After my visit to the Bowmore and Auchentoshan distilleries, our group stopped by the headquarters of their parent company, Morrison Bowmore. (This company is in turned owned by Suntory, and is distributed in the United States by Skyy Spirits.)
There we met with Senior Blender Iain McCallum, who is sort of a legend even though he’s less than 40 years old. He's engaging, fast, fun, and smart as heck. If given the opportunity to attend an event he hosts, I highly recommend it. (If given the opportunity to go out drinking with him afterward, I recommend that too even though he may hand you a shot of Malibu mixed with coffee liqueur.)
In the aged spirits category, a brand may choose to promote its distiller (in charge of distilling), warehouse manager (in charge of aging), distillery manager (in charge of the whole process locally), or the master blender. We spent time with Bowmore's distillery manager on Islay and Auchentoshan's distiller in Glasgow.
The blender's job is (obviously) to blend whiskies from the various barrels into the final product to stay consistent with the desired flavor profile of the bottling. (Single malts are not single barrels, remember, and they may come from various years as long as they're distilled at a single distillery.) This person will not only assure quality of product, they'll have an incredibly good/trained nose and palate for doing this.
In the blending room, we sampled a few new bottlings coming out from Auchentoshan and Bowmore- but not for several months. More on those at a later date.
We also had the honor of tasting Bowmore Gold, which is every bit as wonderful as I remember it. The Black, White, and Gold Bowmore expressions are long-aged in Vault No. 1, the below sea level barrel warehouse on Islay. The thing about long aged Islay whiskies, particularly Bowmore with its lower phenol (smoky) content than other Islay whiskies, is that after a long time aging the smoke starts to dissipate and new flavors come through.
I finally had the opportunity taste the Black Bowmore, one of the most thrilling (also expensive) whiskies I’ve ever tried. It had a few flavor notes in common with Bowmore Gold (I was again reminded of the “banana sandpaper” that doesn’t exist in nature ), plus papaya and mango notes, and a mysterious and slightly darker nature. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.
(Iaian McCallum with a bottle of the original Black Bowmore.)
The only disappointing (I use this term very relatively) part about the visit is that I didn’t get the chance to try the White Bowmore. But that gives me a pretty good reason to come back.