Bowmore and Aston Martin's latest collaboration draws on an ancient design principle

Bowmore and Aston Martin's latest collaboration draws on an ancient design principle

How can the lauded 'golden ratio' inform both whisky making and automotive design?

Whisky Focus 28 Mar 2022 | Interviews | By Jacopo Mazzeo

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Bowmore master blender Ron Welsh easily recalls when it all began: a day in Madrid, around three-and-a-half years ago. “We were looking to partner with somebody, somebody who needed to have the same principles as Bowmore,” Welsh says, explaining that heritage, craftsmanship, and luxury are the key shared elements that drove Islay’s famed distillery to announce, in late 2019, its partnership with British car manufacturer Aston Martin.

Beyond common values, the partnership found a raison d’être in a shared long-term vision. “We’re striving every day to make the best performance cars in the world and Bowmore is making one of the best whiskies in the world,” explains Cathal Loughnane, head of partnerships at Aston Martin Lagonda. “But we’re also building cars that will still be driven in 50 years’ time, just as Bowmore puts liquids in the cask that won’t be opened for 50 years’ time. We’re not the first generation at Aston and we’re not going to be the last. That’s where we find our common ground, the constant drive to make something that people will inherit.”

Bowmore and Aston Martin inaugurated their newly established joint venture with an exclusive, special-edition release of the distillery’s iconic Black Bowmore, priced at £50,000. Dubbed Black Bowmore DB51964, the release celebrates key historic moments for both businesses. Aston Martin’s legendary DB5 – perhaps the best-known ‘James Bond car’ – was launched in 1963 yet manufactured in 1964, and driven by Sean Connery as 007 in Goldfinger (1964), shortly after. The same year marked a milestone for Bowmore too, as the distillery saw the arrival of a new steam boiler, which heralded the distillery’s conversion from direct coal firing to steam heating of the stills.
The Aston Martin DBX

Only 25 bottles of this special liquid were made available overall, with the glass crafted by studio Glasstorm. The bottle’s base incorporates a genuine Aston Martin DB5 piston and the luxurious presentation box is a collectible item in itself. Further projects followed, including the DBX Bowmore – a special edition of the car manufacturer’s SUV and the partnership’s first automotive offering.

Bowmore’s Designed by Aston Martin collection arrived in September 2021. This new series consisted of three unchanged Bowmore whiskies – the 10, 15 and 18 Years Old expressions – housed in new packaging with designs inspired by some of Aston Martin’s most influential sports cars: the LM10 (which was first raced at Le Mans in 1932), the Atom, and the DB Mk III. The special-edition Black Bowmore DB5 1964 and the Designed by Aston Martin collection might succeed in delighting collectors of luxury cars and whisky, but, to this author, they demonstrate little tangible synergy between the two producers.
A diagramme illustrating the ‘golden ratio’

Unveiled earlier last month, the Bowmore Masters’ Selection is the latest iteration of the Bowmore and Aston Martin partnership. Bottled at 51.8% ABV, with an RRP of US$300, this new expression goes beyond the design department, with its creation involving a more profound cross pollination.

Welsh explains that the core idea came after meeting with Cathal and Marek Reichmann, executive vice president and chief creative officer at Aston Martin Lagonda. To mimic Aston Martin’s exquisite design, the Bowmore team turned to the ‘golden ratio’ – a mathematical concept also known as the ‘golden section’, ‘golden mean’, or ‘divine proportion’, and represented by the Greek letter ϕ (phi) – that has long informed the car manufacturer’s aesthetic. According to the golden ratio, two quantities are in harmony if their ratio equals the irrational number 1.618. The concept may be applied to ensure a symmetrical relationship between each component of a car’s design, or of a building, for that matter. For Bowmore, however, that meant coming up with a formula that could replicate the ratio in liquid.
The Aston Martin DBX

The team first selected a 21-year-old base spirit – which Welsh says came from the fact that they “all agreed that [it] was a great whisky” – and five extra components to be employed in different ratios. “We were looking for flavour impact, so that we could enhance that base rather than layer the same flavour on top of it,” says Welsh of the rigorous liquid selection process, “and also mouthfeel to replicate that signature Aston Martin power.”

According to Welsh, the five extra components consist of some “really old” Bowmore, which has been matured in refill sherry butts and hogsheads; a second portion matured in refill barrels sourced from both Bowmore and sister-distillery Laphroaig, which add to the whisky’s peatiness; and a few whiskies selected for their fruity character or particular “smoothness” on the palate.
Bowmore Distillery

“With those five components,” explains Welsh, “we had eight team members creating their own pilot blend and we ended up with 30 different ones.” Component parts were sent to all parties involved so that the pilots could be recreated and evaluated over a number of months. “We narrowed them down to those that had the attributes we were looking for in terms of nose, taste, and power.”

The result is a liquid with a nose of characteristic coastal, honeyed and citrus notes, underlined by a gentle peatiness and complemented by enveloping leathery aromas. “We were looking at different whiskies that could give that elegant scent on the nose, the smell that you get when you are inside an Aston Martin, especially the leather… maybe not the petrol,” quips Welsh.

On the silky, velvety palate, a burst of mature notes of liquorice, clove, candied citrus fruit, and a vivid balsamic quality follow a fresh, orangy zestiness. “We asked ourselves the question: ‘How do you get that power that you experience when you drive an Aston Martin?’ So, we aimed at a whisky that’s got a smooth start, then it explodes in your mouth,” Welsh comments.
Bowmore master distiller Ron Welsh

The work that went into creating the Bowmore Masters’ Selection reveals a welcome, fresh approach to the Bowmore x Aston Martin collaboration – one that offers whisky enthusiasts a genuinely original drinking experience, and the partnership an opportunity for authentic professional enhancement. “We’ve both discovered something about each other,” says Welsh. “It’s one of the things that’s coming from this partnership: learning, reusing, and relearning again. I’m a better master blender now than I was two years ago because I’ve met these guys.”

The experience also helped team Aston look at car design with fresh eyes. “It’s hard to pinpoint,” explains Loughnane. “We balance the sound of the engine with our ears, the proportion of the car with our eyes, the feeling of all of the switchgear and of the interior with our hands, the smell of the leather with our noses. But taste is a sense that we never use. Suddenly, [taste] offers a new perspective on all other senses when we go back to designing cars. This side of the partnership is what makes it worthwhile and what’s going to make it last.”

The Bowmore Masters’ Selection expression encapsulates a more mature, synergetic alliance, a philosophy that bodes well for a collaboration planned to bear fruit for decades to come. “This is just the third step in a long journey,” says Loughnane. “We’re looking to a long future in this partnership, hopefully many decades and more.”
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