Bowmore almost completely destroyed their reputation because of the whisky they were producing during the 1980s when Jim McEwan was the distillery manager. Complaints centered around overly floral spirit that was characterized by soap, which has come to be known as FWP (French Whore Perfume). At one point it got so bad that the distillery threatened to sue bloggers who talked about it on the internet. Thankfully things turned around in the 1990s and while their whisky is still more floral than many others on Islay, it no longer provokes the same kinds of complaints.
This whisky was distilled in 1982, firmly within the dubious period of production, likely aged in a or several hogsheads, then bottled at 46% without color or chill filtration by Gordon Bonding under their Prime Malt label.
Thanks to Florin for the sample.
Prime Malt Bowmore 21 Year/1982
Nose: intertwined malt and floral notes (lavender/violets), whipped cream, vanilla, gentle oak, fresh apple cider, strawberries, cherry cough syrup, cola concentrate, grape/purple, integrated peat smoke/incense, light savory notes, inoffensive soap. After adding a few drops of water the floral notes are slightly dialed down and joined by some bitter grapefruit peel and a much lighter note of orange peel, plus something waxy (beeswax/paraffin).
Taste: big malt sweetness up front, quickly joined by candied violets on top, apple skins, orange peel, and a touch of soap in the middle, with both malt and floral notes becoming drier towards the back - very little oak or peat to be found. After dilution the palate loses a bit of heft, but is otherwise largely unaffected except for a little bit more soapiness and a growing pleasant bitterness (grapefruit?) and touch of smoke (burning flowers?).
Finish: lingering floral and malt notes, a touch of something bitter and savory, marshmallows with powered sugar, gentle oak, dry peat
When people talk about the FWP era of Bowmore, this is exactly what they're thinking of. The floral character absolutely dominates the spirit, which is going to be very polarizing. Only a thin thread of peat remains, which otherwise might help to balance the floral character if it was more robust. While I don't get as much soap out of it as others who have sampled from the same bottle, I can see a bit of what they're getting at and agree that it gets worse with water.
With that said, I kind of like this is. It's weird and a bit unidimensional, but strangely engaging. This is a Bowmore from another era, when it was more frequently derided than praised. The original price was commensurately quite low, running in the mid-$70 range, less than half of what even lower priced indie Bowmores above 20 years old now go for.