Islay, rising out of the stormy Atlantic off the west coast of Scotland, is the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides and is home to eight windswept distilleries. Of these, the oldest is Bowmore, which was founded in 1799. Its ancient buildings face the battering of wind and waves churning off Loch Indaal, and the distillery’s famous No. 1 cellar actually lies below sea level. It is here, in the dark and perpetually damp warehouses, that the aptly named Tempest Small Batch No. 2 single-malt whisky ($100) was aged for 10 years in ex-bourbon barrels before being bottled. There was just enough to fill 2,000 cases, of which only 200 cases are destined for the United States.
The color is the warm gold of the Islay sun seen through a light fog. The aroma is of earthy peat and one can almost smell the afternoon mist roll in across the peat bogs. Yet there is a refreshing lemon zest and a pinch of sea salt in the taste, all held together with Bowmore’s signature gentle smoke, which comes from the peaty water of the nearby Laggan River and the floor-dried barley, which is still hand-turned with weathered wooden malt shovels. Even at 112 proof, this is one tempest that is muscular, yet manageable. (www.bowmore.com)