It’s a hard life being a journalist of high culture. No, really, it is. The bombardment of invitations, the champagne functions, the fine chocolates and gourmet canapés, the goodie bags of expensive free gifts, and all the schmoozing one endures – none of which has any affect on subsequent editorial, of course. We remain strictly objective. Free shirt from Charles Tyrwhitt at their new store opening on Regent Street? I just can’t get round those itchy collars. A sample box of Demarquette’s new range of chocolates? Inedible. Lunch from Richard Corrigan? He burned the soufflé. See? No bias whatsoever.*
Moreover, the functions don’t actually lend themselves particularly well to a narrative. Who really wants to know what we quaffed, supped or chomped standing around in some exclusive venue if you weren’t there? There’s nothing to report at these parties and, even if there were, we’d remain bound by strict codes of confidentiality. We’re not The 3AM Girls after all. We’re there to be introduced to the product, the purveyors, the PR and then come away with a strictly objective piece on the merits (or not) of whatever the product was. These launches would only make for interesting reading were there some incident or otherwise that made them compelling. It is for that reason that the best introduction I can give you to Bowmore whisky is by telling you about a product launch that Stirls, Jonesy and I attended on the night of September 8th 2010.
For some reason we had about 40 invitations to events that night, nearly all, oddly, at locations in and around Oxford, Bond and Regent Streets. Stranger still, all seemed to be related to shoes or make-up or dresses. Not being the social waifs The 3AM Girls are, with an ability to butterfly our way between them all in one night, we fanned the invitations out like a magician’s deck and picked just one. Bowmore came out first. We noticed, too, on another, a familiar name: Corrigan. That settled it, we’d warm up with a glass of champers and an oyster or two with Corrigan at Aquascutum (none of us at this point seemed fazed that Aquascutum is a clothes shop, not a bar), cross the road to the National Geographic store for the Bowmore event, then, when we’d got up to flying speed, we’d see where we land next – which could well have been home, on account of Jonesy battling the symptoms of some unfathomable ague.
At Aquascutum, where oysters and champagne were on ice amid cut-price worsted jackets and besuited mannequins, our ignorance about the plethora of invitations to clothing stores was abated. It transpired that this night was a launch night in the run-up to London Fashion Week. Stirling and I railed against Jonesy: “What’s the matter with you, man? You’re in the middle of scribing the biggest single exposé on bespoke casual gentlemen’s tailoring and you didn’t even know it was Fashion Week?” Still, it was nothing a glass of champagne couldn’t quell.
A tray of oysters floated past us. I was tempted but conscious of a recent run-in with shellfish (where the shellfish won) so I enquired as to whether there was any truth to the notion that once afflicted by food poisoning by shellfish you’re forever susceptible. That myth was quashed but, just as we three simultaneously reached for an oyster, we were told of another: oysters and alcohol above 12% ABV don’t mix. Given our imminent engagement with 40% proof single malts we all gently replaced the shells and sent the waiter on his way. And with that, we said our goodbyes, sent our good wishes to Richard C, and strode across Regent Street to the National Geographic and the main event: Bowmore.
The Arbuteers always like to make an impression on our hosts. And more often than not, we do. Just not always a good one. By now thinking we were in for a night of Fashion Week party-hopping, we trotted in and blithely announced our intent to skip through this bash “because we’ve got about a dozen others to get to.” After all, isn’t that what Fashion Week’s about?
Except Bowmore weren’t there for Fashion Week. This was an exclusive launch of a limited edition 40-year-old single malt, involving an introduction to the distillery, a tasting with the master blender and lot more besides. We back-pedalled sheepishly: “Of course, of course, we don’t have to be anywhere soon.” I grabbed a press pack and leafed through the rhetoric, it suddenly dawning on me that this was quite a big deal. Quite how big a deal only became evident when I saw the price tag of this new Scotch. At £6,500 a bottle, this was no ordinary whisky.
At this point, I should add that I’m not a whisky drinker.
I enquired if there was a typo in the press information. “Excuse me, that says Six Thousand and Five Hundred Pounds. For a bottle?” “Indeed,” came the reply, “the cask only produced 53 bottles. It is of such a quality and such a rarity that it warrants the price.” And we’re going to taste some of this?
At this point, I should add that I became a whisky drinker.
A brief introduction to Bowmore opened the evening, along with a few words about why we were in the National Geographic store (I had wondered) – a mutual love of the outdoors, shared brand values etc. – before we were invited to gather round for a tasting. It wasn’t the 40-year-old, however; we were being eased into that and given an overview to the Bowmore canon. We began with the 12-year-old. As glasses were passed around, I noticed a display barrel adorned with barley, woodchips, oranges, lemons – wait, oranges? Sure enough, as the infectious Iain McCallum, the master blender, took the floor to tell us what whisky was all about, for some reason all I could smell was oranges.
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