The Hakka bottling was inspired by the traditional Fujian tulou which is a unique and beautiful example of Hakka architecture in Fujian Province, Southeast China. The design hails back to a period in history when local farmers had to band together to protect themselves from raiders looking for easy targets to terrorise. The strong, beaten earth walls of a tǔlóu present no easy angles for attack, and they surround a central courtyard in which daily life can continue while the building is sealed from the outside.
Part apartment complex, part defensive fortress, a tǔlóu is able to house many families in community together, along with ample facilities to store their grain, livestock and worldly possessions. The largest of these fortified cities has living space for up to 800 people. They are recognised as jewels of cultural architecture and now have full UNESCO protection in addition to their strong walls.
The whisky comes from Islay’s oldest and possibly most renowned distillery; Bowmore. Known for making extremely elegant single malt whiskies, Bowmore have a mastery of velvety texture, subtle sweetness and a perfectly balanced level of peat smoke which they ingratiate into the heart of their whiskies.
Bowmore suggested itself as the whisky we wanted for this special release, as the round church that crowns the hill at the top of the town of Bowmore reminds us of the shape of the tǔlóu themselves. Though Bowmore Kirk’s shape was more for protection from danger from within than from without – it is said that the round walls were built to give no corners for the devil to hide in.
This particular Bowmore was distilled on the 17th of September 1992, and was bottled on the 20th of June 2019, having matured for 26 years in an ex-bourbon hogshead. From the year of the monkey to the year of the pig in just over 2 full cycles of the Chinese zodiac.
On the nose this Bowmore offers up a complex array of fruits and spices, with a little tartness that sharpens the focus. Ripe banana, apple tatin and candied lemon peel lead, followed by fermented pineapple tepache flavoured with cinnamon and star anise. There’s a suggestion of smokiness in the form of burning incense.
On the palate, orchard fruits take the stage, especially ‘sand pear’ (沙梨) and peach; indicative of the whisky’s long life. Floral notes are also present, like honeysuckle and chrysanthemum. This leads to salted and toasted hazelnuts and a gentle numbing like from Sichuan peppercorn.
Bowmore’s smokiness strengthens itself on the finish – dry wood smoke and roasted chestnuts. A lingering aroma of osmanthus winds around white chocolate and banana fritters.
Overall, the whisky plays a subtle game with its strategic deployment of sweet, spicy and smoky flavours. None overwhelm, all contribute to the balance. Light tannin extends the flavours to a medium finish and contributes weight to the body.
Celebrate the Year of the Rabbit
This year, 2023, is the fourth in the cycle of the Chinese Zodiac, represented by the quick, inquisitive and houseproud rabbit. Rabbits dig beautifully constructed underground warrens in which multiple families live, safe from the dangers on the surface. The success of the rabbit’s strategy is mirrored in the success of the tǔlóu, using clever construction techniques to protect life, preserve social bonds and ensure prosperity for generations.
The red charms around the door on the label – the Chinese text on them are celebrating the year of the Rabbit.
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