Bowmore Legend

Bowmore’s a tough one. One on hand, you have one of the mildest of the Islay peaters, often paling in comparison to the smokey, salty powerhouses from the rest of the island. On the other, you have a well-respected distillery producing highly-rated and critically-acclaimed whiskies. So far almost every Bowmore I’ve tried has resulted in basically the same review: “Yeah, it’s good… I guess.” Hardly thrilling prose. Thus, it was with some trepidation that I approached this entry-level NAS bottling. Young (and cheap) peated malt tends to be rough and acrid, and some people find such whisky undrinkable.

There’s not much info available on Legend, which tends to be the case with these low-end NAS expressions. It’s probably younger than 10 years on average, bottled at the basement 40% ABV after spending time in ex-bourbon casks (no sherry, unlike the 15-year “Darkest” and recent hit 10-year “Devil’s Cask”). That probably makes it a younger sibling to the slightly more expensive Small Batch… a Bowmore “Large Batch”, if you will.

Nose: Well-balanced maritime smoke. Slightly citrusy (lemon), with a caramel malt core, and medium levels of peat.

Palate: Soft, mildly sweet malt. Mineral-flecked seawater, and woodfire smoke.

Finish: Medium-long. Some charcoal, and quickly-fading peat.

With Water: A few drops of water increase the apparent peat level, and also bring more lemon oil and something floral – like lavender. The lemon repeats on the palate. Try a few drops of water, but don’t dilute it too much.

Overall: This is not a malt for peat-freaks. This is a very well-balanced, mildly peated dram for a very respectable price. Often younger, cheaper Islay malts come across as brash, acrid, and bitter. Legend is the opposite of all of these: gentle, sweet, and mildly smoky. It won’t win any awards for potency or complexity, but it scratches the peat itch for under $30 a bottle, and can also serve as a gentle introduction for peat newbies.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

Despite its location on the banks of Loch Indaal in central Islay, Bowmore’s water is derived from the river Laggan, the source of which rises from the hills on the east coast of the island, overlooking the Sound of Islay. The water is diverted from the river and forms The Bowmore Lade. This water is notable for its cross-island trip, picking up heather in the hills, minerals from the sandstone and limestone rocks from which it rises, and peat from the lowland bogs on its trip to the distillery. This yields a light and subtle spirit with a balance of mineral and vegetal. Bowmore still malts 40% of its own barley in its floor maltings. The malt is peated for less time than the more intense malts from the southern Islay distilleries, which contributes to its reputation as a ‘tamer’ cousin, and reputably more ‘smoky’ than peaty.
Bowmore Legend
40% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $24 - $32
Acquired: (750ml bottle), K&L Wine and Spirits $24

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  • Fascinating review. “Legend” was the dram that first got me interested in peaty Scotches, and the reasonable price made buying it a simple decision. Then a few years ago I had a bottle that was, to put it bluntly, dreadful — harsh, bitter, poisitively nasty. I’m wondering given your review if “Legend” has swung back the other way — and if these oscillations are typical. I thought most distilleries tried to avoid them.

    • Good question, Ben. I wish that all producers were required to list batch numbers for this reason. It’s possible that the problem with your bottle was a single batch (as opposed to an overall change in the quality of the whisky year-to-year). You’re right that whisky companies try very hard to avoid consistency problems, especially with NAS and non-vintage bottlings. I’d be surprised if they released an entire batch that was measurably worse than usual, but you never know. One bad bottle kills that whisky for me – I won’t go back even if someone else says the whisky has improved. Life’s too short. Cheers!