There's top shelf, and then there's top shelf that's hidden behind the massive reinforced steel door of a six-foot tall safe. When a bottle of Scotch costs $23,000 at retail—which translates to $5,000 for a two-ounce pour at a bar—you better keep it locked up and secure. That's the approach that The Ritz-Carlton Washington D.C.'s Quadrant Bar & Lounge is taking with their cherished new bottle of 1961 Bowmore 50 Year Old.
It's appropriate that The Ritz is keeping their Bowmore 1961—what they call the "crown jewel" of a collection which includes several dozen premium offerings—in a vault, too. Bowmore, founded in 1779 and the oldest distillery on Islay, is home to the oldest warehouse in all of Scotland, their famed No. 1 Vaults. And each of the two casks which comprised the whisky for this release at least partially served their half century of patient maturation in the below sea level warehouse.
Those two casks yielded just 200 bottles for this super exclusive Bowmore 1961 release, with the brand spacing its run over four years. The final wave of 50 are out now, and only a scant few have trickled to U.S. shores. The final bottles of Bowmore 1961 also serve as the first of a new six-part annual release known as the Bowmore 50 Year Old Collection Series.
Beam Suntory Master of Malts Iain McCallum guided a few lucky souls through a tasting of the Bowmore 1961—only 16 people in the country who A) didn't buy a bottle or B) work for Bowmore have tried the juice—as The Ritz-Carlton unveiled their prized acquisition.
"What I want you to think of is a basket of fruit in front of you, a mango, a papaya, a lychee, all the exotic fruits, a pineapple, and if you smashed the fruits together, you'd get a whole cacophony of flavors," says McCallum.
The expectation with whisky this old is for dry oak to dominate. But McCallum is right—it's all vibrant fruits and bright floral notes, peaches and honey and green apple, with background strands of delicate salt and smoke.
After taking a sip, you can't help but smile and laugh to yourself, reveling in its lusciously smooth profile. "I love my job, that's the excitement for me," says McCallum upon witnessing my reaction. "It's just insane that peaches and cream can be on a single malt Scotch whisky, and one that's 50 years old!"
The Ritz-Carlton Washington D.C. is said to be the only place in the country where you can actually buy a round of the Scotch, as opposed to needing to buy a full bottle. What's $5,000 between friends, anyway? At two ounces a pour, only 12 people will get the privilege of doing so, which means if you'd like to join that club you better pounce on the chance.
Should you be thinking about acquiring one of these gems for yourself, though, you'll be glad to know it's adorned with all of the bells and whistles you'd expect. Hand-blown glass from Glasstorm; neck collars and cork tops from Fattorini Silversmiths; handmade Scottish Elmwood presentation cabinet by master carpenter Peter Toaig.
Remember, regardless of how much it costs—or especially if it costs this much and is this mind-bendingly delightful—whisky isn't meant to collect dust like a trophy on a bookshelf. "Whisky is there to be drunk," says McCallum. "I believe in opening them and drinking them."
And again, you better move fast. "Literally when this is gone, it's gone," says McCallum.