David Turner is the current distillery manager at Bowmore and will celebrate his 30th anniversary with the company this year. He started working at Bowmore on 4th June 1990 after leaving school at the tender age of 16. His love of, and passion for, whisky has led him to becoming a keen collector, and drinker, of old and rare Bowmore single malts.
He describes Bowmore to be a part of his family, as his grandfather worked in the malt barns and warehouses at Bowmore throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. He was therefore working at the distillery at the time in which Bowmore laid down the casks which went on to create one of the world's most collectible single malt whiskies, Black Bowmore.
We were lucky to have the opportunity to speak with David himself regarding some of the iconic bottlings within Mr. Gooding's collection and discuss what has led to Bowmore's lofty reputation for producing some of the greatest single malts.
What are the defining characteristics of Bowmore? The guiding principles on which it has built its global reputation?
Islay is famous for its distinctive smoky whiskies. Bowmore has its own specific character, which sits around the mid-range in terms of smokiness. The classic or signature style delivers a rich fruity flavour, rounded by the subtle peat smoke of Bowmore. Our younger expressions are defined specifically by ripe fruits and as the whiskies get older, this turns to more tropical notes of mango, pineapple and papaya, whilst the smokiness lingers in the background.
What do you think has led to Bowmore commanding such high values and demand on the secondary market and inspiring a devoted following of whisky connoisseurs and collectors?
Quality is fundamental to the reputation and regard which surrounds Bowmore. This has been created in the main from single malts produced during the 1950s and 1960s. It is this aged stock which has allowed us to release exceptional limited editions year after year.
Could you provide an overview of the ‘fundamentals’ of the 1964 Black Bowmore 29 Year Old bottling which essentially led the way in terms of the series of 1964 bottlings?
1964 represents a key moment in the history of Bowmore, not just due to Black Bowmore. It was also the year we shifted our production approach away from traditional coal to steam. Back in this year, we laid down casks which when sampled many years later, created spirit which had become so dark, it was almost black. Not only did they have this incredible colour, but they were also of fantastic quality. And Black Bowmore was born.
Was there a feeling at the time of release that it was particularly exciting and significant expression?
At the time, everyone was excited and proud at what had been achieved through maturation in the No.1 Vaults. This was a single malt which reflected the high quality of our casks. This was also really the first time we created a truly collectable Bowmore, presented in a specially made presentation box. We did this as we knew it was special, but just how special completely surprised us as it was to go on to become one of the most iconic Scotch whiskies every released.
What was the aim of each of the other subsequent 1964 trilogy series (Black, White & Gold and the Fino, Oloroso, Bourbon)?
To showcase and celebrate that the delicate Bowmore new make spirit matures well in both bourbon and sherry casks.
What does each trilogy offer a collector?
They each demonstrate how the same new make spirit matures in different cask types, and how each cask type individually influences the whisky with different flavours and character.
Did the unmitigated success of the original Black Bowmore bottlings change Bowmore’s brand and/or approach to the making and selling of whisky?
It put Bowmore on the map as a collectable whisky. But it importantly built up a reputation for quality which has continues to thrive to this day.
Are you able to provide insight into the production techniques used at Bowmore in the 1960s?
We make it the same way as we always have. Bowmore is proudly handcrafted, with skills and expertise passed from generation to generation.
In your opinion what has made expressions of Bowmore from the 1960s so distinctive and celebrated?
The quality first and foremost; but not forgetting the tropical fruits combined with the distinctive Bowmore smokiness.
Does Bowmore still have casks from the 1960s secreted away that could rival the incredible expressions already released from this decade?
We still hold good aged stocks to enable us to release old vintages in the 50 Year Old series going forward.
The 1967 Largiemeanoch has inspired a cult following on the secondary market, without doubt featuring high on the wish list of any Bowmore collector and likely on many collectors of rare vintage single malt Scotch in general. Could you share any insight into the story behind this enigmatic bottle?
This single malt was matured in the finest sherry cask numbers 2655, 2656 and 2657 and bottled for the Howgate Wine Co Ltd in Edinburgh. This helped us forge strong relationships and establish Bowmore as a single malt in its own right.
Did Bowmore look to cultivate relationships with independent retailers such as Howgate Wine Co. Ltd at that time? What did this offer the brand?
At this time, we were seeking to build relationships in this area, to further develop Bowmore as an entity but also to build up the reputation, to showcase the quality of our single malts. Ultimately, we were looking to grow appeal and interest in Bowmore, and this was the right way to start this journey. We also invested time and energy in developing relationships in Italy, where well known bottles went on to gather much interest and excitement – including Bowmore 1968, bottled 1977 cask no. 222 75cl 59.7GL; Bowmore Giaccone 1969, bottled 1978 cask no. 6635 75cl 58GL
The 25-Year-Old Auld Alliance Chateau Lagrange is also a bottle that is rarely seen – can you tell us about that bottling?
This was a limited release of 75 bottles. These were never sold but rather only gifted to guests at the Auld Alliance Reception at Chateau LaGrange on 20th June 1995.
Could you tell us about another Bowmore of great age, the 1955 40-Year-Old? In addition to its age, what makes it such a sought after and special bottle?
This Bowmore 1955 was released in 1995 at 40 year old. Bottled at 42%, only 306 bottles were available worldwide. This single malt came from spirit distilled using the old coal fired stills so truly a part of Bowmore’s rich history. It is a great example of the quality we achieved from casks laid down in the 1950s and 1960s. It is whiskies like this which have hugely contributed to our reputation. At a price of £4000, this bottle also gave the owner a two night’s stay at one of our distillery cottages and a personal tour with the distillery manager, which included a special tasting at the end. This helped to attract people to Islay as this was at a time before tourism really took off. This is a fantastic dram; my personal all-time favourite Bowmore.
A huge thank you to David Turner of Bowmore for taking the time to speak with us and provide some greater insight into the fascinating single malts to have come from this iconic Islay distillery.