Remember when the regions of Scotland were a thing? Highlands, Lowlands, Islands, Campbelltown, Speyside, and Islay? For years brand ambassadors and whisky makers preached the golden gospel of the distinct styles of the six regions of Scotland.
The first problem a lot of people see with this list is that three of the regions are technically just small regions of the other three. Speyside is part of the Highlands, Campbelltown is part of the Lowlands, and Islay is very much an Island. If these three places can have their own unique style why can’t the plot of land down the road have its own style? The truth of the matter is that style is more about the distiller and blender than anything to do with the arbitrary geographical location.
Let’s look at Islay, quite possibly the most distinct and memorable Scotch style. The mere mention of the word Islay causes people’s tastes buds to shiver at the onslaught of peat, smoke, and saltiness of the most famously peated Scotch’s in the world. Yet many of the whiskies coming off the island are completely unpeated. Bunnahabhin is very famously unpeated. Everything coming out of the Bruichladdich distillery that is bottled as “Bruichladdich” is currently unpeated. They have to save up all that smoke for the Octomore. Even amongst the “peat bombs” there is a massive variety of style for such a tiny island.
Lagavulin is like a misty, damp marshland while Laphroig is like a dusty campfire and The Octomore is like smoke gently resting on the briny salt air. And then somewhere in the middle of all this is Bowmore.
Founded in 1779 the Bowmore distillery has been in continual operation except for a brief pause in the World War II to host the RAF Costal Command. It’s never risen to the same height of fame as say, a Laphroig, but they consistently put out great whiskey that seems to walk the line between the styles and practices other distilleries are doing with more flash.
They’re sourcing a good portion of their barley from Islay, similar to Bruichladdich, and they’re giving a the whisky a healthy dose of peat, just like the island island is known for, but they’re also throwing in a fair amount of Sherry barrel aging which is more commonly associated with those Speyside malts on the other side of the country. The Bowmore 15 “The Darkest” hits all these notes perfectly.
It is a 15 year old single malt aged in ex-Bourbon and Sherry barrels for 12 years. The malt is then married together for three years in Olorosso sherry cask that imparts a deep color and melds a gentle smoke together with raisins, dried cherry, and stone fruit with a touch of saltiness and a note of bitter chocolate on the finish. It’s a bottle that can be enjoyed by lovers of peat and lovers of Sherry. Or by lover of Islay or lovers of Speyside malts.
We like easy boxes and categories to help define what we like and don’t like. But just like any complex creation style isn’t about where you come from. It’s about what you make of yourself.