By Stef Schwalb
“Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” So said iconic American author Mark Twain, a rumored fan of Kentucky-made straight bourbon whiskey; but for our purposes, let’s talk about Scotch whisky and those in the portfolio of Morrison Bowmore Distillers (MBD). Why this producer specifically? Because in addition to offering good whiskies for every level of drinker, they also employ Rachel Barrie as their Master Blender. In 2003, she was the first female to be bestowed this honor and remains one of just a handful of women creating single-malt Scotch whiskies within this male-dominated industry.
Rachel is involved in new product development and managing spirit quality operations for MBDs’ three sister distilleries: Auchentoshan in the Lowlands; Glen Garioch in the Highlands; and Bowmore on Islay. She also travels the world to entice and educate more women into the world of malt whisky, a spirit that is steadfastly becoming one both sexes are enjoying. Her motto? “Drink don’t drink for age, drink for flavor.”
Rachel recommends Auchentoshan Classic as an excellent entry into the category. Within MBD’s “family DNA” (a phrase she coined since all of these selections are produced the same way), Rachel considers this one “youthful.” It is triple-distilled and matured 100% in American bourbon casks. The Classic’s color is a pale gold, and it displays sweet aromas of vanilla and coconut, hints of grass, green apple and citrusy grapefruit – scents very similar in many ways to a Sauvignon Blanc, she says. It’s smooth, delicate, tantalizing taste goes down easy, and its finish features a fresh, floral zestiness that invigorates the senses. This spirit is extremely versatile and can be enjoyed straight up, on the rocks, with a few drops of water or in a cocktail. (One of the best we tried, by the way, was the Auchi-Berry, which incorporates Auchentoshan Classic with a splash of Cranberry and Pineapple, topped with Lemonade and garnished with a cherry.)
For a single-malt that’s metaphorically in the “teenage” range, Glen Garioch 12 Year Old is an ideal selection to savor. It showcases a distinctive Highland character and golden amber hue developed from maturation in both American bourbon and Spanish sherry casks; the former to soften, the latter to enhance the depth of flavor. Each stage of the process adds distinct characteristics to the final product, which displays floral notes of grass, heather, and wildflowers offset by an abundance of poached pears and the sweetness of malted barley. On the palate, you experience sensations of crème brulee and sweet ripe bananas, topped by a light, spicy oakiness with sweet pear fruitiness. The finish is luxuriously long. We sampled this with a chunk of Cabot’s Clothbound Cheddar, a perfect pairing indeed!
Last but certainly not least, we have the “adult” in the MBD family – Bowmore 15 Years Old “Darkest.” Also matured in a combination of both specially selected North American bourbon casks and the finest Oloroso sherry casks, this selection was without a doubt tops in my book. With its rich deep dark amber color, Bowmore 15 Years Old “Darkest” displays aromas of decadent dark chocolate and dark fruits with a distinct trace of Islay smoke. On the palette, cedar wood and rich toffee take on the taste. The finish features a powerful, warm hint of sherry tannin.