If you follow whisky competitions, you might have noticed Bowmore 25-year-old single-malt Scotch becoming the darling of professional tasters with a spate of awards from a number of sources. So, how did this already very good malt suddenly elbow its way to the best seat at the bar? The short answer is it lied about its age.
No, it wasn't marketing trickery, but a bit of serendipity for whisky drinkers as a result of Bowmore's discontinuation of it excellent 30-year-old. When demand outstripped supply of whisky of that age, the company decided it didn't have enough to keep offering it. Older whisky still existed, but not enough to bottle regularly. So Bowmore decided to use it to enrich its 25-year-old. Scotch regulations state that the youngest whisky in the bottle defines its age, so even though spirits from casks over 30 are now making it into the mix, it is still called a 25. And the price remains a relative bargain at $159.95 a bottle.
"Thirty years ago, no one had any idea how big single malts would become," says Fergus Hartley, vice president of sales and marketing for North America, explaining a distiller's responsibility to make new spirit based on forecasts of whisky demand decades into the future. "It's very hard," he allows.
Another challenge was to match the house style in creating the new 25-year-old. Hartley describes the profile as a complex and rich, mellow whisky that still smacks of the Islay region's signature smoke and brine. At issue was that a higher percentage of the older whisky had been aged in barrels formerly used for Sherry, not Bourbon.
The new version appears fairly similar to the old, if a tad darker and with broader legs. It's on the nose that the change becomes more evident. The new version has the honey and hard-candy aromas of the old, but adds floral and orange peel notes. A pronounced sweetness, with candied, fruity notes, explodes on the palate. Then all the nutty chewiness and Christmas pudding flavor of the old version arrive, as if as a gesture of reassurance. If some might bemoan the changes, they would be lovers of strong peat flavors. The characteristic Islay smoke and sea flavors remain, but are dialed back a bit due to the extra age and the higher Sherry quotient. It is a small price to pay.