Thursday afternoon author Chris Beamish described certain “ancestral blood memories” that played a part in his book, Voyage of the Cormorant. Later that day, I felt my own ancestral blood memories awake as the glorious sound of bagpipes echoed down the nave of the Kinnear Centre. Unofficial Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival piper Geoff Bardsley of Dundee, Scotland, entered our room with the pulse of the old country and welcomed 40 keen audience members and special guest Iain McCallum, Master of Malt for Bowmore. We were all there for their Single Malt Whisky Master Classes. One of the Festival sponsors, Bowmore had plenty of these creative ways to connect one-on-one with our audience.
Perhaps because it was Halloween, McCallum regaled us with some scary Scotch stories, worst-teenage-hangover-of-all-time stories, like waking up on his parent’s kitchen floor in the morning with his wee five-foot mother staring down at him. McCallum now travels the world 44-weeks a year as a “malt advocate.”
The first written account of Scotch whisky was in 1495. It’s said to have evolved from the Scottish drink, uisge beatha, which means “lively water” or “water of life.” Bowmore comes from the famously peaty island of Islay where the distillery dates from 1779. McCallum gave the best description of peat I’ve ever heard. “Peat is just baby coal,” he said, explaining the distinctive smoky scent of Islay whisky.
The festive audience featured a few Halloween costumes, and just as McCallum promised, we all warmed up to each other after our second tasting, the powerful Bowmore Tempest. As the conversation hummed through the room and the sun set behind Sulphur Mountain, Bowmore may have another 40 malt advocates going back out into the world.