Creating a devilishly good dram

Inspiring bold John Barleycorn! What dangers thou canst make us scorn! Wi’ tippeny, we fear nae evil; Wi’ usquabae, we’ll face the devil!

- From Tam o’Shanter, Robbie Burns (Original)

Inspiring, bold John Barleycorn! (whisky) What dangers you can make us scorn! With ale, we fear no evil; With whisky, we’ll face the Devil!

- (Translation)

The devil, they say, is in the detail. That is literally the case with Bowmore’s launch of The Frank Quitely Series, a remarkable collaboration between the Beam Suntory-owned Islay single malt whisky producer and acclaimed Scottish comic artist Frank Quitely.

The series is designed to embrace the myths of the western Scottish island, home to Bowmore on the Southeastern shores of Loch Indaal since 1779. As with the Scotch whisky itself, the island offers bountiful raw material for evocative story-telling. But who to tell it and how to tell it?

The answer to the first question immediately presented the solution to the second. Beam Suntory approached Quitely (real name Vincent Deighan), feeling that his distinctive artistic genius might be well suited to underlining Bowmore’s heritage and provenance through some form of artistic collaboration.

When Quitely (see interview page 8) – who first found recognition with his underground Glaswegian comic book work and later won global renown for his work with comic book powerhouses Marvel and DC – responded to their query about his upcoming plans by saying he was hoping to work on illustrations or prints related to Scottish myths, the Beam Suntory team knew they had their man.

The first story in the series – and the subject of this eZine – is ‘No Corners to Hide’, a rollicking and deeply evocative story that marries elements of Islay’s and Bowmore’s history blended with a dose of religious good and evil, and which almost oozes whisky.

Bowmore No Corners to Hide takes inspiration from Islay’s most notorious myth, one dating back to 1837. In that year, it is said, the devil paid a visit to the town of Bowmore’s historic Round Church – the parish church of Killarow built in 1767 by Daniel Campbell of Shawfield and Islay, who owned the entire island at the time. The story has it that the church’s distinctive shape was chosen to ensure there were no corners for the devil to hide in.

But that didn’t stop him visiting. And on one clear winter’s evening in 1837, the devil duly came a calling. Chased out of the church, he fled through the village, eventually hiding inside the Bowmore distillery. The workers locked all the distillery doors and gates to prevent the devil’s escape and searched for him from the malt barns to the mash house, only for him to apparently vanish as unseen as the angels’ share evaporating from the casks.

That night the warehousemen loaded several whisky-filled casks aboard The Maid of Islay, a paddle steamship used for transporting Bowmore whisky to the mainland. While the devil was never found, legend has it that he had hidden inside a cask, escaping to continue his evil deeds on the Scottish mainland.

184 years later that tale is thrillingly retold in liquid, illustration and story form via the Bowmore No Corners to Hide collection, the premier edition in a planned series of collaborations between Frank Quitely and Bowmore Master Blender Ron Welsh.

The first release from the limited-edition series features two single malts, a 23 Year Old and 32 Year Old, which are now exclusively available in selected global travel retail stores in Amsterdam and Frankfurt airports (with related activations), plus Hamburg, Vienna, Dubai, Singapore and Taiwan. Befitting the age statements and the craftsmanship behind the whiskies (see tasting notes page 10), their recommended travel retail price is US$400 and US$2,995 respectively. Cleverly, the bottlings are limited to 666 (the devil’s number ) for the 32 Year Old, with an extra 6 (so 6,666) for its younger peer.

Each bottle of 23 Year Old features illustrations and sketches by Quitely, while the 32 Year Old comes with a signed print from the artist alongside original sketches and notes about the whisky-making process.

“To get the call from Bowmore, a legendary icon in the world of whisky, offering me the opportunity of retelling the Islay legend No Corners to Hide was hugely exciting,” says Quitely. “To do this in a single image would prove massively challenging but taking inspiration in the Devil himself, it’s all in the detail.”

“Much like the devil, both aged spirits took their own particularly unusual defining journey in Essencia barriques, a peculiarly rare Rose Oak dating back to the 1830s,” adds Ron Welsh. “The tasting notes reflect the notes from the story and each sip transports you to that cold winter’s night.”

The result? Two devilishly good whiskies. This time there can be no escape.

Spotlight Series - November 2021

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