Bowmore Vintage 1988

”A Soapbox Opera”

Whisky Review # 962

Country: Scotland
Region: Islay
Brand: Bowmore Vintage 1988
Type: Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Age: Around 29 Years
Alcohol By Volume (ABV): 47.8%
Maturation: First-Fill American Oak Ex-Bourbon casks - Bottled: 2017
Chill Filtration: No
Price Range: US$ 450-600 (September 2022)
Price/Quality Ratio: 👎 Way too expensive for what it offers
Buying Advice: 😞 I had expected so much more. But 👌 if you're into Perfume 😉


Golden Sunlight (Artificially Coloured)


Quite Light and Introvert for a 29 year old Single Malt. The casks were probably not heavily charred. The Peat and Smoke have softened up over the years and form a pleasant and delicate base for the other Aroma components. The Nose presents a mix of Sweet, Sour, Salty and Mineral notes. The Alcohol is nicely integrated.

Main Aromas:

Toasted Barley, Slightly Burnt Buttered Toast, Salted Caramel, Vanilla, Soft Peat and Smoke from a Distant Fire, Ashes, Roasted Nuts, Lemon, Grapefruit, Apple Cider, Wet Rocks and Sand, Meat on the BBQ, Cinnamon, Curry and Coriander Powder.

Supportive Aroma Accents:

Heather Honey, Floral Perfume/Soap, Grass & Straw, Creme de Cassis, Iodine, Tar, Dusty Oak, Herbal Tea, Toasted Pineapple, Cloves, Ginger, Pepper and Mint.


It's like entering a Perfume shop rather than a Whisky warehouse. I know that lots of Bowmore malts from this period have this characteristic but I never found it to be quite as overwhelming as in this case. Not really my style I'm afraid.

Main Flavours:

Toasted and Malted Barley, slightly Burnt Buttered Toast, Salted Caramel, Soft Peat, Smoke from a Distant Fire, Meat on the BBQ, Floral Perfume/Soap, Grapefruit and Lemon, Tart Apple, Bitter Almonds, Dark Chocolate, Espresso, Toasted Pineapple, Dusty Oak, Herbal Tea, Cinnamon, Mint, Licorice and Cloves.

Supportive Flavour Accents:
Heather-Honey, Vanilla, Cherry-Flavoured Cough Syrup, Ashes, Tar, Iodine, Pebbles, Dusty Track, Mandarin Juice, Nougat, Bounty, Tobacco, Leather, Ginger and Pepper.      


Quite Long, Bitter-Sweet and quite Perfumy. The latter is characteristic for Bowmore malt produced in the 80's but in this case it's a bit too pronounced in my opinion. The Alcohol is more noticeable now and the Finish is slightly Sharp. I find Toasted & Malted Barley, Salted Caramel, Vanilla, Heather-Honey, Soft Peat, Distant Smoke, Ashes, Iodine, Floral Soap/Perfume, Meat on the BBQ, Lemon, Grapefruit, Apple, Dusty Track, Dusty Oak, Pebbles, Dark Chocolate, Espresso, Tobacco, Pepper, Mint, Aniseed, Cinnamon, Ginger, Licorice and Leather. Rather Dry in the end.

Drinking Advice:

I added a bit of Water and that adds floral notes to the Nose and the Palate. Rose Water comes to my mind. The Finish becomes quite Thin though. You can add a few drops but don't overdo it.

Rating: 84.5 - Stars on a 1-10 scale: 7.5 (*******1/2)

Nose: 22 - Taste: 21 - Finish: 20.5 - Overall: 21

*** Important Note with respect to Rating.

A few of my loyal readers have pointed out that every once in a while my final Rating note does not seem to be totally in line with the written text. I recognize that. When I started this Whisky Blog back in 2011, I was not at all experienced in tasting and scoring Single Malts & Blends. Looking back I realize that during the early years I probably scored the good Whiskies too low and the not so good Whiskies too high. Ever since the beginning I try to remain consequent in my rating, always comparing the outcome to the rating of comparable whiskies in terms of quality and taste and adjusting the final rating if necessary. This might lead to the discrepancy I mentioned before. It would have been much easier if I would have chosen a simple 1-10 rating since the beginning but after having reviewed 960 whiskies it would not be wise to change the system now. I will however from now on add stars on the 1-10 scale so you will have a better idea of what I thought of the whisky reviewed. Please feel free to comment!

Drinking Experience Neat
: Not bad but very Perfumy and Underwhelming.


Bowmore is the oldest Islay Distillery and was founded in 1779 by David Simpson. It changed hands various times along the years but since 1994 the Japanese Suntory group controls Bowmore. Bowmore still malts around 30% of the Barley on their premises. They currently produce over 2 million liters of Alcohol p.a. The core range includes the 12, the 15 Darkest, the 18 and 25 Years. Some of the Bowmore Spirit is used in Blends like Rob Roy and Black Bottle. We visited the distillery in 2014 & 2017. I absolutely love the Malting Floor, the Shop & Visitor-Centre. Certainly well-worth the visit. The 1988 vintage was bottled and released in 2017, initially for the Travel Retail Market.

This is one of the more difficult Reviews I've written over the last 10 years. I was really looking forward to Nose and Taste this 29 Year-Old Bowmore even though Bowmore is not my favourite Islay distillery. Sad to say I'm really disappointed by the Vintage 1988. In the first place it's way too Perfumy for my likings but that's of course very personal. Bowmore's from the 80's are well-known for this. But it's too much in this case, at least for me. But secondly and that's even more important, it's quite underwhelming for a 29 Year-old Single Malt. I expected a host of warming mature Islay Aromas and Flavours but it's all rather Thin and Unassuming. Only the Soft Peat and the Distant Smoke are convincing. The rest is not. What a pity!

Cheers! 🥃

Jan van den Ende                                                                    September 8, 2022

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