Blind Black Bowmore
What happens when you put what's arguably the most legendary single malt into an otherwise unassuming, unhyped blind tasting?
Not a whole lot.
The group only knew that they would be tasting a selection of single malts of my (Adam) choosing. The price was typical for a LAWS meeting -- members share the costs of bottles -- so there weren't any unusual expectations. The whole point of this scheme was that nobody would be remotely expecting anything crazy. You just don't "waste" a Black Bowmore without any serious pomp and circumstance! You at least have to polish your pinky, so it's ready to stick out while you drink! Unless, of course, you're as insane as LAWS seems to have become. In that spirit, I "hid" the Black Bow in a lineup of other obscure bottles I'd been wanting to taste, or otherwise needed blind opinions on:
I put the Black Bowmore second in the lineup after a relatively tame whisky to be sure palates were still fresh and ready.
When it came time for the Black Bow to go around, it was poured unceremoniously. I watched with curious amazement for about 15 minutes while everyone nosed and tasted. Nobody jumped out of their chairs. Nobody even made much of a fuss. A few eyebrows raised, but nothing crazy. Most thought it was "pretty good," a couple "great." Some weren't terribly impressed. Nobody guessed it was Bowmore, nor did anyone seem to think it was anything super-special. These are all guys who know whisky, most of whom are serious, hardcore single malt veterans.
One important thing to keep in mind here is that the guys "knew" it "couldn't" be some kind of ultra-legendary collectible, because at today's pricing it wouldn't have remotely fit the budget for the meeting. The general consensus was that it was some oddball cask from a "2nd tier" distillery, using the logic that might otherwise make sense for a meeting like this.
So, why didn't anyone say, "HOLY SHIT, THIS IS THE BEST STUFF I HAVE EVER TASTED, THIS WHISKY IS UNDENIABLE PROOF OF GOD!!"
Well, I think that's because it's just a really nice malt. Any "legendary" whisky is good-to-excellent, but mind-blowing is impossible. Whisky can only get so good, and the rest is added in your head. Really.
When you're told something is excellent, expensive, rare, and revered, it's going to taste a lot better. It's a proven physical and psychological fact. And that's fine, it's part of the experience. It also means we should try to be enthused and excited about every whisky we taste.
I think the legend around Black Bowmore is in large part because it was one of the first premium, highly-aged, richly-charactered, special-edition single malts. It was a "very high" price on release (like $150 - $300) and those who bought it gave it careful attention. They knew it was special and unique. And it was, and still is. But over those next 10 years or so, as bottles became more scarce, and the internet became a thing, talk of this hard-to-find and definitely-worth-tasting bottle snowballed into a whole other dimension.
It's the same thing that happened more recently with bourbon, where bottles that were fairly respected in the oughts and early teens became "legends" as their availability dried up. Combine that scarcity with a good helping of "FOMO" (Fear of Missing Out), and the experience of tasting those "legends" -- or more appropriately, what people imagine that experience must be like -- gets blown out of proportion.
Those of us in LAWS admittedly suffered from the same phenomenon when we were first starting out with malts. But it's also why we spent so many years tasting blind. We had all sorts of contests, challenges, and even weekly tasting drills. And what happened was, we became comfortable with our own palates. The fear of "not liking something that's actually good" vanished. You shouldn't suffer any embarrassment to discover that the whisky you didn't like is something that everyone else thinks is great, or vice-versa. It doesn't matter. You enjoy what you enjoy.
But now I'm getting too preachy... so DRINK WHISKY!