Magic happens on the darkest night according to Bowmore, and to prove it the company recently employed some of the dodgiest Scottish accents in North London to guide a group of slightly bemused drinkers through “a sensory-filled journey of exploration that conjures mystery, myth and legend.”
Some things are better in the dark. Nightclubs, hiding from people, sleeping… being Fred West… It’s an exhaustive list. Bowmore’s exploration of darkness and/or novel marketing strategies didn’t include any of these things, but we did get to try Bowmore 15 Darkest (do you get the theme yet? Do you?).
In an immersive journey through a ramshackle Dickensian pile in Shoreditch, we were treated to food, theatre, brand building, chocolate, brand building and astronomy.
My group, so designated by a fragment of pigeon pinned to our chests, started with astronomy. We were lead up a staircase that had no doubt been condemned circa 1850 to a dark room which contained a projection screen and Gary Fildes, an expert from the Kielder Observatory near the Scottish border.
Gary Fildes, who was easily cool enough to have his own television series on BBC 2 and be in the Eurhythmics, or whatever band Professor Brian Cox played keyboard for, took us on a fascinating journey through time and space, focusing on an area of sky just 1mm square.
For scale, that’s about the size of a grain of sand, and twice as big as Peter Andre’s brain.
"Am I the right way up?"
That area of sky, photographed by the Hubble Telescope, contained eleventy gazillion billion million stars, or something along those lines, some so far away we were looking at them as they appeared billions of years ago. The point is, space is big and weird and can only get limited coverage in a blog ostensibly about whisky. If you really want to learn about space, read a Brief History of Time while enjoying a glass of the delicious Supernova.
On to the next room… here we were treated to what purported to be a genuine Islay ghost story told in what purported to be a genuine Scottish accent. The gist of the story was that you should never offer someone an open bottle of whisky on Islay otherwise a headless horseman will retune all your stereos to Radio 1 then break off the knobs leaving you to the mercy of Chris Moyles and co for all eternity… or something.
"I also enjoy Scott Mills."
I think it was genuinely clever of Bowmore to find a genuine ghost story whose moral was that you should buy a bottle of whisky every time someone comes to visit… genuinely, I do. I bet they scoured the ancient records for weeks to uncover that one. I bet they dug up the bones of an old crofter, reanimated him with a mixture of new make spirit and jet fuel, then waterboarded him with Bowmore 18 until he spilled… now that’s dark.
After the 100 per cent genuine ghost story we were lead up some stairs for no reason at all, and left in a room with a map of Islay. Just when people started looking a bit nervous, and texting their exact location to next of kin, the door opened and we were taken to a wood-panelled room that smelt overwhelmingly and deliciously of chocolate. And what chocolate! This was not just any chocolate; this was chocolate from Paul Young who, interestingly, is both young and called Paul and runs three chocolate shops in London. He had a cauldron of the stuff steaming gently away and it was obvious certain members of our group didn’t really know or care about whisky and had paid mainly for this section of the tour. Sure enough, we were given the finest hot chocolate I have ever tasted. This is not blogland hyperbole; I am not Paul’s mum. It was, simply, the best hot chocolate I have ever tasted.
I am a big fan of chocolate and whisky matching and cynicism aside for a second, a ganache of Bowmore on a stick worked amazingly well dissolved in the rich, dark liquid. This is interesting because in the past I’ve always been inclined to try obviously sweet whiskies like grains and certain highland malts with chocolate but Paul proved that peated drams can work just as well. My preference would be to still avoid the heavy hitters like Ardbeg Alligator or Laphroaig 10, and look towards options such as Compass Box Peat Monster, Bunnahabhain and certain strains of Bruichladdich.
Oh, I forgot. In the first room I was given a key. This is only important because the final destination was a garret where a haggard old woman who may or may not have been partial to methamphetamines lay on a bed looking like she needed a fix.
She referred to something called “Old Smokey” which others though was some kind of ghostly cat, but obviously I knew better. She also said she wanted a key, which I thought was enough to get her pretty twisted, but each to their own. Also, I had stuffed it in my pocket and forgotten about it so she went without. I’m not sure she should be encouraged anyway so it was probably for the best.
Following this bizarre encounter we were lead all the way down to the basement where welcome glasses of Bowmore 12, and Bowmore 15 Darkest, awaited us. Brand ambassador Gordon Dundas took us through a brief tasting and truth be told, I actually quite like Bowmore 15 Darkest. It’s far from the most challenging whisky in the world but it’s punchy, with lots of Christmas spice and dried fruit, along with espresso, toffee and malt notes; undoubtedly a fine dram on a cold night. I’m pretty sure it would benefit from bottling at a higher abv but there you go.
It wasn’t the darkest night I’ve ever had. That was in Cuba when things went wrong in a nightclub built into an extensive system of caves.