Nose: I loved this on first nosing right when I opened the bottle, and nothing has changed in roughly a week. The very first thing that jumps out is a stark combination of naked spirit and smoke. Notably, especially given it's an Islay malt, smoke in this context should not be construed to mean peat as it's typically experienced. While I have no doubt the peat is contributing to this note, it comes off more like mezcal (Serge nails this in his review). If you don't care for mezcal, I wouldn't despair too much, we're still very much in malt whisky here, but it's a good analogy, I think. The smoke is complemented with a great coastal mixture: brine, citrus, and minerality (you can't help but think of rockpools, seashells, wet sand, etc.). Before thinking this is just a typical maritime malt from Islay or one of the islands, I'll just reiterate how much the mezcal-style smoke note does to distinguish this. Top notch and distinctive. Water seems to emphasize the citric side of it, which is fine, but not really an improvement, in my opinion.
Taste: The arrival doesn't disappoint after the fantastic nose. No significant heat for a 56% malt, and it has a pleasant mouthfeel--not thick, but definitely not overly thin. You're still getting the smoky, somewhat austere profile here, although less prominently. It's been supplemented with some light honey, malt, and fruit. It honestly feels like drinking a really good, smoky Balvenie or something like that--prominent honey note, not a fruit bomb but some present nonetheless. Nothing is over-the-top, and it is not only balanced within the palate but when going back and forth between drinking and nosing. I get more ash with water, which certainly works and provides an interesting experience next to the neat palate. Both good.
Finish: A little ashy and sweet, good combination. As I mentioned earlier, I'm familiar with Serge's review of this and didn't find the "green" note or any excessive black pepper.
Comments: Pretty remarkable stuff, I'd say. As I mentioned when describing the color, it's unbelievably pale and natural for a 23-yo malt aged in a sherry butt. Honestly, it feels as though it's been aged in concrete. While it has very little wood influence, it's still clearly matured--there are none of the hallmarks of immature malt here, and the distillate is allowed to shine.
I bought this largely on the basis of Serge's review and his strong 89-point score. Honestly, much of what he said for the color, nose, and taste could be copied into here and I wouldn't object: He was pretty bang-on as far as my senses go this time. I part ways with him on the finish, though, because I don't see this Bowmore losing anything there. I detect no bitterness or strong peppery aftertaste. Given that, and my affection for this style, I'm giving it a pretty huge score. So far, on WB at least, I'm not alone in holding this in such high esteem.