There are undoubtably perks to my job. I have the privilege of interviewing fascinating people and visiting wonderful places. And of course I get to eat a lot of interesting and varied things. And once in a while, I also get to sample something really special, like the 46 year old Bowmore 1964 Fino whisky I recently enjoyed.Exclusivity comes in many forms these days. Price is one, where the cost of something is so deliberately high it’s out of reach for many (though in my experience money and taste do not always sit well together. Chef and restauranteur Anthony Demetre once told me of a diner in Wild Honey who ordered the most expensive wine on the menu, a magnum of 80s Petrus I think, costing the price of a family car, and used it to wash down a duck breast which he asked to be well done and anointed it with Tabasco).
Deliberately manufacturing small quantities is another. We live in an age where even a McFlurry bills itself as ‘limited edition’, as if not coveting it is to somehow miss out. There is, of course, the unconfirmed story of philatelist Arthur Hind of Utica, New York, who bought a pair of extremely rare stamps, and burned one thus making the other ‘The Rarest Stamp in the World’.
And then there’s rarity through happenstance, experimentation and luck, like the 1964 Fino. But before I describe the peak, let me tell you about the foothills. Since I began to explore the world of whisky, I’ve developed a soft spot for the Islay malts, coming to appreciate the smoke, peat and salt. Indeed a press trip to the Lagavulin distillery (which just happened to coincide with my birthday) was a highlight of 2011. However, I’d never really tried any of the whiskies from Bowmore – the oldest distillery on the island, so this evening was a chance to put this right.
The evening began with Bowmore’s 12 year old, the strong peat, smoke and saltiness (the defining flavours of Islay malts) of which was a fine compliment to the seafood starter we enjoyed.
Mains (steak and chips) passed without an accompanying whisky; better that than a forced and false combination. And then we were onto sweeter matters – namely a hot chocolate made by Paul A Young that features Bowmore 15 year old – Darkest. Having spent more time in contact with sherry casks, its sweetness and flavour complement the chocolate. The drink came in a beautiful engraved copper cup.
Then once the table had been cleared Iain McCallum, Bowmore's Master of Malts, described the 1964 fino for us. You can watch a video of him here.
The tasting notes on the Bowmore website describe it thus:
On the eye: sunset gold. Breathe in ripe peach water, floral rose water and just a wisp of smoking barley. Sip: Lusciously ripe peaches, but balanced by a more acidic note – juicy blood oranges or sharp pink grapefruit. Savour: Wood with coconut creams and sweetness, leading to a finish of gentle peat fires glowing in the dusk.
Cost to you, £8000 a bottle (there were only 72 made) meaning my dram alone was probably a couple of hundred pounds. Tropical is perhaps the best way to describe it, and it’s pure liquid alchemy that the taste of passion fruit, spice and sunshine can be found in something that’s spent 47 years in a cellar on a windswept island off the north west coast of Scotland.