Whisky Advocate

Review: The “new” Black Bowmore

February 5th, 2008

Sometimes older is better. Sometimes it’s worse. Other time it’s neither, just different.

I was pleasantly surprised when I tasted the “Double Barrel” Ardbeg whiskies released last year which were distilled in 1974. Ardbeg fans will know that 1974 was the same vintage as the great Ardbeg “Provenance” whiskies releaseed around a decade ago. The bar was set pretty high, but the two Double Barrel whiskies were as good as the Provenance releases, if not better.

The original Provenance whiskies ranged from $300-500. The two Double Barrel whiskies, which must be purchased as a set (along with other shooting-related goodies), will set you back about $20,000.

Now it’s Bowmore’s turn. But with the Bowmore whiskies, the younger, original releases back in the 1990s and the new release are all older in age across the board when compared to the Ardbeg whiskies (the younger ones being 30 years old, plus or minus a year, and the new one being 42 years old). Let’s face it, 42 years is a long time in oak.

Last night I had a chance to taste the new Black Bowmore, for which–at $4,500 a bottle–I already consider my self very fortunate. How does it taste? For those of you with deep pockets, you will want to know whether to buy a bottle. For the rest of us, what are you missing out on?

Here’s what I think of this new whisky.

First, some stats on this new Black Bowmore. It consists of five casks, distilled November 5, 1964, 42 years old and 40.5% ABV. It’s from the same distillation (and stored in the same casks in the same warehouse) as the original three Black Bowmore whiskies. These are also the last of the Black Bowmore casks. There will be no more after this. (They still have whisky from 1964, but they are not from the same Black Bowmore pedigree, which I explain below.)

Total yield: 827 bottles, of which only 80 are destined for the U.S. The current scheduled landing date here in the U.S. is March 3, 2008. Suggested retail price: $4,500. This might seem like a lot of money, but let’s put this in proper perspective. Christie’s in New York recently auctioned a set of the original trio for $18,000 ($6,000 per bottle), and the Bowmore 40 year old, which was released about a decade ago or so, listed at $7,000. Yes, the packaging for the Bowmore 40 was fancier, but this still shows the relative value of the new Black Bowmore.

What really matters is how the whisky tastes. I feared for the worst. Let’s face it, 42 years is a long time in oak. Plus, the original Black Bowmore whiskies tasted so good, I couldn’t imagine this one tasting better. It’s hard to compete with a Legend.

In short, this is one of the most fascinating whiskies I have ever tasted! It’s better than the original Black Bowmore trio. I know that many of you don’t want to hear me say this, because it’s so damned expensive. You would prefer I say that it tastes old and woody, far past its prime, not as good as the original Black Bowmore whiskies, and should only be purchased by wealthy collectors who don’t care how the whisky tastes. But I can’t.

Those of you who tasted one of the original Black Bowmore whiskies will instantly recognize this one as being from the same family as soon as you nose it. No other Bowmore whisky smells or tastes like this. I think it’s partly from where the whisky was stored (The No. 1 Vaults). More importantly, I think what really gives the Black Bowmore whiskies their distinctive personality is the type of sherry casks they were matured in. The casks were from William & Humbert who described them as “walnut sherry” casks.

The damp, earthen warehouse, its proximity to the sea, these specific sherry casks, and the distinctive Bowmore spirit all combine to make this a very individualistic whisky. And the oak, while always present, never dominates.

What I think impresses me most is how the whisky evolves. On the nose and palate, this is a thick, viscous, whisky, with notes of sticky toffee, earthy oak, fig cake, roasted nuts, fallen fruit, pancake batter, black cherry, ripe peach, dark chocolate covered espresso bean, polished leather, tobacco, a hint of wild game and lingering, leafy damp kiln smoke. Flavors continue on the palate long after swallowing. This is what we all hope for (and dream of) in an older whisky!

I have now tasted this whisky twice: last night before dinner with Iain McCallum, Bowmore’s whisky “nose”, and this morning, in my hotel room before posting this. My opinion is the same. My rating for this whisky, which will be published in the next issue of Malt Advocate magazine, is: 97. (That’s the highest rating I have ever given a whisky.)

And stay tuned.  I will have more breaking news on Bowmore in my blog tomorrow!

22 Responses to “Review: The “new” Black Bowmore”

  1. Dear John,

    I had the great opportunity to try this whisky in November with Jimmy Robertson of Morrison Bowmore at our store in Calgary, AB, Canada. 15 very lucky people were in attendance for the event, three of whom had flown from Vancouver, BC (500 miles away) just to attend. The Black Bowmore was the last whisky poured in a vertical of Bowmore single malts that included the new core range and the 1991 Port matured bottling. The vertical itself was a great tasting, but the Black Bowmore blew all that came before it out of the water, more than living up to the legend. From my perspective it is one of the most complex and multilayered whiskies I’ve ever had the good fortune to taste. We’ve since sold 11 bottles at $4099.99 CDN, half of them to people at the tasting!

    Slainte!
    Andrew Ferguson
    Calgary, Canada

  2. John Hansell says:

    Andrew, thanks for posting up your thoughts.

    It is an incredible whisky that just continues to evolve on the palate. –John

  3. Ewan Morgan says:

    Thanks for the glowing review of the New Black Bowmore!

    Just to remind those of you who haven’t entered the competition to win a bottle of the legendary spirit that they can still do so at http://www.bowmore.com

    Slainte

    Ewan

  4. B.J. Reed says:

    As John has noted in the Malt Advocate those of us in Omaha can still sample the original Black at the Dundee Dell – Still, would love to have a taste of the new one – Ewan, I did enter the competition. Between that and hoping the empty barrel lands somewhere close the the coordinates I picked off the coast of Islay it could be a great year for me! :0)

    B.J.

  5. Patrick B. says:

    Interesting tasting notes. And how would it compare with a Bowmore 1964 Fino for example?

  6. John Hansell says:

    I tasted the 1964 Bowmore Fino (and the Oloroso and Bourbon release of the “trio” a few years ago). The Black Bowmore is a completely different beast. It has a flavor profile different than any other Bowmore and is very distinctive.

  7. Jane Cameron says:

    Hi John,

    Andrew is the scotchguy around my corner at the Kensington Wine Market, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about whisk(e)y. I have benefited greatly, not the least of which has been his tenacity in acquiring great whiskies for us to taste.

    I am a regular at the tastings and as a customer buying Single Malt. I attended the Bowmore vertical tasting he described in the first reply. I have never had the opportunity, and likely never will, to taste the original trilogy. I noted that you think the new Black Bowmore “is a completely different beast”. As Andrew noted, everyone at the tasting was in awe. After the first taste, a reverential silence settled among the group followed by a slow, steadily rising groan of appreciation. Most of us were then tongue-tied, speechless, and just lost in the moment. Now, to me, this is the description of an amazing whisky experience. This is why we keep on coming back. (I was lucky enough to buy 3…a 4th would be a dream).

    Jane

  8. John Hansell says:

    Wow, that’s three more than I have! Why do you live so far away?

    But seriously, I am hoping to find a way to get a bottle. I had a bottle of the first release (of the trilogy), but that is but a memory now. –John

  9. Jane Cameron says:

    Maybe you and Malt Advocate should make a trip to our part of the world…lots to offer…including a dram of the Bowmore Black!

  10. Fred R. Buonanno says:

    John,

    I own a small winery in California and am currently on a trip to the east coast visiting with friends and they pulled out a couple of single malts that they wanted me to take a look at, given my love of single malts. Well I was very surprised to behold two very fine Bowmore’s in pristine condition. I came across your article on the 1964 Black Bowmore and decided to see if you could give us some idea of the worth of the bottles and if so desired where the best outlet to put these up for acution would be.
    Any assistance would be apprecited.

    The first is a 1964 Black Bowmore bottle #251. The level of whisky is about mid-neck. The wax seal is completely intact, the burlap and what looks like wheat is all in the box. The only blemish is the wax piece on the ribbon has come off but is intact within the box.

    The second box contains a 1963 30th Anniversary 1963 Bowmore bottle #97. The whisky level is at the very bottom of the neck. The wax capsule has few small pieces missing and the 1963 wax emblem has broken in half but is in the box. Again the box is in pristine condition.

    Thank you for your time.

    Fred

  11. John Hansell says:

    Fred,

    You are a lucky guy. I suggest you contact Christie’s auction house in NYC to estimate their worth, but I know that the “trio” set of Black Bowmore whiskies went for $18,000 at the December auction at Christie’s. I am only guessing here, but I would think you could easily get a few thousand for the Black Bowmore and something less than that for the 1963 30th Anniversary bottling, providing they remain unopened. Best wishes!

  12. John,

    After your glowing review on the Black Bowmore we picked up the remaining bottles of Black Bowmore in Canada. In total we have purchased 19 of the 30 bottles which came to the country. Unfortunately I have but two left. I have been fortunate to try this whisky three times, twice thanks to the benevolence of Jane who has commented above.

    I have decided to put on a 2nd event with one of the two bottles of Black Bowmore I have left; in part to give others a chance to try this amazing whisky, but also to give myself one last opportunity to sit down and enjoy it again. I will be hosting a whisky dinner at Buchanan’s Chophouse and Whisky Bar in Calgary, Alberta on Friday June 13th; as part of a small three day single malt festival.

    If any of your readers are interested in more information on this event they can reach me at scotchguy@kensingtonwinemarket.com . And as Jane indicated above, you should consider visiting our fine city. We are beautifully situated in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains which make a great year-round playground.

    Slainte!

    Andrew

  13. John Hansell says:

    Andrew,

    That’s very nice of you to take one of your two bottles and include it at your dinner on June 13th. Hopefully I’ll be able to visit sometime soon myself. Cheers! –John

  14. [...] there was Black Bowmore, then White Bowmore. Now, it’s Gold [...]

  15. Allen says:

    Hi John,
    I have decided to purchase a bottle of Bowmore Black and was looking for some advice and recommendation as to which of these to get, given that I can only choose one.
    From the 29, 30, 31, and 42 yr olds I have narrowed my choices down to the Black Bowmore 1964 31 Year Old Final Release of the trilogy or the 42 year old. Now I’m stuck deciding which way to lean. Any advice, expertise, opinion would be greatly appreciated.

    Cheers,
    Allen

    • John Hansell says:

      I think it would depend on price. (You didn’t mention how much you coult get them for.) And also the condition of the 31 year old. (My 29 year old from the Trilogy was starting to lose volume so I opened it and drank it about a decade ago. I can guarantee you will enjoy the 42 year old. If you can afford it, get it!

  16. Allen says:

    Hi John,
    I emailed you earlier for some advice in choosing which Bowmore to go with. I currently am standing between choosing a 29 year old for $3500 and the 42 year old for $3500. Same price for both, can only choose one. I know $3500 is an average price for the 42 year old, but it’s a great price for the 29 year old, but let’s not take that into account and solely base this on quality, taste, and overall satisfaction in the spirit itself. What would you recommend?
    Thanks much,
    Alen

    • John Hansell says:

      I’ve had both. Both are great. What is the level of whisky in the 29 year old? How is the integrity of the cork? There are potential risks there, which has me leaning toward the more recent bottling (42 year old).

      • Allen says:

        The 29 year old has lower neck level fill, some of the better I’ve seen (based on pics). I think the cork on this one was really good and kept well.

  17. Keith says:

    Hello John,
    What would be the reason why the Bowmore Black 42 year old, which was aged longer and produced in less quantities, is cheaper to obtain, than the 29, 30, 31 years which totaled 5812 bottles and spent less time aging? Is it merely due to the fact that the 29, 30, 31 were released longer ago and availability vs. demand ratio has gone down?
    Great site by the way, very informative.

© Copyright 2014. Whisky Advocate. All rights reserved.