Keeping up with the Bowmores

Special to WJW

More often than I think healthy, I am asked about super expensive, top-shelf, trophy-style single malt Scotch whiskies, and increasingly about those multi $1,000-plus beauties. The question always is, “Is it worth the money?”

By and large, these hyper-expensive whiskies are typically excellent, and are most assuredly not at all worth the money — to me. Value is necessarily subjective. Whether a scotch is worth $23 or $23,000 to a consumer is entirely a personal judgement.

The only reason to part with one’s money in making such a purchase is that the whisky in question is worth more to the consumer than the money. And the only reason anybody would sell that same whisky is because the money is worth more to them than the whisky.

This does not preclude folks from passing moral judgement over somebody else’s value judgement — this is a permanent part of the human condition.

This all came to mind just before Passover when the folks at Beam Suntory invited me to the Ritz-Carlton Washington D.C. for a “bespoke one-to-one tasting of Bowmore 1961 50 Year Old with Beam Suntory Master of Malts Iain McCallum.” I was one of only 16 people nationwide to be given the opportunity to taste this premium whisky without paying for it, or otherwise working for Beam Suntory.

To set the context appropriately, they had me taste through the Bowmore single malt Scotch whisky lineup—Bowmore 12 year old, Bowmore 15 year old, Bowmore 18 year old, Bowmore 25 year old, and then, finally, the Bowmore 1961 50 year old.

This 50 year old Bowmore 1961, is easily the finest 50-year-old Scotch whisky I have sampled, and I have sampled a few. It is also the best of these sorts of hyper-expensive single malts I’ve tasted.

Most whiskies begin to succumb to oak fatigue as they reach the 20-25 year mark, with only a few surviving to truly impress.

I’ve had 50-year-old Mortlachs and Glen Grants that were absolutely delicious and amazing, but metaphorical slivers and splinters of oak were present in one form or another. No such faults are to be found here. The cost? A mere $23,000 (suggested retail price; it might  cost you a bit more or less if you can still find one of the 20 bottles released to the United States, out of only 200 worldwide).

If the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses bug has bitten, but the price-tag is still too high for you, fear not. For a mere $5,000 the barkeep at The Ritz-Carlton Washington D.C.’s Quadrant Bar & Lounge will gladly unlock their 6-feet-tall steel vault to open their lone bottle and serve you a 2 ounce pour. This Bowmore is rightly considered the “Crown Jewel” in their collection. I’m told, his is the only bar nationwide where a round of the 1961 Bowmore can be bought.

As for the whisky, well, the 1961 Bowmore is simply astounding — luscious yet soft, rich yet beguiling, offering clean floral notes, honey and cream, delicate yet distinct smoke and salt, and concentrated yet incredibly vibrant fruitiness of peaches, green apple, lychee and mango, all beautifully balanced against a deep maturation-induced, complex aromatic rancio-like nutty backdrop. This is magnificent whisky in every way. L’chaim! n

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