Whisky Focus - An Evening With Iain McCallum Morrison Bowmore By Murray Cohen

An Evening with Iain McCallum, the Companions of the Quaich and the Devil

16th November 2013
An Evening with Iain McCallum, the Companions of the Quaich and the Devil
by Murray Cohen, Order of the Companions of the Quaich, Ontario Canada.

I had the great pleasure of spending an evening with Iain McCallum and a number of friends of the Order of the Companions of the Quaich for a special single malt scotch tasting and lovely meal at the University Club of Toronto on Nov. 13, 2013. The event was sponsored by the Order of the Companions of the Quaich, a single malt club with 22 chapters across Canada which is a truly wonderful organization.

Ian McCallum is the Master of Malts for Morrison Bowmore and was awarded the title of Grand Whisky Ambassador of the year for 2013 as noted by the Companion’s president during the introductions. Iain has been on a visit to North America and was thrilled to end his time in Toronto with a full night of scotch tasting and an opportunity to share his vast knowledge about the “water of life”. His keen wit and ability to explain the dynamics of the core brands that he represents internationally, Bowmore, Auchentoshan and Glen Garioch, captivated and generated considerable insight even among seasoned whisky aficionados.

Iain noted that the Japanese owners, Suntory, respected the uniqueness of the Scottish brands and treated them with “passion and integrity”. Before I share Iain’s comments regarding five of their various distillery expressions, I would like to share some of his thoughts about how to best enjoy single malts. The gist of what he said is that some unnamed whisky enthusiasts bury their nose in a glengairn glass, inhaling the dram like a vacuum cleaner until they turn red and their eyes bulge, anaesthetizing their nose ready for a ring piercing. Not exactly the best way to enjoy a dram. Rather, he suggested inhaling the whisky three times for a few seconds with mouth slightly open and then taking the glass away. The aromas of the expression spring forth and the subtle nuances open and appear. Once one has a full appreciation of the nose, he suggested taking a sip, rolling the whisky around, over and under the tongue and then gently sucking some air through the teeth and then swallowing. He conveyed how this tasting process allows the taste centers of the tongue to be fully activated.

Let me now share Iain’s comments and review for each of five Morrison-Bowmore brands we tasted. The first was Auchentoshan Three Wood, 43% abv.
He dubbed this expression as “the number one cigar malt in the world”. He described it as “darker on the nose”. He emphasized the oiliness on the palate.
I noticed the dark fruit and pungent aroma on the nose. The second brand was Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve 48% abv. Iain is very fond of this one. He really raved about it, describing it like something out of Braveheart. He characterized it as “robust and rich, good for breakfast and a big hug in a glass with sweet malty cleanliness”.

Iain then went on to discuss what he feels is the best balanced malt today, Bowmore 12 Year. He described it as “Islay on a stormy day”. He went on to say, “rub the whisky in between your hands and smell vanilla ice cream by a bonfire”. Iain noted that this expression goes very well with oysters. The next dram was Auchentoshan 12 Year. Iain highlighted the “nutty sweetness” on the nose and the viscosity on the palate. I was taken by the pralines, vanilla and pecans on the nose.

The piece de resistance dram for the evening was the first Canadian tasting ever of Bowmore The Devil’s Cask, 57.6% abv. Iain described this one as the true “storm in a glass”, a magical brew spending ten years in Oloroso casks. He told the old Islay folk story of how the devil attempted to flee in the Bowmore Church where there are no corners to hide in and was chased by the congregation through town and into to Vault No. 1 at Bowmore distillery and hid in a cask. As Iain quipped, that “was the nail in the coffin”. Iain characterized tasting this cask strength whisky as “warming, dark rich smoke with cherries and raisins and dark dry sticky ashes”. I found the Turkish delight on the nose, glorious and the sherry trifle with an edge on the finish, rewarding.

The opportunity to hear Iains’s presentation and to chat with him for some time both open-ended and specific, yielded significant information and insight into the single malt scotch industry. At the end of the evening, Iain was inducted into the Order of the Companions of the Quaich in Canada, something we have in common. Indeed, what we all truly share is a desire to explore and enjoy single malt scotch in all its manifestations and Iain’s visit was testament to this journey.

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