BOWMORE: The Dean of Islay
If you know your whisky, you’ve definitely heard of Bowmore. This summer, form the perfect pair with oysters, seafood and yes, an Aston Martin! Wait, what? Let’s find out what that means from our guest’s mouth, Mr. James Neil, Luxury Brand Ambassador at Beam Suntory. An article originally published in Gentologie Magazine Issue 10.
You cannot talk about Bowmore without explaining two key ingredients: Islay and time. Bowmore Islay, which is a small island on the west coast of Scotland, is a completely different thing. When people usually speak of Islay, they are referencing the peated flavour. “Bowmore is located in the centre of the island and really produces a beautifully balanced peated whisky and that’s one thing we’re really proud of,” added Mr. Neil.
Story-wise, Bowmore is the second-oldest distillery in all of Scotland, and the oldest on Islay, established in 1779, which is 243 years ago. Even with its long history, Bowmore has maintained most of its traditional practices. For example, their method of production: they still have strong control over the craftsmanship of the whisky and ensure that the brand story stays consistent over centuries, hence the key role of time.
A Balanced Whisky
Of the 130 distilleries in Scotland, only a dozen have their own malting floor and Bowmore is one of them. Mr. Neil explains: “We spread about seven tons of barley over the floor for the peating process. Then, we just sit and wait for the optimal temperature. This is done by controlling the windows’ opening, and continually shovelling or raking that barley to make sure the airflow can maintain a constant temperature for the smoking process. All that peat smoke then naturally gravitates to that barley. When we go through the distillation process, all that peat, bold flavour has been ground up in the mill in that barley and that smoke flavour profile stays in it,” added the whisky professional. That process builds that traditional Bowmore taste, a well-balanced smoky profile.
For a new whisky drinker, Mr. Neil says that Bowmore is a beautiful introduction to the peated levels, often measured in parts per million (PPM). For example, Laphroaig is 40 PPM, Bowmore is around 25 PPM and Octomore, as a reference, ranges from 150 PPM to 400 PPM.
A different way of doing things? Certainly. According to our guest, the craftsmanship and the hands-on at all times approach at Bowmore is at the heart of what makes their whisky great. Is it more expensive? 100%. Is it time consuming? 100%. Is it critical to get the consistency in their product that has now become one of the most collected single malt scotch whisky in the world? 100%. So, the craftsmanship has them making whisky the same way they made it 240 years ago. They strive to maintain that heritage, and that is a novelty in terms of craftsmanship.
We cannot forget about the famous No. 1 Vaults. “We’re also famous for the No. 1 Vaults, which are the oldest whisky aging warehouse in the world. The main door to the No. 1 Vaults sits within metres of lock-in door on the Atlantic Ocean, which allows the sea-salted air to permeate our entire distillery. Hmm, and it really gives body to our whisky,” adds Mr. Neil.
The Best Way to Enjoy Bowmore
If we’re talking Bowmore, we’re talking Atlantic Ocean. “One of my favourite ways to enjoy Bowmore is to actually enjoy it with a freshly shucked oyster from the Atlantic Ocean. If you can get oysters from the same water, that is splashing against the walls of the No. 1 Vaults and perfuming our whisky, I think it’s just such an awesome pairing. You simply take an oyster, shuck it, enjoy its unique brine, a little dash of Bowmore 12 on the oyster, drink it and consume the oyster. Once you’re done, pour just a bit more whisky back into the oyster. All that sea salt flavour from the oyster right into your mouth. It’s the perfect pair. Anything from the ocean pairs well with the whisky. Think of caviar, fish, etc.,” added the New Brunswick-born ambassador.
The Art of Time
The team at Bowmore considers the hourglass to be a very relevant symbol of the Art of Time “Timeless Series”. On top of explaining the aging process, the series tells the story of the first raindrops that land across the barley fields, and how they end up supporting barley’s growth every step of the way. “We want to talk about the Art of Time because it is all about the aging process and how it sits and breathes inside the barrel. As the temperature changes, just by a few degrees, that barrel helps the whisky to meddle with the surrounding air, thus creating all these beautiful flavours,” says Mr. Neil.
What can you say about the Art of Time in terms of the experience of enjoying single malt scotch? “In the packaging, there is a three-minute hourglass. The hourglass sort of indicates the perfect amount of time from the pour and nosing part to the actual enjoyment of Art of Time,” declares the Bowmore ambassador.
As Mr. Neil told us, the Art of Time is a lifelong process for Bowmore Whisky. “How many hours of smoking are we talking? How many minutes do we get to enjoy the smell? When we think about whisky and time, although we love focusing on the aging process, there are so many other key elements that come into play. It is crucial to take our time to master the process and to create the beautiful amber or deep obsidian piece of liquid art. And I think that really understanding every single step and the time it takes to go through every one of them through the distillation process is very important. So, Art of Time really embodies the appreciation of every single moment along the process,” adds the whisky enthusiast. ▸
Collaborating with Aston Martin
This partnership first started based on similar values of both brands. The 21 years doesn’t follow the traditional guidelines. Bowmore and Aston Martin are icons in both of their industries. Aston Martin is legendary in England for making one of the top luxury sports cars in the world and Bowmore is one of the most collected Single Malt Scotch Whiskys in the world.
“And you know, we’ve already talked about the attention to detail, and craftsmanship and values. As we started doing historical research, we actually have a few years in common. The first release that we did with the Aston Martin is called DB5. The year when they released the car in the movie Goldfinger, in 1964. That year was also a big year for Bowmore as we brought in a new boiler, went from coal to steam heating in our distillery. That change helped with temperature consistency across the entire whisky-making process,” adds Mr. Neil.
Long story short, they took some of the liquid distilled in 1964 and bottled that in 1995 to create the first “Black Bowmore” series of 31 years old, single malt, Scotch Whisky. Aston Martin asks if the team at Bowmore still has some of that liquid gold because they would like a special bottle made for them. “They got access to enough liquid to make 27 bottles. That’s it. The team at Aston Martin takes that liquid and said: ‘We’re going to create the vessel.’ And it’s literally housed in the top model piston of an Aston Martin DB5. It’s a stunning piece of art, and I’ve never seen anything like it in my career, to be honest with you. I don’t think I ever will,” comments the whisky aficionado.
Next, how do we combine the talents of both brands? Merrick Reichman, Executive Vice President and Chief Creative Officer at Aston Martin, worked with Ron Welsch, the Bowmore master blender, to create a whisky using the same approach to manufacturing Aston Martin cars called the “Golden Ratio”. That term designates the perfect balance in terms of functionality and composition. That whisky is perfectly balanced, the same way the cars were in terms of aesthetics and performance. “We want to do that with the flavour profile on a whisky. The 21-year-old whisky is an absolute delight, according to Mr. Neil. There is 61.8% from a 21-year-old first fill Sherry Oloroso and Pedro Jimenez, and the remaining 38.2% includes older aged whisky including a 35-year-old. There are also a 1983, 1984 and 1995 whiskies in white port barrels and four to five whites. The flavour profile is peppery, but finished with coffee and floral notes. We have another one coming soon: a 52-year-old Bowmore liquid. Only one hundred bottles made in the world. We will sell three in Canada,” our guest told us.
What should be your first Bowmore?
“I think the first thing you want to do with Bowmore, as with every whisky, is to learn to walk before you run. The Bowmore 12 year old is where I would start. It’s a staple at Bowmore. All of our products still come from the new make spirit, which means that it still comes from this beautiful, clear liquid extracted from distillation, and it’s still the same aging process known to create such beautiful flavour profiles. I think it’s important to understand the core of who we are and the Bowmore 12 year old does just that. You can definitely taste the salty kiss of the sea and the Bourbon and Sherry Oloroso casks. You get a hint of vanilla, of that balanced Bowmore peat smoke that I talked about, and some notes of citrus and honey that really stand out in the Bowmore 12 year old. When we get into the 15 year old, let’s see how three more years in Sherry Oloroso can change a whisky. Well, in terms of taste, it is much richer and deeper. I call it the chocolate cake of the Bowmore, it’s my dessert Bowmore Whisky. It’s got some beautiful, unique flavours. Then, as you get into the 18 year old and we get longer aging, we start seeing some beautiful tropical fruit notes that shine through. For me, it shows the evolution of Bowmore. Finally, we have the 25 year old, which is a smaller batch release, but it’s still part of the core family of whiskies that all have their unique beauty. It is shocking to see the impact of the three-year difference from the 12 to 15 and from 15 to 18 on the whiskies. And then I was like, anytime I do a tasting, I always get everyone to keep a little bit in their glass. At the end of the tasting, whether we’re tasting a 21-year-old or a 25 year old or 30 year old, we come back to the 12 year old, how fantastic that a bottle. Still stands out as a standalone, single malt, Scotch Whisky of the utmost,” suggest the Bowmore ambassador.
The Pairings to Start With
Mr. Neil told us that 70% plus dark chocolate pairs really well with almost any single malt Scotch Whisky. Let’s not forget the nuts. Some of these sherry casks, when they get into the European Oak, can give off a nutty flavour profile, so almonds naturally make great pairings for Whisky. The orange flavour profile can really start to highlight the citrus notes present in the Bowmore.
Où déguster le Bowmore au Canada ?
“I’ll start with the LOUIX LOUIS in the The St. Regis Hotel in downtown Toronto, it is a fantastic establishment. Their back bar is a phenomenal one and this spot definitely has a place close to my heart.
One of my other favourite stops would be in Vancouver, where I used to live. I love Elisa’s Steakhouse in Yaletown, it is one of my all-time favourite spots, they’ve got a great Bowmore selection, including some of our unique releases.
I did a tasting with the team at Le Royal, a small boutique bar underground, and it was such a cool tasting experience. I also love the Brasserie 701, a great place to eat and to enjoy a Bowmore. If you are in Old Montreal, the Coldroom is a great place to be; I love the atmosphere and they take really good care of us. When Harrison Ford was in Montreal, he went to the Coldroom, and his drink of choice was a Bowmore 12.
For my part, I love enjoying a Bowmore outside, somewhere by the water. My advice is to get out of the house, get a couple of Glencairn’s for your friends. Take a bottle of Bowmore. Go on a hike, get to a river, a lake or an ocean, whatever you have access to, sit down and pour that Bowmore. If you’re out camping and have the chance to start a fire, safely, of course, sit down, have a little water and, with a whisky in hand, fully let your mind escape and feel at peace, and enjoy the Art of Time itself,” concludes Mr. Neil.
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Cover photo by Nick Wons