Bowmore Vault Edition First Release

Late last year, Bowmore announced a new Vault Edition limited series, which will explore what they consider to be the four classic characteristics of their distillery style.  To be released on an annual basis, the first of these is entitled Atlantic Sea Salt. The future yearly releases will examine peat smoke, vanilla, and citrus.

These all come from selected barrels in their infamous below-sea level No. 1 Vaults, hence the cute “Vault Edit1°n” labeling on the packaging. The Bowmore Vault Editions are all matured in ex-bourbon casks, and are bottled at high strength (ABV) – 51.4% in the case of the First Release, aka Atlantic Sea Salt.

This First Release is sometimes referred to as “Vault Edition No. 1” online, but I think they are intended to be labelled as First Release, Second Release, and so on. To further confuse matters, Bowmore has also announced a lower-strength 40% ABV “Bowmore No.1”, also coming from the No.1 Vaults. For the sake of clarity, I will refer to this first higher-strength Vault Edition as First Release throughout this review.

Currently available at the LCBO for $200 CAD.

Here is how First Release compares in my Meta-Critic Database to other malts from Bowmore, including some of their special releases and travel retail bottles :

Bowmore 10yo Devil’s Cask (all batches): 8.82 ± 0.31 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
Bowmore 10yo Tempest: 8.79 ± 0.20 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore 12yo: 8.40 ± 0.28 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Bowmore 12yo Enigma: 8.52 ± 0.26 on 10 reviews ($$)
Bowmore 15yo Darkest: 8.58 ± 0.34 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore 15yo Laimrig: 9.00 ± 0.16 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore 15yo Mariner: 8.65 ± 0.44 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Bowmore 17yo: 8.35 ± 0.65 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Bowmore 17yo White Sands: 8.48 ± 0.56 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore 18yo: 8.55 ± 0.47 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore Black Rock: 8.16 ± 0.27 on 5 reviews ($$)
Bowmore Gold Reef: 8.28 ± 0.37 on 5 reviews ($$)
Bowmore Small Batch: 8.27 ± 0.53 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Bowmore Springtide: 9.07 ± 0.77 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Bowmore Vault Edition First Release: 8.62 ± 0.26 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)

There aren’t a lot of reviews so far, but initial reports place First Release in the general range of scores for its price point for Bowmore (which are typically lower than other peaty whiskies).

I managed to snag a generous pour at a LCBO tasting bar. Here’s what I find in the glass:

Nose: An unusual peated tar note, along with that classic Bowmore wood smoke.  Has a meaty aroma, which I like. Sweet, with classic vanilla and honey notes – I could easily pick out the ex-bourbon barrel aging without being told. Green apple and citrus (oranges and a touch of lemon). Some salt, but less than I expected given the title. No real off notes, very nice presentation.

Palate: The bourbon barrel character is even more prominent, with sweet vanilla and some toasted oak. Not as smokey, although the salt element definitely picks up now.  Apple and pear, with orange citrus again. Cinnamon and ginger. A touch oily, giving it a chewy mouth feel.  The sweet and salty mix makes it somewhat lip-smacking, but I wish the smokiness was stronger.

Finish: Medium long. ‎The smoke is back. There’s a salty sweetness that lingers, like bacon coated in maple syrup. Some astringency comes in at the end (i.e., a bit drying).

I really enjoyed this dram. As someone who has only sampled the entry-level core range of Bowmore official bottlings so far (i.e., Small Batch, 12yo, and 15yo Darkest), I can safely say this is the best Bowmore I’ve tried to date. It’s a nice easy sipper (even undiluted at 51.5% ABV), with no off-notes – a pleasant experience through and through. That said, it is not as complex as I would have liked for this price point.

The highest score I’ve seen so far comes from Ruud1983 of Reddit (which closely matches my own assessment). Ruben of Whisky Notes gives it a middle-of-the-road score. Thomas of Whisky Saga gives it a slightly lower one.

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