A master of his craft
Perfecting its hand-crafted production techniques for over 240 years, Bowmore has long been a name synonymous with world-class, unique and pioneering whisky creation. Situated on Islay, a Scottish island world-renowned for its whisky manufacturing, Bowmore takes pride in its innovative and nurturing production style.
We spoke with the distillery’s Master Distiller, Ron Welsh, to learn more about the way Bowmore operates and for insight into how he achieved his esteemed and coveted position at the distillery. We also took the opportunity to ask him about their exciting partnership with Aston Martin, which is bringing to market an exclusive single malt that incorporates the essence of these two iconic brands.
Bowmore is the oldest whisky distillery on the Scottish island of Islay and renowned for its 240 years of expertise. Tell us about the history of the whisky distillery?
Founded in 1779, Bowmore® is the oldest distillery on Islay and home to the No. 1 Vaults, the oldest maturation warehouse in the world. Time is defining at Bowmore® and we tirelessly harness the power of time to shape our whiskies. Our distillery’s adherence to traditional production methods helps to shape the character of our fruity and smoky single malts. Today, we are amongst one of a few distilleries which still produces its own floor malted barley, hand-turned by a traditional wooden malt shovel and hand drawn machinery. Water for the whiskies is specially drawn from the Laggan River, with its rich peaty overtones – the same Islay peat that fires the malt-drying kiln.
What is unique about the whiskies you craft?
Currently we have maturing spirit at Bowmore Distillery stretching back more than 50 years, with over 60 different cask types maturing our whisky through each of the last seven decades. Our new make spirit is a very balanced spirit, the fruit flavours developed in the floor malt and fermentation processes carry through the distillation with the peat smoke used in the kilning process to produce a unique medium peated Islay spirit.
Matured in oak casks, previously used for bourbon, sherry or claret, over time this spirit develops rich and mellow flavours until the expertise of our whisky makers deems them ready for bottling. It is this combination of peat, barley, sea breeze, water, wood, people and tradition that makes Bowmore the exceptional single malt it is today.
In creating new expressions, we can call on a range of different cask types that complement and enhance one other, ensuring there is a balance between distillery character and cask influence is part of the Master Blender’s role. Our mainstay Bowmore’s whiskies have been crafted over the decades using recipes which produce little or no batch to batch variation, launching a new product requires the same rigour, and needs to be built in from the start.
How did you become a master blender and what does the role entail?
My journey to becoming a Master Blender started in Production as a shift manager for Strathclyde Grain Distillery in Glasgow in 1992. Working at Strathclyde ensured I worked with the master blender, Robert Hicks on a daily basis. During this time, I completed the IBD Diploma in Distilling alongside some key projects to develop the efficiency of the distillery. In recognition of my commitment, I was asked to complete a 12-month project on Grain Distillation Strategy which would be followed by a move to manage the Primary Planning Department. This enabled me to gain experience and knowledge of logistic plans from inception to completion across the full spectrum of the whisky making process, as well as refine my understanding of spirit quality, cask maturation, blending techniques and whisky creation. I went on to join Jim Beam in Scotland and continued to work on my blending skills for Teachers, Ardmore and Laphroaig. In 2013, I became Chief Blender as well as head of Bulk Stocks and moved into the role of Master Blender when Suntory’s purchased Beam in 2014.
As Master Blender and Strategic Inventory Manager, I am responsible spirit quality, from new make to ready for bottling, alongside cask filling policies to ensure the spirit matures to the correct quality. The role is far reaching and sees me working on product development on a day to day basis, but also constantly reviewing stock and future plans to ensure we have the right level of resources in place.
Joining forces to bring together extraordinary whiskies and experiences, Bowmore has partnered with Aston Martin to create Black Bowmore DB5 1964. What is special about this limited release?
This 31 Year Old Black Bowmore was matured in first-fill Williams & Humbert walnut brown Oloroso sherry butts from 1964 until it was bottled in 1995 – and is an exceptional example of this iconic single malt. Black Bowmore DB5 was the first collaborative product between Bowmore Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky and Aston Martin released in 2020 and is a striking concept which brings together an iconic whisky with a legendary car. The inspiration came from the year 1964, a definitive era for both brands. For Bowmore, the birth of its now iconic Black Bowmore and for Aston Martin, the year its DB5 became the world’s most famous car, following the release of Goldfinger.
What other extraordinary collaborations can we expect in the future from the partnership?
We have a number of collaborations in the pipeline, one of which I am particularly excited about as I’ve been working with Marek Reichman, the creative mind of Aston Martin, to collaborate on a new whisky. We’ve been able to share our passion for our art as well as learn a lot from one another in order to bring our two worlds’ together in an innovative and remarkable way. Watch this space for more details…!