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The Bowmore 1964 Fino cask: a happy twist of fate

Martine Nouet shares her impressions of three rare 1964 Bowmore releases
By Martine Nouet
Bowmore is taking a step back in time with the release of its last remaining casks filled in 1964, a year made legendary by the success of Black Bowmore, now a big auction hit. The initial launch of two fino casks will be followed by oloroso casks in spring 2003 and bourbon casks six months later. Only 300 bottlings will be available at around £1,000 each. Rarity has its price.1964 will remain a great vintage in Bowmore single malt history and an eventful year, in fact a new start for the distillery after the takeover by the Morrison family the previous year.Bowmore Distillery was experiencing major technical changes. A new still house being converted from fire to steam required the installation of a new boiler. The shipping of ‘Big Beanie’ the boiler, supervised by the combined forces of the Navy and the Army, came close to a nightmare as the craft was stranded offshore by uncooperative tides. An observer happened to capture the scene on video tape and Bowmore is now gleefully exhibiting the footage.All’s well that ends well, and the first distilling began a few days later. This particular Fino Cask bottling, however, is far from the result of a carefully orchestrated maturation policy. “In those days,” Chairman Brian Morrison recalls, “we had no deep knowledge about the type of sherry cask we bought and no real maturation plans. Among the excellent sherry casks we got from George Gorrod cooperage in Aberdeen, there happened to be these fino hogsheads probably used for shipping rather than for maturation.” A happy twist of fate which was a godsend. A second stroke of luck: the casks escaped being swallowed up for blending. Their maturation potential was spotted in 1977 and ‘78, so they were left in peace. These two casks originally held fino sherry from the Macharnudo region whose chalky soils – albarizas – are known for producing the best finos in Jerez.The journalists invited to the presentation were privileged to sample all three types of cask. At 49.6% (cask strength), the Bowmore Fino Cask 1964 made quite an impression, with enticing exotic fruit aromas (guava, passion fruit) mingled with smoke and a custardy, spicy palate with an almondy finish. Michael Jackson detected the chalky and dusty aromas of the fino wine flor (yeast) on the nose and especially liked the elegant exotic fruit profile on the palate. Walter Schobert from Germany enjoyed the smokiness which enhanced the Islay character of this 38-year-old Bowmore.A real classic, the Bowmore Oloroso Cask 1964 had a rich fruitcake aroma with a dry, oaky finish. The Bourbon Cask appeared to be surprisingly sprightly for its age, with a lot of sweet custard and cedar notes.Three desirable, complex characters to be pursued by collectors. But will they beat the Black Bowmore at auctions? A single bottle recently fetched £1,500 at McTear’s – more than 10 times its launch price in 1994.