Having stayed a few nights at Bowmore this last April, I feel more of a connection to this distillery today than ever before. Bowmore's style doesn't stir most single malt drinkers with excitement, despite its solid pedigree, but I was quickly won over by this legend of a building. It's the George Harrison of Islay, while Ardbeg and Lagavulin play John and Paul, and Bruichladdich seems more like Ringo. That's not a perfect analogy, but it's appropriate in that most people skip over "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" even though it's an awesome song. I tried to express this to Jamie MacKenzie while we ate dinner one night, begging him to work on a special, small batch release a la the Alligator/Cairdeas bottles. It seems that all the great bottles I've had of Bowmore in the last year have not been released by Bowmore. Both Signatory and A.D. Rattray have released outstanding single cask expressions, so why shouldn't Bowmore be able to do so as well? When Bowmore is good, it's almost unbeatable (anyone who doubts this needs to try this bottle).
The response from Bowmore to my querry was the Tempest, a small batch of ten year old, unchillfiltered and done at cask strength 56%. Does it satisfy my itch? Yes and no. It's a successful single malt in that it: tastes like Bowmore, is very complex, brings the heat, brings the peat, and stands out from the other three available products. For $79.99, however, most people will want more (even though the Alligator was pretty much just a souped-up 10 year for $99.99). The aromas are phenolic, mixed with vanilla and damp earth. There's a kiss of sweetness underlying the palate all the way through where the campfire smoke and dirty oils kick in. It's a true tempest in profile, a flurry of charcoal, peat, moss, and spice that leaves a your mouth in a thick, damp fog. The finish is all brine, green olives, and mint and you'll have to brush for hours to get it to leave. You could sit around and pick this whisky apart all day.
The Tempest fails in the sense that it could be so much more. Not that they could have done more with this particular whisky, but the guys at Bowmore could have chosen something even more impressive. Those who have tasted the Bowmore 17 (one of my favorite whiskies ever), long unavailable in the U.S., know how subtlety can sometimes be Bowmore's finest asset. An older Bowmore in a single bourbon cask would also have been quite nice. At this point, there's nothing hip, new, or modern about Bowmore, its history, or its packaging, so why not stick with something more traditional and old school, rather than a kick-you-in-the-teeth style of dram?
In the end, would I buy the Bowmore Tempest? Probably, because it tastes like a high-octance Bowmore and I like their style. However, having been to the distillery, seen how its made, tasted amazing expressions from cask, and spent hours with its staff members, I would have hoped for something a bit different. Maybe I can continue to bug Jamie MacKenzie and convince these guys to release something truly special. Bowmore has the potential to win over the Ardbeg fans, but they need to compete by separating themselves from the pack, rather than following it.