Ron Welsh on creating a legacy forged through time


Bowmore Master Distiller Ron Welsh talks about the shared values that underpin the distillery’s latest collaborations with Aston Martin. In this fascinating Q&A, Welsh looks to the future and ponders his own legacy at Bowmore and how creative collaborations such as this have given him a new way of approaching his craft.

He also discusses how balance and precision inspired ARC-52; Bowmore’s latest super-premium release; and how the Designed by Aston Martin Series 2 whiskies capture the essence of Islay and continue Bowmore’s ‘legacy of time’.

“To me, it’s the best Bowmore that I’ve ever tasted” – Ron Welsh

What shared values between Bowmore and Aston Martin underpin this collaboration?

Our partnership is about craftsmanship and leaving a legacy. It’s about looking to your past to move forward in the future and produce the best that you can in all that you do. I think both our companies have the same philosophy and it has been great to work with them.

There is a cross-section of customers between both brands, but I think all our customers will appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into the bottle of Bowmore and a luxury car from Aston Martin.

How would you say these latest releases capture the essence of Islay and showcase Bowmore’s craftsmanship and heritage?

Bowmore is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland with a passion for the whisky it produces. Each drop is matured to its greatest potential. Not every whisky can be matured for over 15 years. You need to have a powerful beginning.

Let us take the Bowmore 52 Year Old whisky in the ARC-52 expression for example. This whisky really shows incredible flavour and complexity thanks to the length of the maturation process. It is the pinnacle of our current collaboration with Aston Martin. To me, it’s the best Bowmore that I’ve ever tasted.

Tell us about the ARC-52. They are clearly key to Bowmore’s global premiumisation drive.

This is a true rarity in the world of whisky. So much time has been put into the design by the Aston Martin team to create this beautiful decanter. Aston Martin have created a unique opening of the bottle, which uses a bespoke magnetic key so nobody else can open it. The outer packaging is equally as stunning. Only 100 decanters will be released over a two-year period, and I believe it absolutely elevates the spheres of luxury for Bowmore.

Balance and precision are key themes for the ARC-52 decanter. How did you set about finding that perfect balance for the 52 Year Old?

We are extremely lucky that we had two different casks of whisky from 1960. One was American oak matured and actually came from three different casks that we put together in 2019, which we then put in American hogshead.

We also had a European oak-influenced cask, which was five different casks put together into a refilled sherry European oak cask. For this collaboration,we took samples from both those casks. In terms of finding balance, we pondered what kind of whisky we could create with 50% American and 50% European oak casks. The resulting whisky for the ARC-52 in my opinion is the best that those two casks could ever produce.

What opportunities can be found for super-premium releases, such as the ARC-52, in travel retail?

Releasing super-premium expressions in travel retail gives distillers an unparalleled opportunity to showcase the top of their range in a marketplace that reaches a vast demographic of whisky drinkers. Travel retail is a great channel to really show the world what we can do.

How do the 10, 15 and 18 Year Old expressions capture Bowmore’s signature style? What are the differences in nose, palate and character between the three?

All three whiskies have our distinctive Bowmore style of rich, fruity notes. The global travel retail-exclusive 10 Year Old is heavily influenced by Oloroso sherry casks, which give spice and dried fruit notes blended with Bowmore’s signature peat smoke.

The 15 Year Old is matured in American oak casks, which gives lots of vanilla notes, while maintaining that Bowmore style. Finally, the 18 Year Old is finished in Pedro Ximénez casks for an additional year, giving it more richness. To me, this is the best value whisky you can buy in travel retail.

Bowmore’s signature style always has a slight saltiness, with the fruits in the new mix spirit evolving as they mature through the ages. Once a whisky gets to 20 or 21 years old, those orchard fruits you had at the beginning tend to become more tropical.

Mangoes, guavas, a bit of papaya flavours come through. In fact, you start noticing these flavours in the Designed by Aston Martin 18 Year Old, alongside caramel and vanilla notes.

“All three whiskies have our distinctive Bowmore style” – Ron Welsh

“This is the best thing about creative collaborations like this, it lets you approach your craft in a different way”

What do you think most sets Bowmore apart from other distilleries?

Bowmore’s whisky evolves as it ages and with more complexity. Other distillers will have similar evolutions throughout the maturation process, but nothing is quite like Bowmore. Our whiskies change character as they go from fresh orchard fruits to ripened fruits, to stewed and syrupy fruits and finally tropical fruits. I haven’t found that evolution in other whiskies that I’ve worked with in the past.

Bowmore has always had a ‘legacy of time’. I’m now looking at the next set of 50 Year Olds for my successor to uncover in the 2030s and 2040s. Those whiskies are already in our inventory and we are already meticulously planning how we put those whiskies in the right casks even at the beginning of their life.

One of the best parts of my job is to get a cask sample that hasn’t been nosed before. For example, we were taking samples for another project last year and we picked out one of our 28 Year Old casks. For me it was just a stunning sample of Bowmore. We have now put that aside for my successor to create something in the 2040s, which is what we mean when we say, ‘legacy of time’. Whatever age it is – Bowmore’s whiskies are always a beautiful surprise when you pour them out.

How do such creative collaborations as this help inform your work with Bowmore now and in the future?

We’ve got several collaborations going at the moment. Aston Martin are completely different from Bowmore in that they are producing precision cars. We are making whisky.

What I found working with them is that we share the same ethos and outlook in terms of perfection, precision, craftsmanship and attention to detail. Working with Aston Martin has introduced me to the golden ratio design principle, which is a mathematical principle that enables designers to create perfectly balanced designs. Everything they produce has that golden ratio and while I’ve known about this for a long time, I’ve never thought to apply it to my own craft.

It has been an eye opener for me. I’ve been in the whisky industry for 29 years but working together with Aston Martin has given me a new way of looking at things. This is the best thing about creative collaborations like this, it lets you approach your craft in a different way.

Spotlight Series - August 2022

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