The floor creaks and cracks as I step gingerly across the dusty, dark boards wary that my 4″ heel might become lodged in a crack. This would be a horrendous fate – not only for my dignity – but also because I’m holding a glass of Bowmore 15 year old Darkest and that would likely go sashaying out of my glass to land on some poor mortal in this dilapidated room.
Where am I? To be honest, after a few brown sugar sweet, plummy raisin drams, I’m not entirely sure. An hour before, my partner and I arrived at a scuffed up red door, telling us only that magic was likely to occur within…
And so it began. After a heavy knock, we were ushered inside the dimly lit space. A fire crackled in one corner and a chap named “Dickie” wandered through in a thickly woven smoking jacket, telling patrons of life living in a broken down house. Over canapes and a Bowmore cocktail we surveyed the scene and were given a token: mine a red button, my other half’s a silky white feather, which indicated we would be made to go our separate ways.
As his white-feather group was led upstairs, my group was ushered into a cosy back room by a madman with twirly mustache and frighteningly darting eyes. Inside, a soundtrack of whipping winds and splashing waves transported us to the seaside, while a story teller told of a headless horseman that circles Islay. Spine-tingling indeed.
Soon, we were whisked upstairs to a room oozing chocolate where master chocolatier Paul A Young was stirring a cauldron of gooey, hot chocolate – like those under a trance, we were drawn in to the mystical scene, palates dripping with excitement. The swirling brew was dripped into a mishmash of china teacups while we were each told to grab one Bowmore bonbon, a dark chocolate infused with whisky that magically transformed the cuppa into a grown-up drink of the tastiest kind.
As the last dollops of chocolate passed our tongues, we headed back down the higgledy-piggledy staircase and then up another nervewracking set at the back of the house. There, beneath the rafters we were taken on a starry journey with Gary Fildes, director of the Kielder Observatory. With a glass of whisky in hand, I drifted away, mesmerised as he showed us how incredible even 1-square-mm of space is, with thousands of stars and galaxies residing in that tiny block. It reminded me of childhood days when – living in the pure darkness of the Canadian countryside – you could be swallowed whole by the vast flurry of stars overhead.
Finally, heading to the basement, we rejoined the other groups and in a dopey, happy state, I listened to Bowmore brand ambassador Gordon Dundas lead us through a tasting of the 12 and 15 year old Bowmore, which included donning a darkened eye mask, cupping and shaking the whisky glass so the liquid coated our hands and then smelling the rich, cherry wood and raisin flavours imparted on our skin – all heightened by the lack of sight.
As the accordion player got the group into a spirited jig, and harmonizing voices sang out the lyrics to “What do you do with a drunken sailor” my partner and I smiled in Cheshire-cat like happiness at the magical and immersive experience we had just partaken in.
I must quaff my cap to the Bowmore team – not only did I learn about the whisky but I did it in style in the upmost of magical spaces. It was like nothing else I’ve experienced and I can only hope more whisky companies will help take customers on such incredible journeys. Inspiring, indeed!
For more information about Bowmore 12 or 15 year old Darkest, or the Bowmore brand, visit: www.bowmore.com. And thank you to Katie Palmer for providing the image of Paul A Young.