Some background first: A few years ago, a couple of Bowmore fans in the USA (members of the PLOWED mob) noticed that one or two bottlings of Bowmore suddenly had a very pronounced and unpleasant perfumey nose that was completely contrary to the delicious and fragrant Bowmore nose that all loved and adored. This phenomenon was a varied and inconsistent affair, turning up in random and varied expressions. The PLOWED guys coined the term FWP (French Whore’s Perfume) to describe the phenomenon, and it has now fallen into common usage amongst internet-using whisky enthusiasts, (i.e. we here at the Whisky Magazine forum, Malt Maniacs, etc, etc).
FWP-tainted Bowmores appear to be restricted to the official distillery bottlings. As far as I am aware, none of the independent bottlings have been accused or suspected.
Now for my money, Bowmore has always had a fragrant, floral nose. Being a generally less heavily peated malt than some of its Islay colleagues, these floral, fragrant notes stand out from the peat, giving it an altogether different nose to, say, Lagavulin or Laphroaig.
In the last 12-18 months, several people were contributing to these pages and either querying or confirming an overly perfumed nose they’d experienced on their most recent Bowmore purchase. It appeared to be an international affair, with accused bottles turning up in the USA, Canada, the UK, Ireland, and several European countries, (i.e. Belgium, etc).
International, that is, except for Australia. I posted numerous times that neither myself, nor any of the serious whisky drinkers I knew in Australia had come across a tainted bottle. We are all very familiar with what overseas drinkers were referring to, but no one here seemed to be unfortunate enough to purchase a tainted bottle.
With this in mind, Tom, our Belgium correspondent and active Whisky Mag contributor, approached me and put forward a theory: Could it be that we here in Australia have been drinking FWP-tainted Bowmores, and simply not known it? Could it be that we are so accustomed to it, that we just accept that this is what Bowmore smells and tastes like? Could it be that our geographical isolation and southern hemisphere upbringing has instilled in our nostrils and tastebuds a different tolerance to perfumed whiskies?
Tom had a bottle of Bowmore Darkest which he believed was FWP-tainted. As far as Tom was concerned, the bottle was undrinkable, and, in order to research his theory, Tom kindly sent me a 200ml sample from his bottle of Darkest.
Coincidentally, I had recently finished a bottle of Darkest. My mission, therefore, was to explore this Belgium-purchased Darkest, and advise whether its characteristics were any different to the Bowmores I was familiar with. In other words, “Do you find this as undrinkable as I do?”
The sample bottle arrived, and I immediately “researched” the contents. On first impressions, the nose revealed an out-of-balance sherry trait, and perhaps a little sulphur. However, the peat was there, other aspects of the nose appeared to be in order, and there was nothing offensive in the nose. It certainly was not perfumed or over the top.
So on to the palate. Again, it struck me as being poorly balanced. Bowmore Darkest is not what it used to be, and I suspect the quality of the casks being used for the sherry finish has deteriorated significantly since the expression was first launched. However, it was still drinkable!
Then something strange happened. It was the early evening, and I stopped for dinner. I followed dinner with a sweet dessert. Later in the evening, about two hours or so after my last visit, I poured a fresh dram to investigate the whisky further. The nose was still as it was before….poorly balanced, a little harsh and sulphury, but no soap or perfume. Then I swallowed. This is where it got interesting….suddenly, the whisky seemed awfully metallic, and the aftertaste on the finish was horribly bitter. Unpleasantly bitter. I don’t know whether or not this was because of the sweet dessert my tastebuds had previously enjoyed or not, but nonetheless, the whisky was not a pleasant tasting experience.
Over the next few nights, I experimented a few more times – drams before dinner, drams after dinner, fresh palate, tired palate, etc, etc. After a week, I concluded as follows:
* There is nothing too unpleasant or overly perfumed about the nose. No hints of soap, or cheap whore’s perfume. (Or expensive whore’s perfume!). The nose had hints of acetone, and other sharp notes that suggested poor sherry wood.
* The palate is not good, but it is drinkable. The sherry is out of balance, lacquered on like a false coat of paint, and the malt is lost behind it. Good Bowmores still have a malty base that integrates well with the peat, but this is not a good Bowmore.
* FWP? I don’t think so. When the term first came into use, before knowledge of it became widespread, people complained mostly of a horrible nose, overly perfumed or soapy. This whisky did not have those characteristics. I’m a big fan of Bowmore, and it can be a floral whisky, but this was just a very bad bottle, due – I suspect – to very poor use of sherry. Given that the whisky is a no-age-statement, I also strongly suspect that there is a fair portion of young whisky in there. I base this suspicion on the harsher, volatile, metallic elements in the flavour profile.
Okay, those were my thoughts. But what about testing it with other knowledgeable palates? About a week later, I served some samples to two colleagues whose palates I greatly respect. One is the Laird of my whisky appreciation club, the other is an accomplished chef, food & spirit critic, and also the Australian Ambassador of the Islay Whisky Club. I did not tell them what they were drinking, so their reactions were not affected by personal bias or preconceived ideas.
Both men agreed that it was not a particularly good whisky. Neither commented on the nose being anything special or out of the ordinary, although both were unimpressed with the palate. One, in particular, thought the palate was a little harsh and unpleasant. Most importantly of all though, neither commented on the nose being perfumy, soapy, or unpleasant. When I revealed that the whisky was a Bowmore, one was nonchalant, the other was surprised, e.g. “Bowmores are usually so much better than this!”
We then discussed FWP in the context of what we’d just tasted, and came to the following verdict: No FWP, just a poor Bowmore.
So, what does this mean then? May I offer the following thoughts:
* I believe FWP does exist. I have no doubt that some people have experienced it, and it is a problem that Bowmore have to address. (Attempts by some to discuss the issue with the distillery have been met with denial).
* It is clear that Bowmore are bottling some pretty poor whiskies in some of their expressions. Having said that, in the last few months I have had generous tastings of Legend, 12yo, 17yo, and Dawn, and I found all four of these to be either good or fantastic whiskies. My last bottle of Darkest was poor, and certainly the bottle of Darkest that Tom sent me was very poor.
* As a distillery per se, Bowmore does not deserve the flak it receives. I regularly taste a lot of independent bottlings of Bowmore, and they are nothing less than absolutely stellar Islay whiskies. They are clearly capable of producing some bloody good whisky. I do not know why some of their official bottlings have been poor lately, but I suspect they face the same pressures and problems that many other distilleries face in trying to produce a consistent product.
* Some people have obviously purchased and tasted some of these poorer bottlings, and – together with the signature floral nose that some Bowmores exhibit – have concluded that FWP is the problem. In other words, people are assuming their bottle is FWP-tainted, when it isn’t really….it’s just poor whisky.
* Tom and I have discussed my thoughts prior to me posting this, and it seems we agree on the conclusion. No doubt some here will read all of this and dispute my thoughts, and that’s okay…..we’re all entitled to our opinion. However, I would like to state that I believe everyone involved in this particular experiment has been objective and rational about it, and – as the saying goes – the proof is in the pudding!
My personal thanks go to Tom for conceiving the idea, and for sending me the sample bottle to try. If anyone else has a bottle of Bowmore that they believe is FWP-tainted, I would welcome them to contact me and we can widen the research….hopefully for the benefit of everyone!
Finally, thanks for reading this very long post!
A single bottle from Tom to Admiral goes on to prove that it was possibly an odd bad bottle (given vindication by several experts) but I seem to miss how it conclusively sets to rest the issue of FWP (either way).
It could just be a case of various palates perceiving the same whisky differently. Just the way Admiral felt the Bowmore 12 and 17 and sibling resemblance and I was hard pressed to detect it.
Given that Admiral is invariably logical, am certain i am missing something. Some more elucidation please.
I've drunk a fair amount of Bowmore and I've always been aware of those perfumy notes (to different degrees) but never been offended by them. I used to eat millions of those 'parma violets' sweets as a child and they tasted pretty soapy, so maybe I'm resistant
Of course the next bottle of Bowmore I buy will now taste like lavender shampoo.
You are right....obviously, examination of just one bottle is not a sufficient sample size with which to make sweeping conclusions about the entire Bowmore / FWP phenonomen.
However, at the risk of speaking for Tom, I should share some additional information he provided.....
Tom had tried many different Bowmores and he believed many of them were FWP-tainted. He felt that this particular bottle of Darkest was the worst offender of all.
So - as he said to me - if this particular bottle wasn't really FWP-tainted, then none of his other ones were either.
Furthermore, prior to sending me the sample, Tom also arranged for several of his local contacts to taste the Darkest and give their opinion. Tom advised that about half of the people who tried it felt that the bottle was FWP-tainted.
So, combining these two facts, we can say in a sense that more than one bottle has been involved in our test! And since half of the colleagues Tom gave the whisky to also believed it was FWP-tainted, we have more than one taster involved also. So really, our sample size is larger than just one bottle, and larger than just one palate!
but I seem to miss how it conclusively sets to rest the issue of FWP (either way).
I don't believe we have conclusively set the issue to rest. But what I believe we can conclude is that we have demonstrated quite comprehensively that people are accusing Bowmores of being FWP-tainted when it may not necessarily be the case.
However I am intrigued about the fact that it has not been noted in Australia, that point certainly deserves more attention. Regional acceptance or something else? If I come across a another FWP tainted Bowmore I too will send you a 200 ml sample.
I was also thinking that the one thing that the 20cl sample and every other Bowmore in Australia have in common is that they have travelled half way round the world. Maybe if you send a sample back to Tom - having travelled double the distance, there will be even less "FWP". If there isn't atleast Tom gets some whisky back for his efforts .
I, like Bamber, wonder if there is an element of drinker subjectivity involved in this--possibly even a genetic predisposition to tasting something in Bowmore in a certain way. The fact that some drinkers find some bottles fine and others tainted would seem to argue against this, but it could be a matter of differing levels of tolerance. Pure speculation, of course. As I've mentioned more than twice, I've never had a Bowmore I cared for, but I've always put it down to a matter of taste, rather than one of quality. I hope I'll sooner or later have a chance to try an ib or two to see if I can detect what it is that Admiral enjoys about it.
Aidan, it is my understanding that experiments have been done that show that Coriolis effect can determine drain rotation in relatively small vessels of water in carefully controlled conditions--the water must be left still for days, the vessel must be perfectly regular, and great care must be exercised in opening the drain. The mere pulling of a plug would exert more force on potential rotation than Coriolis effect, so for all practical purposes, you are of course correct.
Any, it might have more of an effect on small systems where the surface of the earth is more curved towards the poles. The equator would be a bad place to test the hypothesis.
Mr Fjeld wrote:They discovered an interesting fact in the time of the "clippers" when a barrel of the norwegian spirit "aquavit" was accidentaly left on a ship that crossed the equatorial line.
There are indeed several connections to be found between the change of climate and maturation. Christian mentioned the story of ‘Linie Aquavit’ - Madeira might come to mind as well.
In the 18th century Brandy was added to the Madeira in order to improve its quality and its durability. In this way a premature stop of fermenting-process was achieved. As the legend goes, the influence of transport and climate on the maturation was indeed discovered by chance: some days after their departure from Madeira some of the transportvessels came into areas with tropical warmth. And the wine improved remarkedly. Traders stated that the temperature rise in the barrels had a positive effect on the Brandy-blended wine: It was conserved in this way completely new and got a smoky, characteristic and singular bouquet.
Today Madeira can still praise itself to produce one of the most long-living wines of the world. A special heating up process, called ‘estufagem’ is a recognized preservation method of wines nowadays. The wines are stored first in large tanks and warmed up on natural way by means of sun exposure. Later on they come into special furnaces, which are equipped with a warm water circulation.
Of course – this way close to no romance is left…
"If soapy and musty aromas can be detected, they are displeasing to almost every taste. They are almost alawys only smells: if strong enough to be detected in the mouth they would be quite revolting. Soapy flavours arise during fermentation."
Those of us who have experienced FWP first hand have all described a soapy flavour. Now we know where it comes from.
If the source is in the fermentation, you would expect it to be a reasonably constant or consistent feature of all Bowmore bottlings.
And yet, it only seems to turn up in OB's, and even then, only in occasional bottlings?
(I wonder if malt enthusiasts will be discussing FWP & Bowmore 20 years from now? )
It's certainly an odd occurance, a bit like the Loch Ness monster, you're only really a beleiver once you've actually seen it.
"It was important that the new peat land should be close to the existing one, because that way it should have had no higher a sulpher content than the old, as you get closer to Bowmore along the part of the coast known as the "Big Strand" you came into more sulphurous peat. Sulphurous peat can impart a flavour of sulphur right into the whisky in the bottle, and it gives the whisky a 'rubbery' nose."
as you get closer to Bowmore along the part of the coast known as the "Big Strand" you came into more sulphurous peat.
I read that book a few months ago Lawrence, and that line didn't escape my notice either!
However, John is speaking of a time in the mid-1970's when most of the distilleries were still sourcing their own peat and doing their own malting.
These days though, different practices exist:
Does Bowmore still source peat locally and then send it to Port Ellen to be used for malting? Does Port Ellen use a unique peat when filling orders for Bowmore, or does Bowmore get the same malt as the other distilleries (albeit, malted to a different phenol rating)?
Given that FWP has been identified in bottlings that would have been distilled in the late 1980's and early 1990's, perhaps the question is, "What was Port Ellen Maltings doing at the time with respect to the malt they provided for Bowmore".
(Although this assumes the source is the peat, and not some other aspect of the production process).
However, today I have been told that I was wrong (by people off Forum) in regards to the quote from the book and that the source of the FWP is different.
I really am curious to know.
Lawrence wrote:Yes, but Bowmore does some of it's own maltings (Ive walked across the germinating barley) so that could explain how the 'contaminated' barley entered the system.
I have done same. At the tasting bar, I could not help saying, "Why, this tastes like tourists walked through it!" Perhaps one spilled her perfume in the germinating malt.
I've said before, I believe most reports of FWP are spurious, being simply distaste for the floral notes. But the possibility of it being an individually experienced phenomenon is intriguing; I have found every Bowmore I've had unpleasant (although it's been a relatively small sample, and I hold out hope to find some I like). It seems to me the first thing that needs to be done is to find a sample that everyone agrees is tainted. Absent that, I must leave open the possibility that it is simply a matter of personal taste.
I'm still sure it was the whisky as Darkest was available AT THE SAME TIME when some bottles were good and some were absolutely undrinkable.
But I still wonder if my tastes didn't change as well or is it their whisky as the 12yo is very different today, not in a FWP way just a completely different whisky. It isn't a rough, peaty islay whisky anymore. I'm not sure what it is. It is drinkable but not great, but I'd say completely different than before. Could that be just the results of my tastes changing? I don't think so but who knows.
The judging took place with elimination rounds held earlier in the year to bring the number of finalists down to 12 whiskies for the trophy round. At all stages of judging, whiskies were sampled blind, i.e. the judges had no idea what they were tasting.
The final trophy round was judged last Friday night, with a panel of over 10 judges. These included experienced whisky palates, spirits journalists, restaurant and food reviewers, etc, etc.
It may interest all to learn that Bowmore 17 took out overall 2nd place!
59 Bowmore Dusk Bordeaux Wine cask NAS 50% abv Islay Soapy. No excuse for this.
Color Dark copper
Nose Winey, raisins, soap, wet cardboard
Palate Smoke and soap, polished leather
Finish Medium, perfume, harsh, wet rotten woodiness, soap don’t go away
Quote I sure hope Bowmore can make better malts than this, but I think they have ruined their rep with me. I might try a straight 12 or 17 whenever I’ve completely forgotten how bad this is. FWP
60 Bowmore “Legend”NAS 43% abv 200ml Islay Not AS soapy, but…
Color Yellow gold
Nose Dusty smoke, seaweed, iodine, salt
Palate Ashes, soap!
Finish Almost nonexistent
Quote The nose was promising, but the palate only confirmed my suspicions. I was hoping to blame the FWP in the Dusk on the wine finish.
62 Bowmore 12 yo 43% abv 200ml Islay Less is more
Nose Perfume, salt, light smoke
Palate Smoky, salty, strong floral
Body Thin, round
Finish Medium, salty
Quote A little stronger malt flavor, but still that persistent flower taste, like chewing on a rose petal.
63 Bowmore 15 yo 43% abv 200ml Islay
Color Orange amber
Nose Fresh cut wood (pine), Carnations, vanilla beans
Palate Charcoal, burnt rubber, salt, spices
Body Oily, round
Finish Dry, blunt
Quote Just not much to make you want to come back to. Bitterness at every level and unpleasant. The age smoothes out the flavors, but not to a varied degree.
70 Bowmore 17 yo 43% abv 200ml Islay No soap!
Color Orange amber
Nose Nutty, floral (again), hint of mint
Palate Dry wood (tree bark), nut shells, smoke, very light fruit
Finish Fast, fading, but pleasant (no soap)
Quote The finish saved this one. I can barely detect the floral that leads to soapy and it is actually drinkable, but without much sweetness to balance it out I would much rather have an Ardbeg, Laphroaig, etc…
75 Bowmore 21 yo 43% abv 200ml Islay Finally a winner!
Color Dark amber
Nose Horse sweat, hay barn, summer rain, mild herbs
Palate Soil, tangy sweetness, tart, salt, herbal, light smoke
Body Rich start, thinning
Finish Long, strong and vaporous
Quote Definitely the best of the lot, but I’m not sure it would be worth the price tag of a full bottle. Seems stronger than the abv suggests. I still can’t score this too high because it lacks a lot of pleasantries that has drawn me to malts in the first place. An interesting taste to be sure, but I think I’ve explored this distillery quite enough.
As you can see the soapy/ floral note has lessened as the age goes up so maybe the market being flooded with the NAS bottles(Dusk, Darkest, Dawn, etc..) has created this phenomenon of FWP and maybe its just the palates of us who can sense something off, but at any rate that's my results, take them as you may and let's move on. Cheers!
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