This month Charles reviews The Bowmore Black Rock, exclusive to travel retail.
Islay Shipwrecks by Peter Moir and Ian Crawford makes for grim reading [Google 'Islay Shipwrecks' to see a summary of the book]. Literally hundreds of ships have gone down around the island from Viking times to the present day: the book describes 41 from between 1851 and 1974, but these are only the visible ones or those with remains which can be inspected by divers.
The island lies to the north-east of the North Channel, the main artery for shipping between the Western Approaches from the Atlantic and the Clyde and Northern England ports. The prevailing winds are south-westerly – making Islay a dreaded ‘lee shore’ – and when this is combined with heavy tides, treacherous water and many off-shore and in-shore hazards, it is little wonder that the island becomes the final resting place of so many ships.
The Black Rock is one such hazard. This fearsome tidal reef - a sgeir in Gaelic - is located in Loch Indaal, within sight of the distillery. It is illustrated on the bottle’s carton and has inspired the name of this expression of Bowmore, as part of a range of three malts, ‘exclusively available to global travellers’, the other two being Gold Reef and White Sands.
Bowmore Black Rock is predominantly matured in first-fill Spanish oak ex-oloroso sherry casks, which have given the liquid a glorious ‘polished rosewood’ hue. Some years ago I had the pleasure of accompanying Andrew Rankin, Bowmore’s Production Director, to Jerez in Spain to visit his suppliers of sherry casks, Miguel Martinez. The casks were made to Andrew’s specification, then seasoned with sherry for a specified period (four years, as I recall) before being sent to Bowmore for filling.
On another trip, we went to Kentucky to visit his suppliers of American oak casks, which would be filled with bourbon for three years before shipment. Watch us on singlemalt.tv.bowmore, via YouTube…!
Andrew retired at the end of last year and his work is now continued by Rachel Barrie, Master Blender, who has been responsible for selecting the casks which have gone into this expression, and marrying them with a proportion of American oak ex-bourbon casks to lend sweetness and finesse.
The distillery was founded in 1779, but I think it may have been established a decade before this, when the ‘model village’ of Bowmore was laid out by Daniel Campbell of Shawfield, the local laird. It is certainly the oldest distillery on Islay and can make a good claim to be the oldest distillery on its original site in Scotland. The casks were matured in the distillery’s legendary No.1 Vaults, the oldest maturation warehouse in Scotland and the only warehouse below sea level – dark and damp, and the thick stone walls dripping with salt water [again, check out YouTube]. Maybe it is this that gives Bowmore Black Rock its slightly salty taste.
Polished rosewood in colour, with magenta lights. A big, rich nose; dry at full strength, with ginger-bread, fruit loaf (raisins and sultanas), burnt orange peel, a shake of pepper and a whiff of smoke. A drop of water flattens it somewhat, but leaves these aromas intact.
A full-bodied texture, the taste is sweet (a hint of treacle toffee?), slightly salty, lightly spicy, with Black Bun and tarry smoke in the finish and aftertaste, which is long and warming. With water, the taste is sweeter and drier, with a hint of cinnamon; still maritime in character. Easy to drink and well balanced.