“What do you think sea air tastes like?” It’s a question that I giggled over with a friend as we waited eagerly in a crowded room of excited whisky tasters above The Blackbird on a rainy Tuesday night. On the table that we stood by, the words sea air, vanilla, peat smoke, cinnamon spice, citrus, lime and coconut were printed on a sign next to a bottle of Bowmore’s No. 1 Malt.
Bowmore, one of the oldest scotch distilleries in the world at 238 years young, recently held a tasting event featuring 4 of their 5 core whiskies. At their promotional tasting event we got the try their 12 year, 15 year and 18 year whiskies along with their No. 1 malt which is an unspecified age. With the selection side by side, we had the lucky opportunity to taste for ourselves whether older whisky really is better.
Bowmore No. 1 Malt
Two special features of this drink: 1) it’s not age specified, 2) it’s aged in first fill casks. In other words, it was the first Scotch, but not the first drink, to be aged in a certain barrel and therefore extracts more flavours from the wood. While there’s no age, it is the youngest and aged at least 3 years. This also means it has retained more of the smokiness than other older bottles. It was sweet, as sweet as straight whisky can be, and had a spicy but not burning after taste. As for sea air, I can’t tell if it was the power of suggestion or if I really smelled and tasted it but there was a hint of something indescribable.
Bowmore 12 Year
Sips were described as “sweet and delicious heather honey and gentle peat smoke.” It’s starkly more subtle than the No. 1. No sweetness or spice jumps out like in the first drink but still quite smoky. As expected, age allows the flavours to start blending.
Bowmore 15 Year
With less smokiness than the 12 year, it seemed like the sweetness and other complex flavours had returned. It tasted more bold and had an extra kick at the end. Unlike the 12, the 15 is aged in both bourbon and sherry casks which is part of where the new flavours came from.
Bowmore 18 Year
Throughout the night, presenters praised how well the 18 goes with desserts. I can see where they’re coming from. The flavours and smokiness are much more balanced than the 12 and at the same time it seemed like I could taste more depth. The drink is subtle but still strong. It would be a very interesting pairing with desserts for those who like rich ones as opposed to super sweet ones. This was definitely the most drinkable and safest pick for a crowd favorite.
Oysters & Whisky?
Speaking of pairings. They served an “oyster luge” at this event. Sounds weird but it’s worth a taste.
As the night came to a close and we sat in old wooden theater seats with scotches in hand, my friend and I discussed our favorites. Mine: the No. 1 and the 15 year. Him: the 12 year and the 18 year. We liked them for different reasons. I liked bolder drinks and he liked them mellow. Whiskies do become more balanced and rounded in flavour as they age. But there are other factors affecting the taste too. In the end, I think it really comes down to personal preference and not solely the age. I must note, we didn’t get to try the Bowmore 25 year. That’s a full 7 year difference. It could be in a completely different realm of flavour.