Blair Bowman is an in demand international whisky consultant. In 2012, while studying at the University of Aberdeen he founded World Whisky Day. He is the author of the best-selling Pocket Guide to Whisky: featuring the WhiskyTubeMap.
THE BOWMAN STORY —
While living in Barcelona, as part of a study abroad program for my university degree, I saw one day on twitter that #WorldGinDay was a global trending topic. I had always been more interested in whisky than gin. I had even co-founded a whisky club at my university a few years early. I went to the WorldGinDay.com website and it was a landing page with information about the day and where it was being celebrated around the world. I quickly typed in WorldWhiskyDay.com and the domain was available to buy so I bought it immediately.
Within a few days things had snowballed. I had people messaging me from all corners of the globe telling me that they had the date in their diary and had told every bar and whisky club in their area. From Sydney to Paris and New Delhi to New York people around the world were cued up and ready to celebrate the first World Whisky Day.
On the first World Whisky Day my website crashed, it was getting so much traffic. It was on the front page of the BBC news website and was a global trending topic on twitter. From private events to events with 1000s of attendees people were celebrating whisky.
I always likened it a bit to St Patrick’s Day when people who normally never drink Guinness suddenly have a Guinness. For some people every day is World Whisky Day but for many people they never touch whisky or are intimidated by it so World Whisky Day is a fantastic opportunity to bring people into the whisky category, be it Bourbon, Scotch, Irish, Canadian, Indian or Japanese whisky.
You wake up in the morning – what’s the driving passion?
I am so lucky to get to do what I do. I get to travel the world and share whisky with interesting people. Getting to share whisky is the thing that really drives me. Especially recruiting people into the whisky category. I host about 60 whisky tasting events per year. I really like it when someone comes up to me at the start and tells me that they don’t like whisky and they are only there because their partner/friend has brought them along. Without fail, this is the person who at the end of the tasting is absolutely gushing about how much they loved one of the whiskies or didn’t realize that by having it in a cocktail it would be so tasty. I love knowing that I have helped light the spark for that person and they can now go off on their own whisky journey.
What initially attracted to whisky and your interest in the subject?
I studied languages at university and in my first week of university I co-founded a whisky society. I had experimented a bit with whisky after graduating high school and moving to whisky but didn’t know much about the subject and wanted to learn more. I think the moment I got the bug for whisky was when I learned that all single malt whiskies are made from the same three ingredients (water, malted barley and yeast) and they all use the same production process to make the whisky but they all end up tasting so uniquely different. From sweet to medicinal and tropical to smoky. I think that was the magic of whisky that piqued my interest. Along with the fact that there is an incredible craftsmanship and heritage associated with Scotch whisky. Once I had the bug I wanted to learn as much as i could and taste as many different whiskies as I could. I was like a sponge obsessively trying to learn more and understand this magical spirit.
You list yourself on your Website as a “whisky consultant” — what does that actually mean?
Consultant is a bit of a catch-all term as I do various things all very much connected with whisky. No day or week are the same, which I love about my job. I may be travelling overseas one week to host a tasting for clients of a private bank or hosting a paired whisky dinner at a Michelin starred restaurant. I may be in days of meetings while consulting on a whisky brand or with a company in the whisky industry. I also broker the sale of rare and old single casks of whisky to private clients and the whisky trade.
The most important aspect of whisky you’ve learned over the years is what?
You should drink whisky however you like it and you should never tell anyone else how to drink their whisky. Whisky has so much baggage and myth that can be very intimidating for those interested in learning more about whisky. If you think there are rules related to whisky then I think they should be broken. There is a time and place to nose and taste a whisky and appreciate it fully but there is also a time and place to drink it in a mixed cocktail. The
industry need to get rid of this dusty old image that is holding it back from attracting new people to the whisky category.
When visitors – specifically Americans — come to Scotland — what’s the biggest mistake they make concerning understanding quality whisky?
The most expensive whisky on the bar isn’t necessarily the best. It is a very subjective thing but by best I mean the best suited to that person in terms of taste and flavor profile. Generally, like most things, you get what you pay for but I find Americans often tend to go for the top tier stuff more to impress their friends or clients. They might make more of an interesting evening if they chose whiskies more suited to their taste and bottles that are not readily available in the USA. I think that would make a more memorable experience for all parties.
Be interested to know — if you had to pick your top three Scottish whiskies what would they be?
If I had to pick only three I would go for the following: Johnnie Walker Black Label – an excellent blended whisky. There is a lot of snobbery about blended whisky but it is the backbone of the entire Scotch industry. I travel a lot for work and when I go somewhere new I don’t know if the wines or beers will be any good but I do know that there will probably be a bottle of Johnnie Walker on the bar, regardless of if I’m in Asia, Europe or America.
I know I like Johnnie Walker Black Label neat, or on the rock or with ginger ale — my favorite — so depending on time or year or humidity and temperature I can order this and know I’ll enjoy it and it reminds me of home even if I’m on the other side of the world. Benromach 10 year old – a bit of a hidden gem. It’s just a classic dram. So chewy and juicy and fruity but with a tiny whisper of smoke. Laphroaig Quarter Cask – the whisky that got me into whisky. Medicinal, woody, smoky, sweet, oily, amazing.
Since you’re from Scotland — do you play golf and if so how often and where?
I’m afraid to say I am not a golfer but wish I was. In the last year I was invited to play Loch Lomond and Gleneagles but politely declined. I’d really like to get a few golf lessons before taking up a golf day invitation.
If one were to visit specific golf destinations in Scotland that have a keen connection to whiskies — where would you recommend visitors go who want both elements included?
The ultimate whisky and golf destination in Scotland would be Dornoch. You can get a few rounds in at the Royal Dornoch Golf Course. I’d recommend staying at the Links House Hotel, a beautiful 5 star hotel next to the golf course. You can have your breakfast and be on the 1st tee in two minutes. After the golfing you should make an evening for drams at the Dornoch Castle Hotel’s whisky bar. They have an incredible selection of old and rare bottles of whisky, all open to be enjoyed by the glass. You can try whisky from closed distilleries, discontinued bottles and amazing gems, they are all very reasonably priced too.
Is there anything in the subject of whiskies you’ve not experienced that’s on your bucket list to do?
I would love to visit both Japan and Tasmania. I have an interest in Asian cultures and I think the current trend for Japanese whisky has been very interesting to watch. I would also like to visit Tasmania, as it is now positioned as a centre of excellence for whisky production.
Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
You can’t please everyone and that is ok. I think I struggled with this early on in my career. You will always get ‘trolls’ and ‘haters’ who are just jealous of you. Ignore them and rise above it.
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