Blair Bowman is well on his way to being the ‘Whisky Geek’ of the moment. PJ O’Neill caught up with him to find out all his news.
Blair Bowman is known the world over as the brains behind World Whisky Day, an idea he came up with whilst studying Hispanics at Aberdeen University in 2012.
He was living in Barcelona at the time, and was only 21, but he noticed that World Gin Day was trending on social media. As an avid whisky fan he immediately searched for World Whisky Day online. To his surprise it didn’t exist, so, he snapped up the domain name, rushed off to set up a Facebook and Twitter and just two years later World Whisky Day was being celebrated through 250,000 attendees at events, across 40 countries worldwide.
In 2015, Blair sold the rights to his creation and, although he remains very much involved in a consultancy role, he now has moved onto new ventures within the world of whisky – most recently he has been running unusual tasting events which involves trying whisky in dark… and he has just published a book. I put a few questions to the whisky maestro.
How do you feel about World Whisky Day now? Has it achieved what you hoped it would?
“Definitely, the fact that it’s in media diaries and pretty much every major whisky brand has engaged with it. Distilleries do special things on the day and bars all over the world put on special events. It’s definitely achieved its goal of reaching new people because it was always about bringing new people in to the industry.”
What did you learn?
“The biggest thing I learned was to collaborate. Originally worked on my own, but everything I’m doing now is much more collaborative than just working alone. And I’ve certainly been collaborative on my first book, The Pocket Guide to Whisky: Featuring the Whisky Tube Map.
How did your book come about?
“I met Nikki Welch at an industry event and she’d created a wine tube map about two years ago and she showed me the map and I sort of said to her there and then, “Why isn’t there a whisky one?” So last summer we fleshed out the idea.”
What exactly is it about?
“It’s basically a tube map for a city; every line is a different flavour profile, every station a different distillery. It’s all based on flavour, not geography. You find the whiskies you already know and see how they relate to other ones. The idea is if you like a certain whisky then the stations on either side are going to be quite similar.”
You’ve also been involved in some quite different event recently. Drams in the Dark?
“That’s been my most recent experiement. Drams in the Dark are multi-sensory tasting sessions. Guests turn up and the room is in near darkness to begin with and then it becomes completely dark. We usually have five or six different whiskies and five or six different food pairings, very small, bite sized pieces of food, varied in texture, the idea being that if you shut off one sense it heightens the others.”
What are the cubes you have created?
“I’ve created what I call Marinetti cubes. Marinetti was a futurist who wrote The Futurist’s Cookbook. He predicted that in the future we’d all touch sandpaper while eating our dinner and things like that. I’ve created these cubes with sandpaper on one face and silk on the other and I find there are always people who are very open to it and they find it makes a significant difference. “
Then what I tend to do on the final whisky is play a piece of classical music that’s got really dramatic crescendos that build up to dramatic drops that
let people kind of experience the whisky in yet another way.”
Have you always wanted to change people perceptions of whisky?
“Some people find that whisky is an intimidating drink. It is a problem that’s more prevalent here in the UK. There’s a lot of stigma and a lot of old myths. It’s less like that abroad. They are more relaxed about it. I I think there needs to be more education about making whisky approachable because there’s definitely an intimidation factor, and that’s what I found out in the research for my book, a lot of people have one or two whiskies that they gravitate towards because they know that it’s safe but there so much out there to discover.”
Do you think that the recent upsurge in new, smaller distilleries opening will help?
I’ve heard there are up to 30, distilleries, either under construction or have broken ground or which will have started distilling in the next few years. It’s something I’ve been talking about quite recently, there’s almost a second tier of whiskies, that, because they’re quite small, are only going to produce so much in a year, so there’s always going to be this element of it being very limited, so I think there will be this second tier of products and that will be their Unique Selling Proposition, (USP) that they can be small scale. So the USP for a lot of them is location, why they’ve chosen to set up there, and that they are a limited production.”
Why did you decide to do a charity event covering 60 distilleries in one Day?
I was approached by Willie Wallace who has masterminded the whole thing. He has been wanting to do this for years and has meticulously planned the route and practised it over several months. He asked me if I’d like to ‘front’ the world record attempt and I couldn’t say no when I knew that Just a Drop, the water charity that World Whisky Day has supported for several years, would receive the money raised from the charity raffle.
What is your next big thing when it comes to whisky?
It’s hard to say, I have a few other projects on the back burner that I believe will make a significant impact on the whisky industry when they are moved forward. So for now I’m going to be a bit coy and keep my cards close to my chest.
What do you think whisky companies could do to get younger consumers more interested?
Brands don’t seem to be aware that the next generation of consumers, the so called ‘millennials’, are drinking less than any previous generation. They are much more conscious of their online persona, for example they don’t want to be instagrammed getting drunk, they are also much more discerning.Brands should take heed and look at more innovative and simple ‘low abv’ serves to help bridge the gap. Drinks like whisky and ginger ale or whisky and soda water are fantastic gateway drinks into the whisky category.
What do you think will be THE whisky drink of the summer?
“I’m really enjoying Talisker Dark Storm, some ice and topped up with rhubarb soda. It’s lovely.”
How much is your book and where can you
The book is £7.99 and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Blackwells and all major book shops.