Last week, we were delighted to be invited to a special evening that was hosted by The National Geographic Society and Bowmore single malt whisky. The event was held at The National Geographic’s flagship retail store in Regents Street, central London and was to launch two very special whiskies from Bowmore. The reason for these two iconic companies coming together in central London was that both have just announced a partnership where Bowmore are one of the main sponsors of The National Geographic’s new photographic competition.
The National Geographic Society is more than just an iconic and pioneering magazine. The Society was founded in 1888 and its magazine was one of the first to bring photographic images and reports of little-seen foreign lands in to the homes of the late Victorian era. The Society has long been an advocate of innovative photography and some of their historic images are world famous. The iconic magazine with its yellow border on the cover forms the backbone of the organisation to this day but they also fund geographical expeditions, educate people worldwide and have a massive retail branch to their business. For further information, go to http://www.nationalgeographic.com/.
Bowmore distillery is located on the western Scottish island of Islay. It was founded in 1779 by John Simpson - this makes it the oldest of the eight distilleries on the famous whisky island and one of the oldest in Scotland (only Glenturret in the Highlands is older, having started production in 1775). It is located in the centre of the island and the distillery walls back on the shores of the large inland sea loch of Loch Indaal. The name of Bowmore translates as 'sea rock' from Gaelic. The distillery in currently owned by Morrison Bowmore, a subsidiary of the Japanese company Suntory, who also own the other Scottish distilleries at Auchentoshan and Glen Garioch. Bowmore has an annual production capacity of just two million litres and is one of the biggest selling single malt whisky brands in the smoky, peaty style.
The initial three whisky samples of the evening were each paired with an item of food. The idea was that the food complimented and enhanced the characteristics present in the whisky and vice versa. We started with the Bowmore Tempest – a small batch, cask strength (55% ABV) whisky from ex-bourbon casks – and this was paired with orange peel dipped in dark chocolate. We had never sampled the Tempest before and our full review will appear shortly. Next was the Bowmore 12 years old, which is the cornerstone and biggest selling whisky in the core range. This was splashed over some fresh oysters. Finally, we sampled some Bowmore 15 years old ‘Darkest’, a whisky that has its final three years of maturation in an Oloroso sherry cask. This was paired with some venison steak, with the final sips being taken with some dark chocolate truffles. Then it was on to the launch of the two new whiskies, both of which will be available from later this month ….
To sample this whisky, we were taken down to The National Geographic’s ‘climate control box’. This device is for testing out their range of thermal and outdoor clothing and trust us when we say that it is pretty cold inside, especially as we weren’t wearing any of the ‘thermal or outdoor clothing’ that it was designed for. Karen particularly enjoyed it (not!) and was left standing holding her dram to try an extract some heat from it! The new 1981 has been bottled at 49.6% ABV and will retail at approximately £270 each. There are only 402 bottles and it has been maturing in ex-bourbon casks for 29 years. An interest fact that we were given was that by this age over half of the contents of the cask has already evaporated as ‘angel’s share’.
The colour of the Bowmore 1981 is light considering the age and is a lovely golden yellow. The nose has a remarkable freshness for an old whisky, with tons of vanilla and honey backed up by plenty of floral notes (think of orange blossom and honeysuckle) and a hint of salty sea water. On the palate, this had more surprises. The intense vanilla and honey were present and complimented fantastically by more floral notes. These are more evident that on the nose and seem to have different levels – there is something reminiscent of dried pot pourri, the honeysuckle and blossom from the nose, a distinct hit of parma violet sweets and the merest hint of an earthy, peaty smoke. This may sound like an odd combination but the high strength of alcohol really helps to bring each note out and show itself at its best. The freshness is also very welcome. The finish is a little more peaty but remain refreshing with a touch of woody dryness at the very end. This is a cracking dram!
Bowmore 40 years old
For the grand unveiling of this new 40 years old, we moved back upstairs to the warmth. The packaging is unlike anything we have seen before - each bottle is individual and made of hand blown crystal glass adorned with images of rocks from Islay and sitting on a thick plinth of Islay slate. The age of the whisky and extravagance and bespoke nature of the packaging mean that this isn't going to be cheap. It is going to retail for £6500 a bottle and there are only 53 to be released to the world. The whisky has been taken from a single specially selected ex-bourbon cask and has been bottled at 44.8% ABV.
The colour is a dark amber and the nose is rich and fresher than expected, considering the age. There is butterscotch and dark dried fruits present (think of raisins, dates and prunes) but also some surprising notes of tropical dried fruits (imagine mango, pineapple and a hint of banana). These are supported by the merest hint of some peat smoke, although this has a slight tobacco-like edge, and some damp woody spices (cinnamon and nutmeg especially). On the palate, this whisky remains as pleasantly fresh as on the nose but is rich with plenty of deep characters fighting each other - dark dried fruits, candied orange peel, tobacco smoke, a whiff of peat, some salty brine, caramel, spices (add some clove to the cinnamon and nutmeg of the nose) and those vibrant dried tropical fruits. It is a cracking combination and the finish carries on and becomes increasingly dry and tannic with plenty of those wood spices. A lovely dram but only you can decide if it is worth spending £6500 on! We may have to pass on that one ....!
We thank DK Cheung of Margaret London for inviting us to this innovative event and Cara Laing, the UK's Brand Manager for Morrison Bowmore, for her time spent talking with us after it.