’s the funky tropical fruits, the powerful liveliness of citrus, the aromatic oak. And of course the saltiness – the coastal influences stand out to me as I’ve never encountered such a strong maritime character in a whisky.
This merits a perfect score.
My Rating: 10/10
Unveiling the Bowmore ARC-52
We don’t have a review for this next bottling because one bottle costs… uhh… over a hundred thousand bucks. But we’re also given a short introduction to the Bowmore ARC-52 which comes in a decanter specially created by Aston Martin’s designers.
The spirit was distilled in 1968 (one year earlier than the Bowmore 1969 we tasted) and aged for 52 years in equal parts American ex-Bourbon and European Oloroso casks. Considering our experience with the Bowmore 1969, we imagine that the apple wouldn’t fall too far from the tree for the ARC-52.
Looking at this avant-garde piece of work, you might wonder how does one uncork this decanter. Cleverly, Aston Martin has created a car key of sorts, which you hold against the metal cap to activate a magnetic mechanism to unlock the bottle. Neat.
Clearly, this is an ultra high-end product designed to capture the general consumer’s attention before they go on to purchase the Bowmore 30 Year Old or something. But if you’re a collector, there’re only 100 bottles ever produced, which makes this a respectable addition to your personal trove of rare whisky.
Our journey through Bowmore’s most revered expressions was an absolute pleasure. All the expressions showcased here did not disappoint and reaffirmed why Bowmore was so celebrated since the 1980s’. We could see how Bowmore's sherry-matured whiskies really shine when they cross the 20-year threshold. And we’re guessing it’s got something to do with the inclusion of some of their older whiskies from the 1980s.
We’re also reminded of Bowmore's understated presence amongst major distilleries in the Scotch world. They may not engage in as much marketing fanfare as some other major distilleries, but their whiskies speak for themselves with very good quality and consistency. It would be interesting to see how Bowmore continues its legacy of great whisky in the decades to come.
For those eager to own a piece of this legacy, all the whiskies we’ve tasted will be made available for purchase in 2024.