Welcome to the second part of our new series – Old Flames.
While we should all be very excited that whisky is trending right now and malt whisky has become distinctly fashionable, there’s a danger in winning the attention of the beautiful people who are dedicated followers of fashion.
They are like moths around a light and while everything’s busy in the world of whisky at the moment, sooner or later a brighter light will attract them away again. What’s worse, the fashion crowd, with their clever tweeting and flashy blogs, tend to be over-focused on the newest and latest, demonstrating all but insatiable thirst for the special releases, the rarest malts and the most expensive whiskies.
Not us. As we’ve proved in recent years, we’re in whisky for the long haul. We’re all about brand building, investing lots of our staff time and energy in helping people understand and cherish whisky. We understand, too, that for 99.9 per cent of the whisky enjoying public, bottles costing hundreds of pounds are nothing more than a pipe dream. And that for most people the scores of whisky retailing for under £50 are more than enough to excite and stimulate the novice whisky drinker.
But more than that, we think it is right to return to basics and highlight the many whiskies that are world class, taste great, but have been forgotten in the rush to taste the latest Glen Sexy 72 Year Old finished in diamond encrusted outer Mongolian 500 year old mountain oak.
So let me introduce Old Flames – a back to basics look at some of the heavyweight heroes which while not actually unsung, but which may have been overlooked a little in the current faddy whisky rush.
If you’re new to whisky, then each week we’ll pick a whisky which is fully recommended by The Whisky Shop team and I. If you’re an old hand, our advice is step back, pour a dram of our whisky choice, find a quiet space or a darkened room, and reacquaint yourself with what may well have been one of your first loves. Rediscover what excited you about an Old Flame. Share a moment. Make friends again. Feels good, doesn’t it?
If you’re new toy whisky, then each week join me as we go a journey through a malt whisky greatest hits package. Every one of these choices comes thoroughly recommended and won’t break the bank.
This week: Bowmore 12 Year Old
Whisky’s version of the US-Soviet star wars programme during the second half of the 20th century has been waged in the field of peat. Two companies in particular have been hell-bent on out peating each other.
In many ways, though, they’ve missed the point. It’s like adding ever hotter chilis to your curry – the heat goes up, the burn on the tongue gets more intense, but you don’t necessarily end up with a better meal. Indeed ‘hot’ and ‘burn’ are different things entirely and when hot chill flavours are cooked in to the food properly and the flavours are balanced and integrated it’s possible to eat considerably hotter curries without the harsh burn.
So it is with peated barley. The great peated whiskies – Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Lagavulin – offer more than just peat. There are complexities in the taste that have won the malts a loyal worldwide following – followers who never get bored of the flavours.
Step back a bit, travel down the isle of Islay a few miles, past the airport and to Bowmore – a midpoint on Islay and a midpoint on the peaty scale. But dismissing this malt as a lightweight because it doesn’t hit the peaty highs of its southerly neighbours is a bit like dismissing Bruce Springsteen because he doesn’t rock out like Iron Maiden.
Bowmore 12 doesn’t just rock in its own, instinctive Islay way, but it brings nuance and innuendo to the party. For a novice it’s still a challenge and if you’re now the other side of experienced and haven’t tasted this in quite a bit, then you might be surprised at how gritty and imposing it is. There is sea spray, sea weed, beach barbecue and campfire smoke on the nose, and the peat on the palate is clean, crisp and bracing. But it gives way to a hint of hickory, some delightful yellow and exotic fruits and some spice. It occupies a unique place in the Islay repertoire and in my humble opinion, the current bottlings are richer and fuller than they have been for a while.
Why not pop along to a Whisky Shop and revisit it?
Whisky’s answer to a fruity chicken Ceylon. Praise doesn’t come much higher than that.